Origins and Evolution of Kabuki Theatre

The widely popular form of Japanese theatre known as Kabuki, developed in the seventeenth century as an amalgamation of several elements of other popular types of traditional Japanese theatre. Initially a performance art based on dance with romantic and more often than not erotic themes, and primarily used women and young men as performers. Eventually, after many points of drama concerning the performers and the often sexual nature of the performances, during the 1660’s the kabuki troupes began stringing together several scenes into a form of play, focusing less on vignette style dances and moving more towards staged theatre. As popularity grew, the style of Kabuki moved more towards the character of actual theatre, most easily being reflected in the ever evolving set pieces and the push for more complex plots. The development of Kabuki seemed to hit a form or renaissance during what is referred to as the Genroku period, the late seventeenth century, where the art really flourished and a new wave of creativity hit. This is also the era in which Kabuki and the Japanese puppet theatre began to intermingle, and Kabuki was forever changed, and was continually refined in later years, into a true style of theatre rather than a somewhat acted dance.

Kabuki is credited to be first created by the Shinto priestess Okuni of Izumo, although there is quite little information on the circumstances that brought her to create this unique style of dance. The most likely origins of Okuni’s style of dance is that of Buddhist dances that were fused somewhat with traditional Japanese folk dances. Additionally, there is speculation that her dances were inspired by elements of nō taught to her by Nagoya Sanzaemon, but there are no detailed descriptions of her original dances, and therefore we must operate mostly on speculation rather than fact. Regardless of the fact that no detailed information survives on the original dances, it is quite certain that this original performance art gained popularity quite quickly, for Okuni lead several touring troupes of dances, and several licensed kabuki theatres emerged in Kyoto quite rapidly, and the art began evolving just as quickly.

Works Cited:

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre History of Theatre. 6. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. 94-99 Print.

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Actors in Roman Theatre

The way actors in the Roman theatre worked is utterly different than it is today. Instead of permanent regional and local theatres, they held festivals that were run by the local government and acting troupes were hired for the occasion, as opposed to the normal casting process you would see at a theatre like the Pioneer theatre. Similar to an artistic director and the producer, in many ways, the head of the troupe was called the dominus, and he also happened to usually be the leading actor, much different than the dynamic of current theatres. He was responsible for the financial arrangements as well as acquiring the script for the play, hiring musicians, and finding costumes.

The actual acting troupes only consisted of six men, ignoring the old Greek “three-actor rule” as well as being far different than the productions you would see today with a varied cast of multiple people. Another difference was in the acting style itself. Most shows today feature a realistic style that plays towards actual human behavior. In Rome, it was highly sought after to have very detailed pantomime, large physical gestures, and beautiful vocal delivery; all of this of course being valued to fit with the very large theatres they used, far bigger than any you’d see today. Facial expression was also entirely unnecessary due to the large linen masks they wore.

As you all know, actors nowadays that play the same type of roll over and over again are considered unrounded and all together not very good, but actually in Rome it was incredibly highly valued for actors to master one type of roll until it was very well refined. In fact, the most popular actors were the ones who had a firm grasp on a specific stock character, and theatre goers flocked to see someone play the same roll over again.

It should also be mentioned that theatre was appreciated quite differently in their time. Most actors were believed to be slaves that were purchased by the  dominus in order to create his troupe. Quite a bit different than the free spirited actors of today, although it is worth mentioning that unless they were a highly respected star, no one made a livable wage at theatre. Not too horribly different than today.

Works Cited:

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre History of Theatre. 6. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. 68-69 Print

How Excellence in the Arts Can Get Your Education Funded

Dear valued alumni,

I know you get these all the time… I realize you have more pressing and exciting things to do with your hard earned money to send annual donations to your Alma mater, but before you toss this prepaid, pre-addressed envelope in your trash bin, hear me out.

You of all people know the value of a good education in the arts. We need our kind, all those right brained, starving artists to have a degree to back their passion and their talent. We need the arts to continue, but for the arts to continue we need an educated group of artists in each generation, and somehow, we need to find the funds to support the next generation of free thinkers.

The practice of gifting an education to promising talents has been around for years. Way back in Japan in the fourteenth century we can see the tale of how a young artist changed his world thanks to the fellowship he earned for his promise.  Zeami Motokiyo was the son of an actor and playwright, Kan’ami, who wrote a play, Sotoba Komachi, which was seen by a wealthy, and generous man with a ravenous interest in the arts, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (remind you of anyone?).

Yoshimitsu was so intrigued by the work of Kan’ami, he funded the education of his son, Zeami, providing him with a court education.  All because he believed in the arts and the importance and power they have. He spent his own money to ensure the quality and growth of the art the next generation was pursuing.

You may be asking yourselves, “What a sacrifice. Could it have been worth it?”.  I can’t speak for Yoshimitsu as he’s been dead a few good centuries, but I can only imagine his pride and satisfaction as I look back on Zeami Motokiyo’s illustrious career. He’s credited as the main contributor to an entire art style, “Noh”.  He was the head of a theatre troupe, a director, an actor, a playwright, and ,perhaps most importantly, a theorist. He left behind many writings explaining and defining the art of Noh.  Pretty good investment, wouldn’t you say?

Am I saying your generous donations to our College of Fine Arts will produce the new “Noh”? No. Well, not necessarily…. but who’s to say? How can we know what could be “Noh” if we keep telling these kids no.  So why don’t take the risk and give these kids a try?

I thank you in advance for your generous contribution.

Kirsten Jade Allen

 

Works Referenced

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.

Theatregoers Then and Now

Greetings trendy, affluent, most likely on the right side of liberal readers! Since you’re reading this post, I would assume this is either your night off from your many season ticket holding obligations or your cozy sunday morning. As you enjoy your twenty-first century cup of tea, I’d like to take you back a few dozen centuries to the theatrical entertainment of those who lived in Ancient Rome.

Just like now, not all theatre was high brow, production value, moral of the story, two hour spectacles. Some entertainment simply exists to entertain.  In our society we have street performers, circuses, dancers, acrobats… etc.  Though this may not be the scripted “theatre” we know and love, these theatrical acs of entertainment fall in the same category and have been there to occupy the fancy of audience members for centuries, even when organized theatre wasn’t around as an option.

Popular entertainment, nontraditional performance based shows available to the masses, has been around in all eras.  In Medieval Europe there were traveling tropes of mimes, acrobats and dancers; in Elizabethan England there were  shows baiting large animals such as bears for audiences; in the United States starting in the late 1800’s, there were circuses and vaudeville theaters.

It can be difficult to imagine the merit in such simple entertainments, and wonder how they could be theatre or how they could last so long, but truly, not much has changed.  I think we may find some similarities between some of our “guilty pleasure” entertainments and Rome’s.  In Ancient Rome, there were races (chariot of course, no NASCAR, but still…),  animal  shows (think zoos, animal planet, sea world), I’m not quite sure we have anything to match the horror of Gladiator vs. Lion shows, but I feel we share some of the desire to see humans win or fail horribly (American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance…etc.),  historic battle reenactments (depending on how close you are to your roots, you may relate to watching a similar thing on a large field with your uncle and cousins in colonial costumes) and so on.  See? Popular entertainment is a huge facet of the social and artistic world as we know it.

I’m not asking you to toss your tickets to tonight’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but simply to appreciate the simpler form of art as you see it. Next time you pass that street contortionist, drop a dollar in his jar. You know… for old time’s sake.

Kirsten Jade Allen

Information as found in Living Theatre: A History of Theatre, 6th Edition

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre: History of Theatre. Sixth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill , 2012. Print.

Origins of Roman Theatre

There is a quite interesting dichotomy between what is often described as stereotypical Greek drama and the drama of the Romans. Many influences were present in the creation of Roman theatre, but it should be noted that they took a much more pragmatic approach to the theatre. Whilst they took much from the Greeks, it seems the Romans had no lasting desire for the lofty tragedies of their predecessors, and instead took a route that is most comparable to our own popular entertainment.

Still based rather heavily off of Greek archetypes of New Comedy, a more realistic form of comedy that focused mostly on every day issues, the Romans put their creative energy into designing a form of what could honestly be referred to as farce that entertained their masses highly, and as I mentioned before can be compared even now to popular sitcoms on network TV. They also borrowed heavily from the Greek tradition of mime, producing coarse and often vulgar improvised performances all throught the southern half of Italy

Of course, ever the expanders, the Romans didn’t just borrow from the Greeks, and in fact gained a lot of their knowledge of theatre from other places. Most of their appreciation of the arts actually came from the Etruscans, a society to the north-west of Rome that peaked at about 650 to 450 B.C.E. It was the opinion of many that Roman comedy was actually born more from the comical scenes that were improvised during Etruscan marriage and fertility rites.

Finally, the last major factor that contributed to the creation of Roman theatre was Atellan Farce. Once again most likely borrowed from the Greeks, Atellan Farce was rather similar to mime, but dealt mostly with satirizing prominent historical figures as well as their own Gods, and was also frequently about familial problems. One of the first methods of theatre that used reoccurring stock characters that traditionally mocked people from the Roman countryside, it became its own literary genre once it caught on in Rome.

Unfortunately, Romans were never really considered an innovative theatre culture, but they leave a lasting impression for popularizing the art form and making it something that appealed strongly to the masses.

Works Cited:

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre History of Theatre. 6. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. 57-60 Print

History of Theatre Blog #2

Kirsten Jade Allen

Titus Maccias Platus (224-184 B.C.E.)

Higher Learning Pays and Paid

Greetings, renowned science masters, I must confess myself intimidated to speak directly to you. What information could I possible have to offer you that you can’t figure out on your own? But, alas, I have figured out a method to get your careers out of the basement chem lab and into the Time Magazine.  I found a similarity between creative thought and scientific thought. And here it is: The practice of one man taking an old formula and adding one or two small changes and becoming a wildly celebrated creator occurs not only today, but in Ancient Rome as well.  Titus Maccias Platus is a prime example of that.  He took what he knew from Greek Theatre and added his own spins and everyone loved it. Platus you’re a star.

Titus Maccias Platus was the most successful and long lasting comedic playwright in Ancient Rome.  His works were often produced during his life and often read long after his shows were no longer being staged and produced. If you look hard enough, you can still find adaptions of his 20 surviving plays produced today. He took elements from Greek Hellenistic theatre but tweaked the equation with small changes like removing the chorus and adding background music. He also took away the  then popular formula of creating stories by satirizing current political themes, and used simple romance as the base for his plots.

Even if you never have the good fortune to see a Platus play, you almost certainly have seen a product of his work. Both Shakespeare and Moliere modeled some of their plays off of his, including A Comedy of Errors. Platus also introduced us to many stock characters (oafish soldier, loud mother in law, silly doctor, naive protagonist), who are bound to seem familiar to all.  If you know Platus for nothing else, these contributions are widely recognizable and we must all appreciate him for that.

So playwrighting and science aren’t that different after all. The scientific method of taking a base formula and adjusting it to make something new and delightfully self promoting has been practiced and reinforced for years.  What the lesson from all this? It’s time to start tweaking; you may be the next Titus Maccius Platus.

Information as found in Living Theatre: A History of Theatre, 6th Edition

Poet, Playwright, and Puppeteer.

Chikamatsu Monzaemon was a Japanese playwright born in 1653 who is credited with writing more than one hundred plays. He was born into a family of literary figures that published a collection of Haiku poetry. He did not begin writing his plays until the age of thirty because he made an effort to succeed first in many other professions. Because of his lack of success in these early work forms however, he learned a vast amount about society that he would use in his writing. It is this knowledge of his culture that made his plays so successful and vital.

Most of his plays, or at least the best known, were written for Bunraku theatre and were therefore performed by puppets. The puppets used during this time were not elaborate like the puppets we see today but were simpler and realistic. Today the puppets used are typically 2/3rds the size of a real human but in his time were much smaller. Here is shown a modern day puppet used in a Monzaemon play, you can see how ornate and detailed they have become.

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(Photo: Bunraku.Cul.Columbia.edu)

He had an understanding of his society that is reflected in his work. The conflict between personal desires or emotion and a person’s responsibility in society was a topic often commented on which is often seen as moralistic. Many of his plays recap actual incidents in history that were current events at the time. His history plays were loosely constructed about the nobility in Japan while sometimes including supernatural aspects. Chikamatsu’s dramas were often about the lower and middle class including real stories and events. Chikamatsu had a remarkable skill for poetry as well which he used in his plays to elevate the drama and heighten the characters interactions with one another through language. 

Chikamatsu Monzaemon is known as the first and best Bunraku writer and he is accredited for much of the artform’s ability to transform into what it has become. He has been compared to Shakespeare and Marlowe as one of the great playwrights because of his verse quality and how he uses that along with a great understanding of society. 

 

Works Cited:

Keene, Donald. “Chikamatsu and the Early World of Bunraku” Bunraku.cul.columbia.eduhttp://bunraku.cul.columbia.edu/bunraku/pages/early

Wilson, Edwin, and Alvin Goldfarb. Living Theatre History of Theatre. 6. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. 86-99 Print.