A Week with Yoshi Oida

Feature in Issue 7-3 | Autumn 1995

Last April, Sarah Toogood enlisted in a week-long workshop led by Yoshi Oida. She shares her thoughts with us.

I joined the Yoshi Oida workshop thirsty to experience new ways of exploring physicality through performance having recently had a string of disappointments with physical theatre workshops. They’d left me feeling as if I’d just hopped off a conveyor belt of regurgitating mechanical ‘techniques’.

My first introduction to Yoshi Oida was when I was asked to write a review of his book An Actor Adrift. I very quickly became engrossed. The book describes Yoshi’s story – a traditional Japanese performer who, in the 60s, decided to leave his country and join Peter Brook’s International Theatre Company in Paris. Yoshi explains, ‘As I worked with Brook I had to throw away all my carefully learned techniques until eventually I discovered that the only thing you really need is freedom.’

I felt incredibly inspired by this account of his broad experiences, but I suppose even more by his philosophy of life, which inevitably underpinned his attitudes towards creating theatre.

We seemed to work many of our inhibitions and egos out of our systems

My expectations of the course were therefore high with a guarded preconception that he would be a bit of a tyrant – uncompromising and possibly on the ferocious side. Fortunately he was none of these. From the beginning his approach was very gradual, genuine and sensitive. He warmed up with us, taking the time to get to know us, and led us through physically demanding martial art type exercises. He frequently used the terms ‘tasting’, ‘tasting the movement’, ‘tasting the space… the voice’. This seemed to be the essence of the work that was to follow – aiming to find a harmony between us which would be fluid enough to move through many theatrical possibilities.

I was very relaxed with the organic nature of these workshops. Perhaps relieved, once I realised that the week was not going to echo previous workshop experiences. Rather than clever techniques, it was Yoshi’s personal passion for sharing his explorations and visions which inspired us all. In his exercises he shared with us the importance of working intensively to keep body and mind alive and open to new possibilities. He explained that this is, and can only be, physically and mentally demanding, reminding us that, ‘in order to understand something you must completely unify yourself with it’.

Although this was exhausting at times, it made sense when we moved onto freer exercises which drew on our own creative imagination. We seemed to work many of our inhibitions and egos out of our systems, focusing instead on creating a good environment for each other to act in.

My conclusion from the workshop with Yoshi was that he had provided us with something which was definitely closer to a performance ‘experience’ than any other workshop I had previously taken. Rather than bombarding us with ‘useful tools’ he had shared perspectives on exploration and enquiry which could open up new possibilities within ourselves as creative individuals.

However, inspiring though it was, I still felt that even Yoshi’s week of workshops had something missing. The week could have taken on some sort of shape as a whole – OK, we had tasted all the ingredients and had relished digesting them – but it would have been so fulfilling to work with Yoshi and create something unique to the group?

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 7-3
p. 15