Behind Closed Doors: Japan Theater Invents A Brilliant Way To Watch Shows Safely

At the start of the performance, audiences don’t sit back and relax—they lean forward and peep into a hole.

The world of the performing arts shut down for a while with the pandemic, leaving artists and crews looking elsewhere to survive. But Japan, unsurprisingly, has an innovative answer. Tokyo-based dance company Moonlight Mobile Theater invented the Peeping Garden, an ingenious viewing format of separated cubicles surrounding a stage. This allows audiences to watch performances while still practicing social distancing.

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The Peeping Garden at the Komaki Community Center in Aichi Prefecture.

The new age of theater

The Moonlight Mobile Theater has been performing in different cities in Japan since it was established in 2016. It was their artistic director, dancer and choreographer Nobuyoshi Asai who proposed the new viewing format.

Thirty cubicles separated by dividers surround the circular stage. Each cubicle has a closed-door made of plywood and a mailbox slot that allows each audience member to watch the show. The theater group ensures the holes are wide enough to keep a sufficient field of view despite the obvious limitation.

Each door has two holes: a mailbox slot and one resembling a spyhole.

The doors are also lightweight so these can easily be disassembled and reconstructed, allowing the theater group to tour the country. As of this writing, there have been 12 sold-out peephole performances since it began last December in Nagoya.

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The cubicles are separated by dividers so audience members can practice social distancing.

Intimate viewing

What makes the new format interesting is how the restricted view and space create a sense of intimacy between the performers and the audiences. It builds a more personal connection rather than sharing it with fellow patrons as was the structure pre-pandemic.

Additionally, those who have watched the shows commented on the “peek-a-boo” experience. They claim it resembles the feeling of staying indoors due to the pandemic, limited to watching people outside.

As for the performers, Yura Sugiura, a 15-year-old dancer, shares how being unable to look at the audience creates a new sensation. It allows her to focus on her performance, limiting the possibility for distraction.

Dancers performing inside the circular stage.
The circular stage can only hold 30 audience members for every show.

Through the Peeping Garden, the Moonlight Mobile Theater has pioneered a groundbreaking invention in the world of performing arts. The clever viewing format is a door to possibilities. Hopefully, this inspires many others to continuously create opportunities for artists, providing livelihoods and reliving the glory of theater while in difficult times.

Photos from Ryosuke Sato.

Featured photo from Denys Nevozhai

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