Four Women – Four Lovers – Four Documents: female bodies and voices in Kishida Rio’s play “Four Letters”

Kishida Rio was the only female playwright in angura (underground/avant-garde) movement in 1960-70’s Japan. Kishida Rio began her work in theatre when she joined Terayama Shûji’s “Laboratory of Play” Tenjô Sajiki (The Peanut Gallery) in 1974 and worked as Terayama’s collaborator on plays and films, helping develop the company into one of the major angura experimental arts groups in Japan. She headed a series of her own theatre companies throughout her career, focusing on strong female characters, women’s bodies, and the use or loss of language.

In 1989 Kishida wrote and directed Four Letters, a play for four of the core female actors in Kishida Jimusho + Rakutendan, the theatre company she ran with director Yoshio Wada. Four Letters is about four women at the funeral of the man with whom they were all in love. This play was unlike anything she had written to that time – or wrote afterwards. It consists of sparse text, repeated words, and intense physicality between the bodies of the actors and the dolls or puppets the carry with them.

In this presentation, Colleen will talk about this unpublished play, and her work-in-progress translation of the piece. She will also discuss some of her research on Kishida Rio’s plays and Kishida’s work with strong female characters throughout her career. In particular, she will discuss the four “senior” female characters in her 1984 masterwork, Itojigoku (Thread Hell) which were played by the same four actors in Four Letters.

Speaker: Colleen Lanki (Artistic Director, TomoeArts/Ph.D. Student, Department of Theatre and Film)

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