Friday, October 8, 2010

Noh Drama (Japanese Theater, Part I)

Noh is traditional Japanese drama, first performed in the 14th century. All the roles are performed by male actors, with masks and elaborate costumes. A classical Noh presentation lasts all day, with 5 plays interspersed with shorter works.

A performance consists of the orchestra, actors and chorus. The main character is called the shite, who usually has a friend or companion called the shitetsure. The waki is the antagonist (if the waki has an assistant, that person is called the wakitsure). The shite is usually the only one who wears a mask, although the other actors might do so for female and/or mystical characters. All use their body language and mannerisms to convey their characters

The chorus (4-8 people) is called the jiutai, and the orchestra is called the hayashi. They usually wear formal black kimonos, emblazoned with family crests.

Unlike Western dramas, the background scenery is kept to a minimum, except for a narrow bridge on stage right, where the actors arrive and leave (called the hashigakari). Even the stagehands (dressed in simple black) remain on the stage in full view of the audience and sometimes even become part of the action!

The stage itself is polished Japanese cypress wood, so the actors glide in highly stylized dances and chant their songs.(5-7-5 waka poetry, mentioned here and here). The cypress wood conducts sound throughout the stage, which is the main reason why the builders usually raise the stage 3 feet above the ground.

A list of traditional Noh plays can be found here and for more information, The Tuttle Version of Noh Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley is a good source.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

No comments:

Post a Comment

Got a comment? Question? Please type it below! Thanks!