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Asian and African Theatre


Ch 10 Theatre in Africa In indigenous performance, words are often the least important element. Other languages , ... Other Japanese Theatre Forms Kabuki, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Asian and African Theatre

Asian and African Theatre
  • Ch 10

Theatre in Japan
  • At about the time religious cycles were
    flourishing in Europe, a very different kind of
    theatrical experience was being offered halfway
    round the world in Japan.
  • There, Noh theatre was perfected and codified so
    thoroughly that it is still performed today much
    as it was five hundred years ago.

Theatre in Japan
  • To understand Noh theatre we need to look at the
    political and cultural context out of which it
  • During the sixth century A.D. the Buddhist
    religion arrived in Japan from India and China.
  • In the seventeenth century an emperor gained
    power over Japan and took ownership of all land.

Theatre in Japan
  • In 1192 emperor ceded his secular authority to a
    shogun (military dictator), although he retained
    his status as a near-god in the religious realm.
  • The shogunate became hereditary, although new
    families won possession of the title from time to

Theatre in Japan
  • Japan was ruled in this manner until 1867, when
    American intervention led to the downfall of the
    shogunate and the return of power to the emperor.
  • Under shogunate Japan had strict social hierarchy

Theatre in Japan
  • In 1338 the Ashikaga family gained control of the
    shogunate and retained it for the next two
    hundred fifty years.
  • One of its goals was to eliminate foreign
    cultural influences and develop native art forms.

Noh Theatre
  • The most significant developments in Noh theatre
    began around 1375. At that time it was taken
    under the patronage of shogun.
  • The major influence on Nohs view of the world
    was Zen Buddhism, which reaches that ultimate
    peace comes through union with all being, the
    individual desire must be overcome, and that
    nothing in earthly life is permanent.

Noh Theatre
  • Noh dramas are classified into five types,
    according to the principal character god plays,
    warrior plays, women plays, madness plays, and
    demon plays.
  • Each Noh script is short and doesnt emphasize

Noh Theatre
  • The performers can be divided into three groups
    actors, chorus, and musicians.
  • The actors are trained from childhood and expect
    to devote twenty or more years to perfecting
    their craft.

Noh Theatre
  • The chorus is composed of from six to ten
    members. They sit at one side of the stage
    throughout and sing or recite many of the shites
    (main character and his or her followers) lines
    or narrate events.

Noh Theatre
  • Each play requires two or three drummers and one
    flute player. No other instruments are ever used.
  • The shite and his companion wear masks of painted
    wood, many of them passed down for generations.

Noh Theatre
  • The Noh stage, standardized for almost four
    hundred years, is raised about three feet.
  • The stage is divided into three areas, although
    none is separated architecturally except for the
  • The largest area, the main stage, is enclosed by
    the four pillars and is about eighteen feet
  • Back of the upstage pillars is the rear stage
    (atoza), where the musicians and attendants sit.
  • To stage left of the main stage is the waki-za,
    where the chorus kneels on the floor in two rows.

Noh Theatre
  • There are two entrances to the stage. The
    principal one, the bridge, is a railed gangway
    about six feet wide and forty feet long leading
    from the mirror room, where the actors prepare
    for their entrances.

Noh Theatre
  • The audience views the performance from two
    sides in front of the main stage and facing the
    stage from alongside the bridge. The theatres
    used today hold three hundred to five hundred
  • Every element of performance is strictly
    controlled by conventions that have been
    established for centuries. Rather than
    encouraging innovation, Noh seeks to perfect and
    preserve an art form.

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • The Shrine in the Fields is usually attributed to
    Zeami. It belongs to the third category (woman
    play) and is based on episodes from one of the
    most famous of Japanese novels, The Tale of Genji.

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • Each Noh play is set in a specific season of the
    year, named early in the drama, and the mood and
    imagery of the entire play must be in keeping
    with that season.
  • In The Shrine in the Fields the time is late
    autumn, the seventh day of the ninth month, the
    day in which Lord Genji visited Lady Rokujo at

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • As is typical in Noh drama, the introductory
    scene compresses time and place An itinerant
    priest ( the waki or secondary character) travels
    almost instantaneously from the capital to
    Nonomiya, where his curiosity is aroused by the
    seemingly perfect preservation of the shrine
    although it has long been abandoned.

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • When the ghost of Miyasudokoro (the shite)
    appears in the guise of a village girl, he
    questions her about the shrine and herself, and
    gradually it becomes apparent that there is
    something mysterious about both her and the

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • As in all Noh plays, the climactic moment is
    expressed in dance.
  • In Noh, a number of devices distance the
    spectator from the play.
  • For The Shrine in the Fields the basic appearance
    of the stage is altered only by the addition of a
    stylized gate and brushwood fence, and the only
    property of any significance is the sprig of
    sakaki that Miyasudokoro places at the shrine

The Shrine in the Fields (Nonomiya)
  • The Shrine in the Fields does not seek to tell a
    story or to develop character so much as to
    capture a mood, to distill a powerful emotion,
    and to express an attitude about the physical
    world and human existence.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Japan developed two other traditional theatre
    forms doll theatre and Kabuki.
  • The doll theatre, in which large puppets
    represent the characters, came to prominence in
    the seventeenth century.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Three handlers, who are visible to the audience
    operate each puppet. One handler manipulates the
    head and right arm, a second the left arm, and a
    third the feet.
  • A narrator is accompanied by a samisen ( a
    three-stringed instrument with a skin-covered
    base that can be both struck and plucked) and
    other instruments of lesser importance.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • The major writer of plays for doll theatre was
    Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), Japans
    greatest playwright.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • He wrote many kinds of plays but is best known
    for his five-act history plays and his three-act
    plays on contemporary life.
  • He was admired above all for his plays about the
    double suicides of lovers, his sensitive
    characterizations, and beautiful language.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Kabuki, long the most popular of the traditional
    forms, also first appeared in the seventeenth
  • More open to change than the other forms, it has
    borrowed many of its plays and conventions from
    Noh and Bunraku but has adapted them to its own

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Unlike Noh, Kabuki uses a great deal of scenery,
    although the settings are not meant to be fully
    illusionistic. White floor mats are used to
    represent snow, blue mats to indicate water, and
    gray mats the ground.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Most Kabuki plays are divided into several acts
    made up of loosely connected episodes that
    emphasize highly emotional incidents.
  • The climactic moment in many scenes is reached in
    a highly stylized pose (the mie) struck and held
    by the principal character.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Song and narration are important to Kabuki.
  • The orchestra often includes flutes, drums,
    bells, gongs, cymbals, and strings, although the
    most essential instrument is the samisen.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Kabuki acting is a combination of stylized
    speaking and dancing.
  • Kabuki actors do not wear masks, but some roles
    use boldly patterned makeup to exaggerate the
    musculature of face or body.

Other Japanese Theatre Forms
  • Although Kabuki is highly conventionalized, it
    includes many elements that resemble, though in
    exaggerated form, Western usages, perhaps most
    notably in scenery and lighting, melodramatic
    stories, and emotional acting.
  • Of all Japanese forms, Noh remains the least
    understood in the West.

Theatre in Africa
  • Europeans and Americans remained largely ignorant
    of African performance traditions until the end
    of the nineteenth century.
  • Nevertheless, African performance activities had
    through the centuries been numerous religious
    rituals, festivals, ceremonies, storytelling, and
    various kinds of celebrations and had been
    woven into daily life.

Theatre in Africa
  • The combination of the colonialist heritage and
    indigenous forms created a wide spectrum of
    performance in Africa.
  • There are more than eight hundred local languages
    in use, and many local traditions do not
    necessarily travel well from one part of Africa
    to another.

Theatre in Africa
  • During the late nineteenth century, European
    countries divided up most of Africa among
    themselves and thereafter sought to impose their
    languages and ideas of theatre, including
    proscenium-arch structures, on the territories
    they controlled.

Theatre in Africa
  • In indigenous performance, words are often the
    least important element. Other languages,
    especially drumming and dance, often communicate
    more to African audiences than words do.
  • Direct audience participation is expected.
  • Dancing and music are important in most

Theatre in Africa
  • It would be impossible to treat theatrical
    performance in every country on the African
    continent, since there are close to fifty
    separate states.
  • Whereas Arab languages and customs dominate the
    states in North Africa, those south of the Sahara
    desert are highly diverse.

Theatre in Africa
  • Most countries have been unable to rid themselves
    of their colonial past and, consequently, their
    theatrical customs include both European and
    African conventions.

Performance in Nigeria
  • Nigeria includes more than two hundred fifty
    different ethnic groups, of which the most
    populous are the Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, and Fulani.
  • One of the major Yoruba festivals was the
    egungen, in which sacrifices were offered and
    petitions for blessing and prosperity were
    addressed to the dead.

Performance in Nigeria
  • The most popular contemporary theatrical form in
    Nigeria is Yoruba opera (now usually called
    Yoruba Travelling Theatre). It was developed
    primarily by Hubert Ogunde, who in 1946
    established a professional company with which he
    toured thereafter.

Performance in Nigeria
  • English-language plays also became popular from
    around 1900, and drama was intoduced into schools
    founded by the English colonial government or by
    religious organizations that were seeking to
    convert Nigerians to Christianity.

Performance in Nigeria
  • But the dominant playwright has been Wole Soyinka
    (1934-), especially since 1986, when he won the
    Noble Prize for Literature, the first African to
    be so honored.
  • That has not kept him from being punished by a
    government that has imprisoned him and threatened
    him with death for his opposition to certain
    government policies.

The Strong Breed
  • The staging conventions used in The Strong Breed
    are much the same as those found in European and
    American theatres.
  • The difference from European and American drama
    lies primarily in the subject matter and its
    treatment, which strongly reflects the egungen
    traditions, but placed in a modern context.

The Strong Breed
  • In The Strong Breed, the dramatic action focuses
    on a ritual that can be traced all the way back
    to the Greeks the selection and expulsion of a
    scapegoat who will take all the problems of the
    village on himself and carry them away.

The Strong Breed
  • It is never made clear why Summa, who seems to be
    in love with Eman, does not tell him of the
    difference in customs here, not even when a girl
    dragging an effigy appears and lures him into the
    bush, where he can be captured and prepared for
    the ritual.

The Strong Breed
  • In the action that follows, through a series of
    flashbacks, we learn that Eman is a descendant of
    a long line of carriers and that he has left his
    own village because he has been devastated when
    his wife died in childbirth.
  • As in Greek tragedy, Eman finds that he cannot
    escape his destiny to be a carrier.

The Strong Breed
  • The Strong Breed develops a number of themes
    common in Soyinkas plays the conflict between
    the traditional and the modern the ongoing need
    to save society from its tendency to follow
    custom and mistaken beliefs unquestioningly the
    special individual, who through dedication and
    vision awakens the people and leads them toward
    better ways, even though he may become a victim
    of the society he seeks to benefit.

The Strong Breed
  • Soyinka may also be suggesting that one cannot
    escape tradition and therefore must come to grips
    with it.
  • Soyinkas plays form a bridge between traditional
    and contemporary performance.

Theatre Elsewhere in Africa
  • Other African countries with extensively
    developed performance traditions include Ghana,
    Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, and Ivory
  • But the county whose theatre is vest known in
    Europe and America is South Africa, probably
    because so many of its inhabitants are
    descendants of white Europeans.

Theatre Elsewhere in Africa
  • South Africa also attracted much attention and
    controversy over apartheid, under which the black
    and white populations were kept apart from each
    other as much as possible and under which blacks
    were denied most of the rights granted to whites.
  • These conditions continued from the 1950s until
    about 1990, when the restrictions were removed.

Theatre Elsewhere in Africa
  • The best-known South African playwright is Athol
    Fugard, whose plays have been produced throughout
    the world and have been especially popular in the
  • His Master Harold and the Boys (1982) is grounded
    in apartheid.

Theatre Elsewhere in Africa
  • A number of black playwrights have gained
    international recognition, among them Mbogeni
    Negema and Percy Mtwa.
  • Their play Woza Albert enacts what might happen
    if Jesus were to come back to South Africa.

Theatre Elsewhere in Africa
  • It is clear that African theatre is handicapped
    by colonialist heritage. Rather than comparing it
    to European and American practices, it would be
    best to admire its broad range of theatrical
    activities, most of which, considering the
    enormous number of ethnic and linguistic
    divisions within Africa, are appropriately
    directed to limited and local audiences.

  • The theatre is always in flux. It seems likely
    that the versions with which we are now familiar
    will change as conditions alter.
  • Changes are not always welcome, but they are
    necessary, because theatre can remain vital only
    by reflecting the dynamics of the culture within
    which it exists.