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CTC Blog: Behind the Curtain

How the Light Gets In Dramaturgy: The Art of Japanese Gardens

How the Light Gets In, directed by Emilie Beck, is playing July 18-20 at Bratton Theater, as part of Chautauqua Theater Company’s 2019 season. Tickets are available here.

How the Light Gets In is set in a Japanese style garden in America. First developed as a place of reflection in the 6th century, gardens have long been a staple of Japanese art. The garden tradition has roots in the Shinto faith and was later influenced by the rise of Buddhism as well as by Chinese gardening techniques.

Over time, Japanese gardens evolved to take on many different forms. Tea gardens were first introduced in the Momoyama period (1185-1573), while larger Zen rock gardens became popular during the Edo period (1615-1867). Today, the three main styles of traditional Japanese gardens are the Karesansui (rock/dry/Zen garden), Tsukiyama (hill and pond garden), and Chaniwa (tea garden), each of which carries meaning. The garden in How the Light Gets In is a chaniwa; one of the play’s central conflicts involves the construction of a chashitsu, or tea ceremony house, in the garden.

Japanese gardens utilize elements such as ponds, streams, islands and hills to create miniature reproductions of natural scenery. Common elements of Japanese gardens include:

  • Stones, gravel and sand
  • Water - ponds, streams and waterfalls
  • Islands and bridges
  • Lanterns
  • Vegetation

Sasha Schwartz, How the Light Gets In Scenic Designer / 2019 Scenic Design Fellow shared the following about her design inspiration:

“The design is meant to evoke the peace and tranquility embodied by traditional Japanese gardens, without being appropriative. I approached it as a transitory place where these people happened to meet, as opposed to a fixed landmark. 


Above: Scenic image moodboard, by Sasha Schwartz

I was really inspired by a specific Japanese-American garden artist, Isamu Noguchi. He was a garden/landscape artist, sculptor, and scenic designer. I really like how he collaged different materials and mediums (sand, grass, mulch, stone, gravel, dirt, etc.) in interesting shapes and compositions. It maintains the spirit of the traditional Japanese garden aesthetic but updates it, which makes sense for him as a Japanese person raised in America.

The director, and I also discussed the idea of referencing 'Noh Theatre,' or traditional Japanese theater, as a way of visualizing the simultaneous simplicity and theatricality of the text.”


Above: Isamu Noguchi’s Sunken Garden (1961-1964)


Above: Isamu Noguchi’s California Scenario (1980)


Above: Hosho Noh Theater, in Tokyo, Japan

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