News & Reports

Young Theater-Goers Program performances created with top-class artists give children their “first stage experience”!

  • 2023.08.10

Pinocchio <New Production> starring Jo Taira, Dai Miyata, and Yasuji Ohagi (February 18 and 19, 2023)  ©Koji Iida

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan launched the Young Theater-Goers Program in FY2021. Through this program, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan brings in top-class artists to plan and produce original stage productions aimed at elementary, middle, and high school students. These productions are intended to be the “next step” for children and youth who have participated in music workshops and child/youth-oriented concerts when they were younger. In addition to staging productions, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan also conducts outreach activities at schools with the artists, providing opportunities for young people to develop an interest in the performing arts and theater.

The Young Theater-Goers Program has staged four productions in the last two years, and two more productions (one for elementary school students and one for middle and high school students) are scheduled to take place in FY2023. Below, we will introduce the productions that have been staged so far, as well as other initiatives of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan’s Young Theater-Goers Program.

Fostering enriched sensibilities in children through innovative and original works of art

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan’s Young Theater-Goers Program has planned, produced, and presented original stage productions with the aim of creating opportunities for young people to make their “debut” as theater-goers. Since the program’s inception in 2021, four productions have been staged: Hamlet (for middle/high school students), Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects; for elementary school students), Opera Chopin (for middle/high school students), and Pinocchio (for elementary school students). Each of these productions were popular and received high acclaim.

The basic concept of the program is to incorporate literary works that children should become familiar with in their youth, as well as famous classical pieces that they are exposed to in music class. At the same time, the finished productions are unique, colorful, and ambitious, showcasing the infinite possibilities of the stage space at the Tokyo Buka Kaikan Recital Hall.

Hamlet <New Production in 2021> starring Jo Taira and Dai Miyata (December 18 and 19, 2021)  ©Koji Iida

The first production staged in FY2021 was Hamlet, performed by director and puppet performer Jo Taira and cellist Dai Miyata. Originally performed at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall in 2016, the over three-hour-long production was shortened to about 120 minutes and adapted to make it more accessible to middle and high school students. This “one-man puppet show” brought Shakespeare’s play to life through Jo Taira’s own view of life and death—that life is to be cherished—and must have had a huge impact on the young audience.

Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects) <New Production> (February 5 and 6, 2022)  ©Rikimaru Hotta

The second production, aimed at elementary school students, was Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects). Butoh dancer Emiko Agatsuma played the role of an eccentric noble lady, while Masanori Kato, the music director, composed several masterful melodies that the audience went wild for, including the catchy “Temari-uta.” Butoh, considered to be a form of underground dance-theater, was performed together with singers and instrumentalists in a manner that added a humorous flair and left a lasting impression on the audience. All in all, it was a captivating and exciting time for the children, who were experiencing Butoh for the first time.

This production was also highly acclaimed in Europe, where it was nominated as a finalist in the Best Opera category of the YAMawards (The Young Audiences Music Awards), an award for creativity and innovation in the field of musical production for young audiences around the world.

Opera Chopin <New Production> (December 17, 2022)  ©Koji Iida

Opera Chopin, staged for middle and high school students in FY2022, is an opera based on many of Chopin’s masterpieces. This miraculous production was “excavated” based on the vocal score and recordings that remained after the original score had been scattered and lost. Directed by Tatsuji Iwata, this dramatic opera presents a fantastical story with Chopin as the main character. Yasuhiro Yamamoto, who played the role of Chopin, displayed his incredible voice and talent as a vocalist while singing almost continuously throughout the entire production.

Pinocchio <New Production> starring Jo Taira, Miyata Dai, and Yasuji Ohagi (February 18 and 19, 2023)  ©Koji Iida

Pinocchio (for elementary school students), staged recently in February 2023, was a fun, 70-minute-long production featuring the golden duo of Jo Taira and Dai Miyata, joined by Yasuji Ohagi on the guitar. Puppet performer Jo Taira played all the characters, while cellist Dai Miyata and guitarist Yasuji Ohagi were in charge of the music. The production painted a warm portrait of curious-minded Pinocchio and the tender old man who watches over him, and was interspersed with famous classical pieces throughout. It was so popular that tickets sold out, and the excitement was palpable in the full house.

All of these productions were sufficiently engaging, even for adult members of the audience, with none of them containing content specifically for children that would bore adults. They featured a high level of artistry that must have been quite spectacular for children who were experiencing the theater for the first time.

Synergy created by interactions between artists and children
Ayano Shima (right) and Kahori Takahashi (left), in charge of organizing the Young Theater-Goers Program at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan

“We don’t have any particular criteria for selecting the artists, so we were able to choose flexibly from among those active in various fields. With Emiko Agatsuma, the Butoh dancer who starred in Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects), we attempted to dispel the intimidating reputation Butoh has by creating a bright image from the outset, beginning with the advertisements. The audience was wonderfully attentive, and tickets for the second day out of two days sold quite well due to the positive reception on the first day. We struggled at first, but we were thrilled to find out that Butoh could do so well,” says the program manager at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.

Outreach activities for Hamlet

The Young Theater-Goers Program also conducts many outreach activities in which artists visit schools to give performances and hold workshops. This gives the artists opportunities to receive enthusiastic questions from children who have seen their performances. Hamlet puppet performer Jo Taira and cellist Dai Miyata were asked questions such as, “Do you perform differently with and without a co-star?” and the children listened to their serious answers.

Outreach activities for Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects)

The Tokyo Bunka Kaikan program manager continues, “Children react differently when they hear live music by professionals, and their reactions, in turn, provide feedback to the performers. Pianist and music director Mr. Kato was so moved by the children’s reactions to Ms. Agatsuma’s performance at one of our outreach events that, seeing this, the stage director came up with the idea of having the musicians incorporate dance-like movements into their performance during the actual show. At another outreach event for Opera Chopin, the children seemed to be overwhelmed with what Mr. Iwata, the director, had to say about the opera, since the story coincidentally overlapped in many ways with current events.”

Two new productions are scheduled for FY2023. The first is Musical Drama: Mr. Simigdáli or the Gentleman Made of Groats, to be performed in August. This is a fantasy based on an old Greek folktale about a princess who is pursued by many suitors but dislikes them all. She decides to make her own man, and kneads a figure of a man from groats (semolina). The result, Mr. Simigdáli, is so wonderful that he is kidnapped by the queen of a far-off land, and she must journey to get him back. The music is directed, composed, and arranged by Takashi Niigaki, and Hitomi Tsukikage, a retired top musumeyaku (female role) star from the Takarazuka Revue, will play the queen who kidnaps Mr. Simigdáli.




In Ravel Saigo no Hibi (Ravel’s Last Days), to be performed in February 2024, composer Masanori Kato, who composed the music for Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects), returns to the stage to create a production centered on Ravel, a composer who gradually loses his memory due to a brain disease. Adapted and directed by Masahiro Iwasaki with a cast of actors, dancers, piano, violin, cello, and bandoneon performers, this production is certain to reveal new possibilities for the stage.

Text: Hisae Odashima

Translation: Jena Hayama

Young Theater-Goers Program Scheduled Productions in FY2023

For elementary school students:
Musical Drama: Mr. Simigdáli or the Gentleman Made of Groats <New Production>   Tickets on sale now
Date & Time: August 6, 2023 (Sun), 2:00 p.m. (doors open at 1:30 p.m.)
Venue: Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall
Music Direction, Composition, and Arrangement: Takashi Niigaki
Adaptation and Direction: Hidenori Hisatsune

For middle/high school students:
Ravel Saiki no Hibi (Ravel’s Last Days) <New Production>   Tickets go on sale on October 21 (Sat)
Dates & Time: February 17 and 18, 2024 (Sat/Sun), 2:00 p.m. (doors open at 1:30 p.m.)
Venue: Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall
Music Direction, Composition, and Arrangement: Masanori Kato
Adaptation and Direction: Masahiro Iwasaki

Video recordings of the Young Theater-Goers Program’s Mushi Mezuru Himegimi (The Lady Who Loved Insects) <New Production> and Opera Chopin <New Production> can be viewed on the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Channel.