Investigating the Contemporary Context of Japanese Performance Traditions Through Fieldwork in Japan

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Spring 2009

Project Description/Abstract

Medieval madwoman Noh plays have been performed in Japan continually for the last 600 years. In these plays, the association of the feminine with madness makes it possible to demonstrate to audiences a symbolic transformation of medieval cultural and religious practices. My study explores feminine subjectivities and sexuality conveyed through madness and examines the significance of feminine madness as a form of resistance from the margins of society. The purpose of this trip is to explore how contemporary Noh performers negotiate medieval Noh texts on the theme of feminine madness. I am particularly interested in what these performers bring to their interpretation of texts of medieval provenance and how they situate these texts in the larger scope of their performances. Of special emphasis in my study is the question of how female Noh performers negotiate female roles in Noh, roles open to women only since the 20th century as these parts were traditionally the exclusive privilege of male performers. To investigate the contemporary context of Japanese performance traditions, I plan to conduct fieldwork in Japan by observing madwoman plays and by participating in workshops on traditional Japanese theatre led by professional actors. Plays that I could otherwise study only as written texts are performed frequently in Kyoto. By observing performances, I will be able to grasp the significance of the performed word of Noh, as well as its music and dance. Participation in the summer’s intensive workshop consisting of lectures, demonstrations, and practicums for Noh (stylized, poetic drama featuring chant and abstract dance) will also help me gain insight into a performer’s thoughts about playing different roles. With its concentration of resources as the traditional cultural center of Japan, Kyoto has thus become a center for my research. In preparation for this research trip, I have contacted Dr. Jonah Salz at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, an expert on Japanese traditional theater. He will provide me with access to the library at Ryukoku University, which has a large collection of invaluable manuscripts and other materials. At this library I plan to research medieval Buddhism, which had profound influence on Noh plays. Their collection of Buddhist texts, particularly, ranks among the best in Japan. Having access to this collection is critical because similar material is difficult to obtain in the United States. I have also arranged to meet Dr. Yuriko Kite, Vice President of International Affairs at Kansai University, and Prof. Toshihiko Sekiya, who teaches Japanese theatre there. Because BSC has an exchange program with Kansai University, I believe that by working in collaboration with their faculty, I can make a significant contribution to strengthening our Japan-U.S. partnership as well as making rich resources in Japan accessible to BSC students in my courses on Japanese Studies.

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