The History of TIP
On February 10, 1896, the first meeting of The Tokyo Dramatic and Musical Association took place. This meeting was chaired by the Chief of Mission of Belgium, Baron Albert d'Anethan. The Baron, his wife Baroness E. Mary, and 7 additional Japanese and European men and women out of the one hundred members present formed the original committee of this organization, which would later be renamed Tokyo International Players.
On November 6, 1896, TIP's first recorded performance was A Lesson in Love by Charles Smith Cheltnam. With ups and downs during the lead up to the Pacific war, in 1940, TIP was forced to disband with TIP records destroyed during the war-time bombings.
Although TIP is a non-profit group, the work it produces is by no means amateur. Over its long history, many active members have appeared in professional theatre in Japan and abroad.
The history of TIP, recounted by an Honorary Lifetime Patron
Our Honorary Lifetime Patron, Miranda Kenrick, joined TIP in 1963 and for several decades was active on and off the stage. In the years before computers, she was secretary and membership secretary on the TIP Board and also wrote publicity and the newsletter. She created, and for 40 years, maintained TIP's archives and photo library.
Part One: 1896
On February 10, 1896, the first general meeting of the Tokyo Dramatic and Musical Association — known today as Tokyo International Players — was held at the original Imperial Hotel. Prominent among the hundred people in attendance were the Chief of Mission of Belgium, Baron Albert D’Anethan, and his wife, the Baroness. In her book Fourteen Years of Diplomatic Life in Japan, the Baroness reported that after a "considerable amount of warm discussion" the decision was taken to create an amateur dramatic society. She was one of the committee of nine Japanese and European men and women voted into office. The first committee meeting was held the following week at the Belgian Legation.
Little could the Baroness have dreamed that the volunteer group that she helped pioneer at the end of the 19th century, and of which she was to be a leading member, both on and off the stage, would still be going strong in the 21st century. Perhaps, though, she would not be surprised to know that for over a century topics at committee meetings have been capable of sparking "considerable amounts of warm discussion.
A Lesson in Love by Charles Smith Cheltnam was chosen for the first performance. The committee had connections with the Imperial Household that lent, as a theatre, a splendid room in a grand hall of an engineering college.
On opening night, November 6, 1896, the audience arrived by rickshaws at the grand hall. The performers, in costume and make-up, waited backstage. Minutes before the curtain was to rise the electrical system suddenly blew, plunging the entire building into blackness. Hardly an auspicious beginning but, barely missing a beat, the show went on by candlelight.
A week later the cast, in costume, reassembled on the stage to have pictures taken. The photographer pressed a button and his equipment exploded. The blast was deafening, loud enough to be heard in the Russian and Italian legations — where it was assumed to be a bomb — and severe enough to activate a fire on the stage. It also cost an unfortunate Japanese man, enrolled to help with the photography, two of his fingers as well as innumerable terrible gashes.
It is a wonder the Club didn’t give up there and then. It’s a further wonder that TIP has never given up. The continuity for over a hundred years of the Tokyo International Players, staffed entirely by volunteers, for most of whom Japan was a foreign country, is in itself a remarkable achievement. It speaks volumes for the dedication of theatre lovers. It also suggests that TIP filled a niche in providing live theatre in the English language. At the turn of the 20th century, TIP productions were society events, on the calendars of many foreign diplomats as well as high ranking Japanese and members of the Imperial family.
Part Two: Into the 20th Century
The Academy Award-winning actress sisters Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were both born in Tokyo, to British parents. Olivia was born in 1916 and Joan in 1917. Their father Walter was a patent attorney and a professor of law at Waseda University. Their mother Lilian, a RADA-trained actress, chose marriage over career when she moved to Tokyo. Fortunately, she found the Tokyo Amateur Dramatic Club (as TIP was then known) and was an active member for several years.
Mrs. de Havilland starred in the 1917 production of KISMET, a three-act play written in 1911 by Edward Knoblauch which ran for several years in London and New York. It was eventually also made into a film and a musical. KISMET is remembered in TIP history as the show in which an actor was knocked unconscious on stage! The Japan Advertiser of June 1st, 1917 reported: “At the close of the harem scene, the leading man Mr. Brady was caught by the descending curtain and received hard blows on the head. He soon recovered, however, and gamely finished the play with unimpaired ability, topping off a personal triumph that has yet to be equaled by an amateur actor in this part of the world. The burst of applause that broke forth when it was announced that Mr. Brady would be able to continue showed how keenly they sympathized with him in his accident.”
Half a dozen years later the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake levelled Tokyo and Yokohama and destroyed TIP’s earliest written records. Unsurprisingly, it also temporarily halted TIP’s activities. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel had opened on the
very day of the earthquake and was one of the few buildings in Tokyo to withstand the shock. The hotel had an intimate little theatre and when TIP was revived, the Imperial Hotel welcomed the club to perform on its stage. This happy association continued sporadically until the early 1960s.
Until the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japanese law decreed that all proceeds from TIP plays had to be donated to charity. The sum to be contributed had to be paid before it was known whether there would be any profit. The result was that the actors and club members themselves often had to provide the “charity funds.” Furthermore, the police insisted on being provided with a detailed translation of each play.
By 1940, the police were keeping a close eye on TIP, suspecting it of being an espionage center. Even without being under such a cloud, the club would of course have had to disband in the tense circumstances before the outbreak of the Pacific War. Wartime bombs then obliterated the written records that had been kept since the earthquake.