An Encounter with a New Style of Appreciating live performances

“Peeping Garden / re:creation”

written by Noriko Kawamura

Moon Light Theater’s 8th performance, “PEEPSHOW,” 2021

It’s been 2 years since January, 2020 when the first case of Covid-19 infection was confirmed in Japan. Since then, it has become very normal for us to practice infection prevention measures on a daily basis. Digitization has rapidly expanded at schools and companies, and it has enabled us to study, work, and do most of the things in our daily lives from home. Furthermore, due to lockdown, people more often watch videos on smartphones, computers, and TVs has drastically increased than before.It is said that 80% of the information gained through five senses is taken through visual sense, but visual information you can sense when watching films is not exactly same as what you can sense when attending a live performance. Of course, a work produced by filming and recording a concert with multiple video cameras and microphones and by editing it with advanced technology is valuable, but I realize that there is what you can only experience in a live performance.For example, in a live performance, audiences see objects by bringing their eyes into focus on an object respectively, and in a concert where multiple performers are on stage as an orchestra concert, if you focus your eyes on a specific player, you would feel as if you can listen to the player’s sound clearly.

Last year, when I had an experience to watch a performance through a hole on a door for the first time, I realized importance of the visual listen to a concert through a hole on a door in a concert venue for the first time, I realized importance of the visual effect anew. I would like to apply this way of listening to a concert and utilize it for planning a contemporary music concert with visual elements.

Birth of a New Style –
By the influence of the spread of the Covid-19 infections, performances in concert venues were canceled one after another, and many of the venues were closed by prefectural and municipal governments.Under such circumstances, artists, organizers, and other concerned people were doing trial and error and consider how to cope with the situation. As a result, they came up with an idea that they do not postpone scheduled performances but deliver the performances by live or recorded streaming without audience. Artists and organizers who had only been engaged in live performances did not have sufficient knowledge on how to do the streaming. Moreover, they did not have high-performance equipment for video filming and sound recording, so it required substantial funding for purchasing the equipment and installation of higher quality internet connections. Initially, they were confused with the situation, but live streaming of a concert has become common in these 2 years.

In such a situation, a live performance that actually took place under restrictions by Covid-19 infection prevention measures was the “Peeping Garden” performed by Moon Light Theater. Moon Light Theater is a physical theater company based in Nagoya and founded by Nobuyoshi Asai, a dancer and Shu Okuno, a pantomimer, in 2015. They had established a new style of a performance in which audience can enjoy the performance keeping social distance and published “Peeping Garden” in December, 2020, “PEEPSHOW” in February, 2021, and “Peeping Garden / re:creation” in May, 2021.

On a stage, 30 wooden doors are placed in a circular form. A board is placed between a door (audience seat) and the next door (audience seat), so each seat is a space like a single room. An audience sits on a chair and peep in through a peep hole or a mailbox on a door, and performers execute on a circular stage inside the doors.

By an act, “peeping through a hole,” which is a characteristic of a social distance circular theater, an audience’s sight is narrowed like when viewing a finder of a camera. That is to say, a behavioral principle would let the audience actively move one’s viewpoint and follow a performance inside. Because of a psychological effect, “to follow = to pursue,” the audience’s eyes would observe to a performer’s subtle movements and transition of the internal environment, and it would make it possible to increase intensity of immersion into a work…
-“Peeping Garden / re:creation” Moon Light Theater’s Website-

“ソーシャルディスタンス円形劇場の特性である「穴から覗く」という行為によって、鑑賞者の視覚はカメラのファインダーを覗く時と同様に、画角が限定される。すなわち、鑑賞者は能動的に視点を移動させ、内部のパフォーマンスを追いかける行動原理が働く。「追いかける=追い求める」という心理的効果によって、鑑賞者の目はマイクロスコープのように、演者の微細な動きや内部環境の変化に注視するようになり、通常の鑑賞形態よりも作品への没入強度を増大させることが可能となる。” (以下略)

―「Peeping Garden / re:creation」月灯りの移動劇場ホームページ

Moon Light Theater’s 9th performance, “Peeping Garden / re:creation,” 2021

“To see” and “To be seen.” In this performance, I could clearly and deeply realize the relationship between the two. I had an illusion that only I was attending the performance and peeping the world in the performance. However, at the moment when my eyes met the performer’s, I felt uneasy that “I was discovered. He noticed that I was peeping.” Although I was an audience, who was supposed to “see” the performer, my position turned the side to “be seen,” and at the moment, the positions of the performer and the audience turned over. This aroused my interest, so I could not help peeping. I was impelled by curiosity.

Moon Light Theater’s 9th performance, “Peeping Garden / re:creation,” 2021

Application of the Performance Style of “Peeping Garden” –
Concert halls are categorized into two types, a shoebox type or an arena type. An advantage of the shoebox type is that homogeneous acoustic effect can be earned at any audience seat. On the other side, the arena type has a disadvantage that acoustic effect varies widely depending on the seats, but it creates a sense of unity between performers and audience because the stage and audience seats are closer. Needless to say, it is arena type that is closer to the performance style of “Peeping Garden.” Furthermore, better visual effect would probably be achieved in a small concert hall in circular form and with smaller seating capacity because it enables audience to see the performance more closely. The venue does not have to be a concert hall. If you place audience seats in circular form in a multi-purpose hall with decent acoustics, you can achieve the effect that is similar to the arena type.

In a concert with a seating capacity limited to a half of the usual capacity for infection prevention, I feel that it is easier to concentrate on listening to the performance since no one sits on the seats on the both sides. It is in the similar situation as the stage of “Peeping Garden” where a board is installed between audience seats. By limiting a seating capacity and reducing the number of audiences, I suppose that audiences can more concentrate on enjoying the performance because each audience feels individuality and more tension.In addition, as an application of the peep hole, it is possible to let all audiences to watch the performance using opera glasses or binoculars. These tools limit the audiences’ viewing fields, and it would help the audiences to actively and intentionally observe a player. This would let the audiences pay more attention to details of the music.

What about the performer’s perspective? Perhaps, there is not many performers who always pay attention to all the directions of 360 degrees, but they would necessarily be required to do so if this style of performance is adopted. If players are to watch to all the directions as they perform, tension would be created on the players’ side.

In conclusion, what I expect of an application of this performance style is not only the influence of visual effect to the auditory sense, but also that it can create a space where an individual and an individual can mutually interact beyond the relationship between audience, a group of people, and players. If they can strongly sense the connection between the two, the concert would become a space where audiences can taste the performed works more deeply.