Japan’s Shiki Theatre Company Focusing on Original Productions; After Long-Running Productions of ‘Cats’ and ‘The Lion King’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The forged of the “Japonesque Version” of “Jesus Christ Superstar” responds to cheers soon after a exhibit on July 14.

The Shiki Theatre Firm, which has led the theater entire world with revolutionary experiments, celebrated its 70th anniversary in July. The troupe acquired acceptance for its adaptations of overseas musicals such as “Cats” and “The Lion King,” but the COVID-19 pandemic led to a refocus on primary productions. What is Japan’s most significant theater corporation undertaking these days and what are its targets?


‘Bringing a revolution’

On July 14, the enterprise done the “Japonesque Version” of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its devoted stage, Jiyu Theatre, in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

This original creation included common Japanese features, these as kabuki, into the rock musical with audio by British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is a person of the masterpieces of Keita Asari, founder of the Shiki Theatre Business. Asari died in 2018.

Right after the clearly show, the performers gave speeches this kind of as, “We’ll continue to make a sincere effort to produce the ‘excitement of existence and the pleasure of living’ by theater,” drawing loud applause.

The Shiki Theatre Business was launched in 1953 by Asari and nine many others, generally students from Keio University and the University of Tokyo, with the purpose of “bringing about a revolution in the theater globe.” Today, the troupe has grown to grow to be Japan’s major theater corporation, with about 1,400 associates, around 3,000 performances per year and a complete audience of somewhere around 3 million. There are seven dedicated theaters in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

Asari moved in the political and organization entire world, and even encouraged then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. He expanded the theater business with solid management and skillful strategies to carry his productions to audiences. Nonetheless, he did not only pursue income, but acted in accordance with the next concepts: restoration of theater to civil culture, economic independence by way of phase performances and rectification of the overconcentration of society in Tokyo.

Pandemic impact

The realization of this philosophy and the turning position for Shiki’s recognition was the Japanese premiere of the musical “Cats” in 1983. With a committed theater, mass marketing and later the use of on the net ticket gross sales, the troupe was ready to understand Japan’s initial lengthy-operating production with no conclusion date, with prosperous very long-working exhibits outside Tokyo as perfectly.

Subsequently, abroad musicals turned the key supply for Shiki Theatre Company’s earnings, enabling its troupe customers to dwell on theater operate alone. However, the pandemic disclosed the weak points of this organization technique.

The business didn’t allow its actors to boost on their own as superstars outside the house the theater and didn’t devote in authentic estate or other businesses that would help its operations. When the governing administration named for voluntary restraint on substantial-scale functions and declared a state of emergency, earning it not possible to stage performances, the business dropped funds. The quantity of performances in 2020 was fewer than 50 % of a typical yr, and sales fell to about ¥8 billion, just one-3rd of a standard year’s full.

After reflecting on these weaknesses, the troupe is now striving to boost income and enrich its strengths. In addition to featuring streamed performances for a price and selling alcohol and other items, the troupe has designed a specialised department to boost goods advancement.

Shiki also focused on producing original productions. When the enterprise can’t freely distribute video clips or produce products for abroad productions due to copyrights challenges, it can control many rights for its initial productions. These legal rights make it much easier to respond in a crisis, and creating new productions is part of what a theater firm should really do.

‘Must not be concerned of change’

Photo by Akihito Abe
Original musical “Bakemono no Ko” (“The Boy and the Beast”)

In 2022, the organization staged the musical “Bakemono no Ko” (“The Boy and the Beast”), adapted from the well-liked animated movie of the very same title. It effectively ran for 11 months in Tokyo. However, primary productions accounted for only 13.5% of final year’s gross sales.

“For secure organization operations, it’s finest if profits from primary productions and overseas productions even out in the long run,” reported Chiyoki Yoshida, president of the Shiki Theatre Company. “The highway may perhaps be prolonged, but we need to have to keep our eyes on the destination.”

The commemorative journal for the company’s 70th anniversary opens with a statement from Yoshida titled “Will the Shiki Theatre Company proceed for 100 yrs?”

“We’ll preserve our rules, but will the Shiki be able to survive in its latest variety? We need to not be fearful of modify,” Yoshida wrote.

“President Yoshida is managing the enterprise flexibly even though maintaining Mr. Asari’s legacy,” mentioned Hitomi Hagio, a movie and theater critic. “He is raising earnings from abroad productions even though generating superior-top quality unique works. I would like to see the firm continue on to equilibrium both of those.”

The vital to upcoming growth for the corporation will probably be nurturing productions from a lengthy-phrase viewpoint, though protecting its first rules.

Attracting new theatergoers

Photo by Masanobu Yamanoue
A tent theater in Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo, established up for the Shiki Theatre Company’s generation of “Cats” in 1983

Other key groups have also been presenting Japanese versions of substantial-scale displays from abroad. They include Toho Co., HoriPro Inc., Umeda Arts Theater Co. and Takarazuka Revue Corporation.

Of these, only Takarazuka Revue has a committed cast like Shiki. Productions with indefinite runs have been the sole area of Shiki, but due to the fact past yr, HoriPro has taken up the obstacle with its phase production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Kid.”

Having said that, the historical past of Shiki’s very long-functioning productions is deep and rich. Just after Tokyo and Osaka in the 1980s, “Cats” was a profitable lengthy-functioning manufacturing in Fukuoka and Sapporo in the 1990s.

Shiki is also distinctive for concentrating on regional performances. In 2008, the troupe launched the Kokoro no Gekijo (theater of hearts), a charitable job that invitations small children absolutely free of cost in parts exactly where there are handful of opportunities to view theater. The troupe also travels to distant islands such as Rishiri Island in Hokkaido to carry out musicals. Actions have been interrupted by the pandemic but resumed in April this year.

The emphasis on regional parts follows from Shiki’s theory of rectifying the overconcentration of culture in Tokyo. Shiki is taking part in a significant position in expanding the base of theatergoers and nurturing upcoming audiences.


Shiki Theatre Company’s exclusive functionality held in a fitness center of a junior high college in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, in July 2011, just after the Fantastic East Japan Earthquake