Actors who just performed on stage and children who came to see the show joyfully giving each other high-fives at the end of the play…. This is a familiar scene when the curtains fall at the Kokoro no Gekijo (Theater of the Heart) show, a unique theatrical performance project that started 12 years ago.
Surprisingly, the Kokoro no Gekijo audience is made up of all elementary school students. With the involvement of the children’s parents and supporting enterprises, the project is spreading widely throughout Japan.
Established in 2008 by one of Japan’s leading stage directors, Keita Asari, Kokoro no Gekijo is a project that supports education through theatrical arts.
Founded in 1953 with Asari as one of its original members, the Shiki Theatre Company started out as a “straight play” troupe. Eventually, in the 1970’s, the company shifted their weight toward producing Broadway shows and London musicals. It would not be an overstatement to say the theater company changed the sensibilities of the Japanese people.
Fully supported by the Shiki Theatre Company even after Asari’s death in 2018, the theatrical project for children offers performances that teach children vital concepts, such as the “importance of life,” “consideration for other people,” and the “joy in having faith in each other.”
From Hokkaido to the islands of Okinawa, the project’s scale has grown to 444 performances in 180 cities across Japan. This year alone, 560,000 children will be attending the group’s performances.
Long-running mainstream musicals like The Lion King are popular shows for students to go see on their school trips to Tokyo. However, according to Shiki Theatre Company’s senior managing director, Koki Ochi, it is Kokoro no Gekijo that electrifies children all over Japan, providing even those living in small cities without their own theaters a chance to meet and interact directly with the actors.
According to one teacher, there have been messages that were difficult to get across to the students in a classroom setting. However, through just seeing one performance, the children were able to understand and feel the message. The teacher described the live performance as having an “incredible effect.”
The unique project has caused a stir among various industries, and now over 220 enterprises and organizations support its cause. Employees of companies supporting the project often volunteer with the project, helping to further spread the message across the country. Many employees have expressed a sense of pride in their company’s good deeds from seeing the happiness and excitement of the children.
The musical performances have become an advantageous force in the cultural and emotional development of the youth in the audience, while also greatly influencing the adults around them.
The collaboration created between children and adults has resulted in a new form of entertainment. This indeed is another cherry on the cake.
Author: Yukihiro Watanabe