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 developed. 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 neargod in the religious realm. The shogunate became hereditary, although new families won possession of the title from time to time. 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: Samurai Merchants Artists and craftsmen Farmers and peasants 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 Noh’s 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 doesn’t emphasize storytelling. 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 shite’s (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 pillars. The largest area, the main stage, is enclosed by the four pillars and is about eighteen feet square. 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 people. 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 Nonomiya. 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 place. 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 gate. 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 skincovered 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), Japan’s 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 century. 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 needs. 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 prosceniumarch 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 performances. 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 Soyinka’s 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. Soyinka’s 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 Coast. 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 US. 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. Epilogue 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.