Director Yukio Ninagawa opened the Saitama Gold Theatre seven years ago and settled only one rule for his actors: to be aged over 55. Now, some of his employees aged around 90, who act leading roles in plays such as “Romeo and Juliet”, feel they have found their purpose in life.
“I have weak hearing and poor sight. I have problems all over my body,” she said. “But I am still young in spirit,” says amateur actress Etsuko Shigemoto, 87. “I have already reached the afternoon of my life, but it is wonderful to spend my last days with the company. I really like acting. This is what I live for,” she said.
“Drama makes me vigorous. I am too busy to get senile. I still feel as if I was 20 years old and now my dream is to become a good actor,” said actor Kiyoshi Takahashi, 85.
Director Yukio Ninagawa, 77, said the acting experience is not necessarily required for his employees. His project is rather an “experiment” that would see older people take roles not usually open to them, such as the lead in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, according to the international press.
“To ordinary theatre people, it is an unconventional group,” said Ninagawa.
The experiment proved to be a revelation for the director, who says older actors are capable of creating a greater range of emotions simply due to their age, deeper wrinkles or sagging cheeks.
“You cannot obtain such expressions before you are 60,” Ninagawa said. “It is meaningless for youngsters to pretend to have that.”
After Saitama Gold Theatre had five successful productions in Japan, Ninagawa is taking now his actors abroad, in Paris, to play “Ravens, we shall load bullets!” from May 30 to June 1.
“I do not expect the whole of the audience will appreciate it,” Ninagawa said. “I only hope that people in Paris will say: ‘Hey, grandmas and grandpas have come from the Far East as a group and did what they called drama, but it is inspiring’.”