Performance artist Kentaro Honma is rarely seen without stage makeup and an elaborate clown costume with colored light bulbs and electrical wiring. Honma’s stage persona is funny and charming but his pre-performance visage is pretty nice too, revealing a wide-open heart and a wish to befriend everyone he encounters. These traits make Honma an excellent choice as the “Clown” for Siro-A, a video projection dance group that was a semifinalist on America’s Got Talent in 2015.
“I love being on tour and meeting new people,” says Honma. “I love feeling the vibe of an audience, especially a foreign audience.”
Siro-A members depend on Honma to bring their own vibe to the audience, both overseas and in Japan, where many in the crowd are tourists eager to catch their gig. So Honma devotes a sizable amount of his time to practicing English.
“I use this site,” he says, showing his phone. “I have conversations in English with the instructors on DMM.com. It’s a very effective way to learn. Unlike being in a classroom, communication with my teachers is a mutual back and forth. It forces me to speak up, be friendly and interesting — all in English.”
Honma wasn’t always this way. In fact, he says he was “very shy” as a child.
“But my family moved around a lot, as my father is a pastor. So I was always the new kid in school,” explains Honma. “I had to make new friends almost every year. The adjustment wasn’t easy but I learned to be flexible and positive. I also cultivated an innate curiosity about people and the world. My first ambition was to become a politician!”
If that had happened, Honma would probably have gone far, but then the performance arts world would be deprived of his talents.
As the Clown, Honma functions as the emcee and opening act for Siro-A, getting the audience in the mood to enjoy the group’s vibrant, acrobatic dancing.
“My job is to get people in the proper frame of mind to enjoy themselves,” says Honma. “This is especially important when we go overseas. Foreign audiences like to know what’s going on and what to expect from our performance.”
Honma says he has encouraged other members to take up the same English lessons he takes.
“Generally speaking, Japanese performers are first-rate. They have a lot to offer in terms of quality of performance but they tend to fall short when engaging with the audience. I’m hoping to change that with Siro-A because most Japanese performers deserve more fame and success!”
Honma’s path to the performance arts runs almost parallel with his path to English fluency.
“I had always been interested in English as a language,” he says. “I didn’t really get English within the regular school system but I was fascinated by the words and sentence structures. I especially loved looking at words and imagining the various definitions, just from their visual images.”
Honma’s grandfather was an interpreter of German and so the young Kentaro had ambitions to go out and see the world, pass the United Nations Associations Test of English and even become a politician.
“I set up some major goals in my life, but the bottom line was, I didn’t study,” laughs Honma. “I went and bought all these English learning books for ¥100,000 but it didn’t come to anything!”
As a performance artist, Honma says that practicing his English is on the same level as brushing up on his solo comedy routines. When he’s not working with Siro-A, Honma does stand-up comedy (a rarity for a Japanese performer) and other stage gigs. He says the trick is to “never stop learning.”
His trademark performance is singing national anthems — or rather, ALL the national anthems. “
Come on, pick a country and I’ll sing the anthem,” he grins. It’s a great audience-pleaser and learning so many foreign languages has even improved his English skills.
“Performing is all about self-expression, and the will to communicate with others. Once you learn the ropes of communication, life on stage becomes so much more fun.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to live by
本間健太郎 (ほんま けんたろう）
1973年東京都生まれ。横浜、横須賀育ち。パフォーマンス集団「白A (SIRO-A）」のメンバーとして活躍するほか、世界の国々の国歌を暗唱できるという特技を生かして National Anthem Juke Boxer としても活躍。現在、新宿角座で白Aのライブ TECHNO CIRCUS がロングラン公演中（2月27日まで）。