Centering on actor and care worker Naoki Sugawara, OiBokkeShi (derived from Japanese words meaning “old,” “blur,” and “death”) was founded in 2014 in the town of Wake in Okayama Prefecture. Sugawara works with ninety-four-year-old Tadao Okada, a former star actor who now cares for his wife with dementia at their home. Working from the principle of introducing theater insights to the places where the elderly are cared for and, conversely, incorporating the profundity of caring for the elderly into theater, the company holds theater performances created in collaboration with the elderly and care workers, and workshops that integrate theatrical methods into caring for people with dementia. The company’s activities attempting to tackle the challenges of the aging society through the unique approach of theater have transcended the fields of theater and caregiving, and attracted much attention in recent years.
Born in Tochigi Prefecture in 1983, Naoki Sugawara graduated from J. F. Oberlin University with a degree in integrated cultural studies. He is a playwright, theater director, actor, and care worker. He is the artistic director of the “aging and theater” company OiBokkeShi and also affiliated with Oriza Hirata’s Seinendan as an actor. He has performed in a range of fringe theater productions, especially the work of Shiro Maeda, Shu Matsui, Junnosuke Tada, Yukio Shiba, and Yudai Kamisato. Since 2010, he has worked as a caregiver at nursing homes for the elderly. In 2012, following the Great East Japan Earthquake, he relocated to Okayama Prefecture. He has held his “theater and aging workshops” all over Japan, employing theatrical approaches to caring for people with dementia. He is currently working on the art projects Enjoying Care and Growing Old Cheerfully in partnership with the Mie Center for the Arts. His accolades include the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s 69th Art Encouragement Prize (2018) for development of the arts, the 20th Okayama Arts and Culture Award (Second Prize) (2018), the Nagi Cultural Achievement Award, and the 1st Fukutake Education and Culture Award (2019).
Part of Works
Theatre of Wandering: Night Never Gets Darker
A man returns to his hometown for the first time in twenty years. After leaving the station ticket gates, he immediately runs into an old man from the neighborhood that he used to know when he was a child. “My wife with dementia has gone missing,” the old man tells him.
Pulled into the search for the old man’s wife, he begins to walk around the town that has changed so much and, before he knows it, starts going back and forth between the dream world and reality.
In this “wandering theater” performance, the audience experiences the play by walking around the streets with the actors.
Cast: 6-7 people
Portable Toilet Theatre
When old people struggling to care for those even older than them encounter theater, they begin to harness insights for their caregiving, and discover in theater a reason to live.
This is an autobiographical work by actor Tadao Okada and director Naoki Sugawara.
Is it acting or real? A performance or a workshop? An astonishing ninety minutes of ninety-plus Okada talking.
Cast: 4 people
Mei Sakura moved to Tokyo after graduating high school with dreams of becoming an actor. Returning to her hometown for the first time in ages with the death of her older brother, she gets stuck there after the coronavirus pandemic hits. She becomes addicted to playing video games day and night. And then one day, she realizes a strange, popcorn-eating old man is living in her home . . .
Bringing old age and theater together, out of a local hometown that seemed to have nothing comes a kind of play no one has seen before. Harnessing an addled mind and unsteady body, ninety-four-year-old star actor Tadao Okada invites audiences into a wonderland where reality and fantasy exist side by side.
Cast: 9 people