The Pembroke Players is the biggest College drama society in Cambridge and every year, a group of their students rehearse and devise a Shakespeare production with the aim of travelling to Japan to perform it. The Pembroke Players Japan Tour is primarily a cultural exchange made possible by creating a modern accessible Shakespeare production with accompanying workshops. Those of us who are lucky enough to be a part of the Tour are given the opportunity to travel to a wide range of educational institutions ranging from primary schools to universities and to run workshops and engage with the local students there. By doing this, not only do we hope to improve their English skills, but also to raise the profile and spread awareness of the University in general. The Tour was possible due to the generous support and funding by The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese and The GB Sasakawa Foundations, for which we are immensely grateful. To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the show chosen for this year’s Tour was Romeo and Juliet, the production chosen for the inaugural Pembroke Players Japan Tour back in 2006.
The first stage of the Tour involved a two-week rehearsal period. We rented accommodation in Cambridge at Corpus Christi College and spent our time during the day attending various Shakespearean verse workshops plus blocking the performance, and spent our evenings planning the educational workshops that we were to give the students in Japan. This preliminary stage of the Tour culminated in performances in three very different venues: The Japanese Embassy, Ely Cathedral and the Round Church in Cambridge. The Japanese Embassy performance also included a small exhibition of artefacts and news items from previous Japan Tours, as well as a Q&A session afterwards attended by Japanese and British dignitaries & ambassadors, honoured guests and previous Japan Tour members.
We departed from the UK on 14th September and arrived on the 15th, moving straight into our accommodation at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Centre. The next day marked the official start of our Tour and we travelled to the British School in Tokyo to deliver our first set of workshops and our first performance. We split into two groups with one group staying on the stage to run drama workshops based on interpreting Shakespearean verse and understanding hexamic pentameter, and the other going off into classrooms to give short presentations about themselves, their lives in the UK and what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge. We then came together for an hour of one-to-one ‘English chat time’ between the Pembroke Players and the Japanese students where we discussed in detail a range of topics that the teachers had listed on a set of flash cards for the students. The day culminated in a performance of Romeo & Juliet in the main auditorium.
The following morning we awoke early to catch a short-hop flight to the Japanese Island of Okinawa. We spent two days there, giving a performance at Okinawa Christian University and OIST (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology). The trip to Okinawa was a personal highlight for myself as I found conversing with the Japanese students at OIST to be very intellectually stimulating, particularly learning about the different ways in which STEM subjects are taught in Japan. Our trip to Okinawa culminated in a garden party hosted for us by several of the islanders at which we were thrilled to meet a Nobel laureate and enjoyed animated discussions with our hosts about the controversial American military presence there.
Our next venue call was at Seikei University. Seikei was unusual in that we spent an entire week there rather than just a day or two like at our other venues. I found this advantageous since it offered the opportunity to get to know their students in much more depth and form longer-lasting friendships. We split off into much smaller groups of around three people and preceded to spend our time moving between different classrooms and giving a mixture of presentation, workshops and chatting to their students one-to-one. During the evenings we were taken out into Tokyo by several of the older students to see the sights and sounds of the city and to appreciate the Japanese culture of the area.
After Seikei we gave a performance in the main auditorium at Meji University. In addition to a select few locals, we gave workshops to the students before showing them our final adapted piece. That evening also offered us the opportunity to attend a special celebratory event at the British Embassy in Tokyo to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Tour itself. Here we had the opportunity of meeting members of the Japan-British Society and the British Ambassador. Amongst the other invited guests were a group of graduates attending an engineering exchange program who had been living in Tokyo and who were also receiving funding from the Daiwa Foundation.
Our final venue in Japan was Daito Bunka (literally Great East Culture) University. Since it was our last performance before the long flight home we held an after-performance Q&A session with all the actors and production team; the audience asked us questions about the show, the English language, Shakespeare, Cambridge University – or in fact anything else! We also held a small raffle with an assortment of tourist memorabilia from the UK and hosted a buffet dinner. The following day we flew back to the UK, arriving on 3rd October at around 3pm at London Heathrow Terminal 3, just in time for the start of the new Michaelmas term.
After settling back into the academic rigours of the new Cambridge Year we had two more final performances to give: a single performance at the Old Sorting Office in Barnes in London and a week-long run in Robinson College Auditorium. Unlike before we didn’t give any workshops, however the performances were still enjoyed by all.
In summary, I found the Pembroke Players Japan Tour to be thoroughly enjoyable, educationally rewarding and intellectually stimulating. It has definitely sparked a desire to return to the country at some point in the future and has gifted me with several long-distance friendships. I would like to thank both Fitzwilliam College for awarding my funding from the Flightbookers Fund and the award donor for contributing financially to an overwhelmingly fantastic and unmissable experience – I am feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity.