In Remembrance: Michael Horne

Michael Horne, Founding Member, Nagoya Players

It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of Mr. Michael Horne, a pivotal figure in the performing arts community of Nagoya and a founding member of Nagoya Players.

Originally from Essex and a graduate of Cambridge, Michael found his way to Japan in the 1970s after brief stints in the US and Africa. While working as a professor at Nagoya University, it didn’t take long for him to notice a distinct lack of English-language performance in the city. In a very short time, Michael and fellow theater enthusiast Frank Hoyle recruited Karen Campbell, David Stones, William Hardwick, and a number of their students, including Kato Akiko and Yamada Chieko, who remained key active members for many years, to form Nagoya Players’ original troupe. Their success was immediate and everlasting. What Michael started nearly fifty years ago has blossomed and branched into a wide-reaching community of performers and artists, with Nagoya Players having produced over ninety productions since its inception.

While Michael was never keen to credit himself as the founder of Nagoya Players, yet all who knew him recognized him as such. If not for Michael, there would not be the vibrant English-language community theater that we enjoy today. Nagoya Players began as friends getting together in Michael’s home garden, rehearsing scenes and preparing costumes, sets, and props. Their ambition was simple and straightforward: to provide the people of Nagoya City with an opportunity to watch and listen to live English-language performances. In 1970s Japan, this was a very unique offering, and oddly enough, in some ways, it still remains so.

Michael directed several shows for Nagoya Players; notable among them were Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. He even had the opportunity to write and direct his own play, The Seven Deadly Sins. When not leading shows, Michael was undoubtedly involved in their making and found himself several times in the role of performer, stagehand, and technician.

After many years of teaching and performing, Michael retired and returned to England in the Spring of 1994. He spent his remaining years in Coggeshall.

While his physical presence may no longer grace our stages, Michael Horne’s legacy will endure through the countless lives he has touched and the artistic community he helped establish. His spirit will live on in every performance, in every artist that performs with Nagoya Players. He will forever be remembered for his indelible contributions to the cultural tapestry of Nagoya and beyond.

– Shawn Mahler, Creative Director, Nagoya Players

The following is from Mr. William Hardwick, friend to Michael Horne and a performer in some of Nagoya Players’ early productions:

I arrived in Nagoya in July 1975 and almost immediately met Michael, still excited at the success of his first play from the autumn of 1974. Michael was, I think to all who were around at the time, the kingpin. He was our leader, and the group was his baby. He involved himself in the direction of the plays and even wrote an excellent drama which was performed in a theatre somewhere in Imaike (I believe the building has now been demolished).

My wife and I still smile and mention Michael’s name every time we hear one particular piece of music. For the introduction to (I think) our third play, The Importance of Being Earnest, he decided on Rossini’s William Tell Overture for this moment. The lights were dimmed and the music began, conjuring up the peace and quietude of a gentle Swiss pastoral vision. Suddenly, the storm hits with loud and tempestuous thunder and lightning. Driving rain is easily imagined. This was the point when Michael adamantly insisted that the curtains rise not before or not after a particular point, which even today we recognise. It has made us smile for 45 years at least. The music suddenly ends as the curtain rises, and the characters are into their roles immediately. He understood drama very well.

His lectures on Shakespeare were wonderful to attend, and I am sure a lot of his students at Nagoya University’s old Faculty of Literature will look back on his influence. At our wedding in March 1977, one disappointing failure of his involved a poem he insisted on writing to mark our special day. We have a photo that I will try to find of him desperately writing his sonnet to our love. Kayoko and I would have been grateful for anything, but it did not reach the standard of excellence he usually set himself, so we sadly never received it.

Michael graduated from Cambridge University, possibly in 1967, and went to the University of California, Davis, where he undertook a PhD and taught undergrad lit. His mother died while he was there, and after her funeral, I believe he never returned. He then did a short contract lectureship at the University of Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. It was from there that he arrived at Nagoya University in 1974, I think it was. He was the local representative of the British Council, in those days a prestigious arm of the Cultural Branch of the British Embassy.

Michael was a link to my old life, and for a while, he visited us occasionally. I did meet up with him in London once, perhaps five years ago, but by then his health was in decline and he was struggling with the effects it had on what he was able to do. He had been a widely travelled individual, the lone traveller—the kind of Englishman one imagines sitting on the steps of a temple somewhere, reading a tome connected to where he was. He loved opera, and I imagine he could recognise any from a few bars played. His love of reading also made a library grow around him, and now both collections—books and albums—will now be an enormous work of love that has opened up for someone else.

William Hardwick, Founding Member, Nagoya Players