Photo: Courtesy of USC Center for Performance Experiment

Professor brings silent Japanese play to USC Theatre and Dance

"The Water Station" is being presented by the USC Department of Theatre and Dance at the end of this month. The slow-tempo silent play is directed by Steven Pearson, a USC professor and head of the graduate acting program.

The Japanese play, which premiered in 1981, was written by the late Shogo Ohta. The play has absolutely no words and is written in an intense, slow tempo. The play follows 18 travelers as they stop by a watering spot of some sort at different times and go their different ways, all while a man looks on, thinking about the decay of human society.

In terms of performance, this play is not like many others.

“It's somewhat akin to dance, although it's not dance, it's really theater," Pearson said. "But how people move and what they do really, you understand where they're from and what they're doing, or what their relationships are."

Pearson saw the play with his wife, Robyn Hunt, in the '80s and fell in love. Hunt, who is also a distinguished theatre professor at USC, is performing in "The Water Station."  Pearson and Hunt went to Japan in the early 2000s to work with Ohta on this play which has been performed all over the world, including Europe, Asia and the U.S. Now that Ohta has passed away, there are not many people who met and worked with Ohta and have permission to perform this play. Pearson said that Ohta “suggested that we teach what he does,” and that is what Pearson and his wife are attempting to do.

Eight graduate students and three professional actors will perform "The Water Station." They have been polishing and perfecting this show since the start of the fall semester. The students were chosen for the master's program from hundreds that auditioned around the nation. The cast is only made up of these 11 people, but a few of the actors play double parts.

Pearson also said it has gotten many good responses, saying, “It's something that very few people have seen, this kind of performance. It had very enthusiastic responses around the world."

Pearson directed "The Water Station" previously in Seattle in 2001, in NYC in 2005 and at USC in 2010, but thought it timely to do it again this year, and at this time. As the performance is about humans' resilience, he thought that with its proximity to 9/11, it is something that students could connect to.

"If people are in any way curious about or interested in something that has the feeling of dance, has the power and simplicity of theater, it's something that they're not going to get a chance to see pretty much anywhere else," Pearson said. "Not very many people have done it."

This unique theater performance runs about an hour and a half with no intermission. The space that it will be performed in is very intimate and is reminiscent of the earlier productions by Ohta himself. 

Pearson’s final remark about the show was about how different for the Carolina student body it would be.

"It's difficult to describe, he said."  "But if you want to see stuff that has come from another culture but is absolutely connected to what is happening with us now, in the United States, it's a very useful thing," he said.

"The Water Station" will play Sept. 21-23 at the Center for Performance Experiment at 718 Devine St. between Huger and Gadsden streets. Tickets are $10 and are only available at the door.



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