Tsuyoshi Sugiyama is a leading and talented Japanese director known for his unique artistic style through decoding the world’s classic theatrical works from a modern perspective and materials.

 Director Tsuyoshi Sugiyama and artists of Youth Theatre at the third International Experimental Theatre Festival held in Hanoi in 2016.

Having been trained and influenced by the creative thinking of the theatrical scene in Europe, Tsuyoshi Sugiyama is currently a typical face of the generation of young directors who are gradually asserting their name at home and abroad.

He worked for the first time with Hanoi-based Youth Theatre in 2016 and now decided to stick with the theatre in particular and the Vietnamese stage in general through art activities. He talks to The Hanoi Times about the inspiration.

Would you tell me about your predestined relationship with the Vietnamese stage?

The first time I came to Vietnam was in 2016 on the occasion of the 3rd International Experimental Theatre Festival. I brought the play “The Seagull” (Chekhov) to the festival and won the award for the best performance.

This is a classic, from a long time ago, but we have remade it in a more modern style. I remember, the stage was packed with spectators, many of whom were young audiences.

The then director of the Youth Theatre, Truong Nhuan, invited me to participate in an exchange with Hanoi’s artists. After that, I also received an invitation to collaborate with the theatre to produce “Uncle Vanya.”

Gradually, I decided to stick on with the Youth Theatre in particular and the Vietnamese theater in general.

When you first worked in Vietnam, what difficulties did you face?

The biggest difficulty is language. Secondly, the Japanese-Vietnamese way of communication and lifestyle is also a bit different.

How did you overcome those difficulties?

First, I must rely on the enthusiastic support of the leaders and actors of the Youth Theatre. In addition, artist Hong Hanh is a very close person, enthusiastically supporting me professionally and communicating with actors.

Besides the differences, we also have many similarities. Perhaps it is because my education in Vietnamese theatre follows the Russian school and fortunately I also studied directing in Russia. Therefore, we work together quite smoothly.

Currently, you are working on “Hedda Gabler” for Youth Theatre. This is also a classic play by Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen. In what the stage is the production of this play?

I spent several weeks letting the actors play their own roles. Currently, we are exploring the work together.

Usually, the director will direct the acting for the actor, but we will lose many important feelings and findings if we do so.

I give the actors the opportunity to learn and feel about the character for themselves, like planting emotional seeds in the actors and then, they will sprout their own thoughts and behaviors. Personally, I always respect the actor’s creativity. During the practice, they also taught me a lot of things.

 Director Tsuyoshi Sugiyama loves Hanoi food, people and performing arts.

Can you tell me a memory or an impression when working with Vietnamese artists?

Working with actors is really fun. You are all very talented and passionate about the performing arts industry. Sometimes, they have abilities that they don’t realize themselves. The role of the director is to explore and suggest for actors to express their creativity and expression. I’m trying really hard to do that.

There is one memory that I cannot forget. That was when I was working on “Uncle Vanya,” and sometimes I felt stuck, unable to think of a way to express my ideas or find a direction in a certain scene. I get angry and resentful with everyone. The actors were also very tired and stressed, but no one showed an unpleasant attitude. On the contrary, they told jokes to make me and everyone laugh together. Then we jointly went through those difficult times. This was a completely new and exciting experience that I had never seen before in Japan.

I think this is something special in the character of Vietnamese people. Even in difficult situations, people never get depressed, but they use laughter, humour, optimism to overcome. This makes me feel really comfortable working here. It is the Vietnamese spirit that inspires me to find my creative direction.

 Director Tsuyoshi Sugiyama at a rehearsal.

With experience of working with many theatres around the world, how do you evaluate the current Vietnamese performing arts?

I am very happy to work in Vietnam. Actors always give me positive energy. They have talent that is not inferior to the team of artists in other countries. Only directors and managers need to motivate them, so that they feel their profession has meaning and value, that will certainly motivate them to contribute more.

How’s your impression about Hanoi?

The food here is so good. I like the hot weather. People are agile and straightforward. They will speak out if they do not feel OK about something. They are also open and caring of others.

I like the Hanoi Old Quarter with its houses with an ancient culture, though the area is sometimes full of tourists. I like strolling in the quiet old streets. I also like parks with many trees and lakes, which bring me peace and tranquility.

I like vermicelli with fish, pho [noodle with chicken or beef], nem [spring roll] and coffee. Local coffee is rather strong but we don’t have that in Japan so it attracts me. I will use up my time to explore more delicacies that I haven’t tried.

Thank you for your time!