Term Paper: Kabuki Theater

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Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theater, and American theater significant impacted each other. Kabuki formed in the early 1600s in Japan, and strongly reflects the social and gender stratification of the Edo era in which it originated. Three main groups of kabuki plays, the dance-drama, historical drama, and domestic drama make up the majority of kabuki theater that are adapted either from puppet theater, or no or kyogen dramas, or plays written specifically for kabuki. Tokyo's Shochiku Company is one theatrical group that his impacted American theater by presenting kabuki in the heart of the U.S., in Texas. Theater of diversity, as seen in the differences between American and kabuki theater, improves relations between different people through exposure to different cultures and traditions.

Kabuki originated from the popular culture of the townspeople. In contrast, other Japanese art forms such as No (a form of theater where actors wear masks, and speak and sing in monotonous tones) had their origins in higher social classes (Japan-Guide.com). In early Kabuki history, actors were considered social outcasts and stage managers were known as kawara kijiki, which means 'riverbed beggars' (Spencer).

Kabuki has its origin in Japan's Edo period. The form can be traced back to performances by female shrine dancer Okuni in a dry riverbed in 1603. The dances performed by Okuni and her fellow female dancers combined religious dances and folk dance. Okuni's performances became highly popular, and many troupes soon imitated the style. Performances became increasingly risque and boisterous, and women were banned from performing in 1629. In 1652, a brawl between two samurai competing for the attentions of a young male actor spurred authorities to ban young men under the age of 14 from appearing in kabuki (Spencer).

In time, the absence of women from kabuki resulted in the presence of the onnagata acting role, in which largely adult men would play the roles of women (Spencer). Early in the history of kabuki, both men and women acted in kabuki plays. However, during the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate banned women from acting in the kabuki (Japan-Guide.com). Even today, women do not participate in kabuki plays, although their participation is no longer illegal (Japan-Guide.com). Notes the University of Texas at Austin, "the art of onnagata had become such an integral part of kabuki that, if deprived of this element, the traditional quality of kabuki could be lost forever."

Through the next hundred years kabuki grew in popularity. The Genroku period of 1688-1704 saw strong growth in the popularity of the kabuki form of theater. Play quality improved greatly, largely by the hand of writer Chikamatsu Monzaemon. In time, kabuki became popular with all classes of Japanese. In 1714, a high-ranking female official was discovered having an affair with a principal actor. In response, the government closed all theaters for three months (Spencer).

In time, acting as a profession lost its social stigma (Spencer). Kabuki remained popular throughout the centuries, and still draws large crowds, even though it has lost some of its massive appeal (University of Texas at Austin).

The traditions of kabuki strongly reflect the social stratification of Japanese society in the Edo period. In Kabuki Backstage, Onstage, Matazo Nakamura notes that even today, only the onadai (eldest son of an established family) are given starring roles in kabuki theater.

Kabuki retains many of its unique and almost ritualized elements. Even the kabuki stage (kabuki no butai) is unique. It is a rotating stage that has several trapdoors that allow the actors to disappear and reappear. Often, the kabuki stage has a footbridge (hanamichi) that allows actors to walk through the audience (Japan-Guide.com).

One characteristic unique to kabuki plays, which differs significantly from Western theater, is audience participation. In breaks during the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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