Making Sensory Performance in Japan: Guest blog by Tim Webb

In Autumn 2016, Tim and Amanda Webb of Oily Cart had the exciting opportunity to travel to Japan, sharing their practice and collaborating with local artists, educators and practitioners to explore possibilities of making work for young audiences with complex disabilities. Here Tim writes about their fond memories of their trip…

‘Amanda Webb, designer for Oily Cart, UK young people’s theatre company, and myself, artistic director of the company recently returned from a visit to Japan. Amanda and I had long admired Japan from afar for its ancient traditions, extraordinary modern developments, and in particular for it wonderful variety of theatre. But the reality we experienced from the 5th to 20th October far outstripped expectation.

Our first stop was Tokyo where we led a seminar on the background and methods of the Oily Cart at the Shalom Minamikaze, a residential centre for adults with severe disabilities, and our base for the next three days. We worked with about 20 participants (there was some coming and going from day to day) made up of actors, teachers directors and social workers. Beginning with theatre games and the exploration of material and spaces to get the imagination flowing we devised a performance based on a number of multi sensory and very close-up encounters with our audience, the residents of the centre. Each day we would visit them in their living areas to try out the evolving material until by the afternoon the third day we had approximately 30 minutes of performance. On the final afternoon we gave two performances, playing to about 40 people altogether.


Amanda and I had a great time working with the workshop participants who we found to be very imaginative in originating material and very precise when it came to performing it. Several of the workshop participants told us that when they first heard about the Oily Cart and even when they watched YouTube videos of our shows they had a found it rather ‘strange’, but that now they had come to realise the value of our very personalised and interactive approach and could see how it could be put to use in their own work.

japan-5We moved on from Tokyo to Sendai, a city an hour and three-quarters north of Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train) where once again we opened proceedings with as seminar on background of the Oily Cart followed by two and a half days of workshops. This time we were in residence in the Sun-pucho community centre where we worked with a group similar to the one in Tokyo; a mix of theatre people, community workers and teachers. Our target audience in Sendai consisted of 20 five years olds with a variety of learning and sensory disabilities. Our emphasis was on very close-up performance that would be ultra-responsive to the requirements of individual audience members. One of the wonderful things about these devised workshop performances is that you have the resource of a cast of 20-odd who can deliver a good deal of one-to-one work. That in turn ensures that the audience can make a substantial contribution to the show becoming, when all goes well, the co-creators of the piece.

japan-4Amanda I found the creative processes in both Sendai and Tokyo absolutely exhilarating and the highlights of the trip. But there also the chance to do some sightseeing especially Kyoto where we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the temples and the gardens and had the opportunity to experience a butoh performance in a tiny traditional house where the audience was restricted to a maximum of eight. (Very Oily Cart, at least when it comes to audience size.)

In Tokyo we managed to fit in two quite brilliant kabuki performances, one at the National Theatre, the other at the Kabukiza, a theatre with a fabulously traditional exterior.

Many thanks to Kaori Nakayama who made this trip possible.


Oily Cart are currently performing ‘In a Pickle’, a ‘total theatre experience for children age 3-5 and their families inspired by Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale’ this Christmas at Arts Depot, London, before touring the show throughout early 2017.

Thanks to Tim and Oily Cart for this fascinating insight








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