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The Japanese Man Known as “The Father of Mexican Theater”: Seki Sano

(By Línda Vanesa Perla)

Seki Sano, born the 14th of January 1905 into the privileged minority of Japanese society, has become known as the “Father of Mexican Theater”. Much of his influence in the theater has been felt all over Latin America through his extensive teaching of the Stanislavsky method through social and political theater. However, his influential career in the theater began years before in Japan, 1923.

At this time the Great Kanto Earthquake has occurred which was as much a political as a natural disaster. It marked the moment in which the Japanese modern state reared it’s ugly face in order to cover up its vulnerability. Civil and military officers took advantage of the chaos to eliminate “enemies” of the state: Koreans, Chinese, Buraku people (untouchables), socialists, anarchists, and labor leaders. There was much state controlled media and rumor manipulation to cover up the murders.

After the earthquake, Sano founded the Association for Theater Studies and became a serious devote. Int eh beginning, the association consisted of a high digestion of Western theater including: Irish revolutionary nationalists plays, Ibsen and French Nationalism, Russian psychological realism and formalism, German expressionism, Soviet constructivism and Proletcult.

Shortly afterwards Sano began attaining the Tokyo Imperial University Law Department. He became consumed with the study of scientific analysis of social and political reality as a base for popular theater. During which he began to become interested in Marxist thought. As a practitioner he gained credibility at the success of Don Quijote Liberated by A Lunacharsky, establishing himself as a proletarian theater director where his slogan revolved around, “Art is a weapon!”

In May of 1930 he was arrested alongside his company members and was ordered to move out of the country within a month. He did not leave until he had received an invitation from Moscow to be the representative of Japanese Proletarian Theater Organization (PROT) at the International Workers’ Dramatic Union (IWDU). During his time in Moscow he organized many conferences and organizations alongside PROT and IWDU. Alongside his extensive work at the core of theatrical organization for social and political change, he was brought in to learn the Stanislavsky method at the Moscow Art Theater. Due to his range of interests and talent he came into close contact with many of the father’s of many methods. It is also, legend?, that he was Stanislavsky’s right hand man to much of this teachings. It is said that he was respected so much by Stanislavsky himself that he was allowed to take over teaching the Stanislavsky method to students when Stanislavsky could not be there. For which he characterized the USSR at the “Paradise For Theater”.

In 1937 he lived in Europe for a year where he was high involved in the Anti-Nazi Theater and Film movement. Yet, there was an inability to retain asylum so, due to the rejection from the USA, he prepared himself to move to Mexico.

On April 26, 1939 Sano arrived in Mexico City with a mission to promote anti-Nazi-fascit consciousness among the Mexican people. Within three months of arriving in Mexico City, Sano proposed a project of Theater of Arts (TA) To the Mexican Union of Electric Works (MUEW). The slogan of which stated: “THeater of the people, for the people”. Sano was clear to declare the group belonged to the Mexican people and announced the opening of a drama school for works and employees. Many Mexican artists such as Silvestre Revueltasas, Blas Galindo and David Alfaro Siqueros, who belonged to The Mexican League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists (LEAR).

Sano prepared actors through the Stanislavsky method. Thought which, in 1941, he staged Clliford Odets’ play Waiting for Lefty in the saloon of Tramcar Conductors Union in support of their strike. Whilst encouraging the development of puppet and dance theater.

As a result, the first Mexican modern dance, La Coronela, was a collaboration between Sano and Waldeen, with music by Silveste Revuletas and Blas Galindo.

After the attack on Pearl Labor on the 8th of December 1941, the Japanese community was put under surveillance in Mexico. At the same time Sano was actively organizing an agitprop noble theater with students of the Theater of Arts. On May 25, 1942 at the mass meeting held in Zocalo to support official declaration of was against the Axis Countries, Sano directed an agri-prop play, Mexico de pie, on the sinking of Mexican vessels by German submarines. He also mounted a tent/truck theater to show plays with messages of struggle against oppression in and around Mexico City.

He was not immune of economic troubles, however, as a result of having been cut off by his mother and, somehow, loosing the support from MUEW. This resulted in an experience that allowed Sano to identify with the hard-working yet poor Mexican people.

As he began to grab his foothold once more, he began teaching film actors and collaborating on script and film development. He continue to teach theater and promote new play development. To the end of his life he insisted on the importance of mobile theater in Mexico in order to create an authentic popular theater.

He died in Mexico City on the 29th of September, 1966.

The reason I have decided to share this man’s life is to highlight the importance of immigration and expose another side of theatrical history that is not in the cannon. I did not know that the man I have to thank for being the ‘Father of Mexican Theater’ was a Japanese man with no direct lineage to Mexico or Latin America. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon this man and hope that if you have found any of this information interesting or exciting to look him up. I must admit it is difficult to find extensive information about him. However, it is out there.

I will leave you al with an interview of Ricardo Montalban, a notable Mexican American Film actor how corked with Seki Sano.

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