The Structure of Theater: A Japanese View of Theatricality

Mori, Mitsuya.

SubStance, Issue 98/99 (Volume 31, Number 2&3), 2002, pp. 73-93 (Article)

Published by University of Wisconsin Press DOI: 10.1353/sub.2002.0033

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A Japanese View of Theatricality

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The Structure of Theater : A Japanese View of Theatricality
Mitsuya Mori

The Western concept of “theater” did not exist in pre-modern Japan. Engeki was the word chosen to translate “theater” when it was introduced to Japan in the second half of 19th century.1 It still sounds a little foreign to Japanese people. Traditionally Japan had a word shibai, which was almost equivalent to “theater,” but was, and still is, applied only to Kabuki and Bunraku (puppet theater) and not to Noh. The modern westernized theater is not usually called shibai, either, for this sounds too colloquial or too nonliteral. The adjective forms of shibai, shibai-jimita or shibai-gakatta, imply “pretentious” or “insincere” behavior, a definitely pejorative nuance, equivalent to the negative meaning of the English term “theatrical.” “Theatricality,” on the other hand, is rendered in Japanese as engeki-sei. The suffix -sei makes an abstraction of the preceding noun. The foreignness of engeki is reinforced by this suffix, for the abstraction of theatricality is also a Western way of thinking, imported into Japan only in modern times. Grammatically, it would be possible to add -sei to shibai as well, but shibai-sei sounds odd and is not in common usage. This means that there is no Japanese word that is exactly equivalent to the slightly pejorative “theatricality.” Instead, engeki-sei (theatricality) is used to mean the spectacular quality of theater, or the qualities unique to theater—i.e. particular qualities that construct the kind of performance we could call theater. It is in this sense that the word was often uttered to describe the new trend of Japanese theater since the late 1960s. But some representatives of this “underground” theater would like to call their activities shibai rather than engeki, as a revolt against “modern theater.” They have even declared themselves to be closer to the old conception of performance art in Japan, geinoh. Geinoh (“gay-noh”) is another Japanese word, fairly equivalent to “theater” but covering the broader or narrower realm of performance arts, depending on the context. (I will return to this issue later.) Though the word itself first appeared in literature in the 10th century,2 much earlier than shibai, today the word is also commonly used, and obviously intersects with engekisei. The distinction between engeki, shibai and geinoh is not a clear-cut one,
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and it becomes almost meaningless to attempt to define the words at all. (Such confusion is an inevitable result of modernization, and is seen in many fields of culture in Japan.) But if our goal is not simply defining terms, but understanding what theater is, then we need to move beyond the definition of concepts. Our understanding of the topics will be deepened in the course of discussing them. Our topics are theater and theater-like performances, which still exist in abundance in Japan. There are many ways to analyze theater. I will limit my arguments here to the structural analysis of theater events—i.e. basic characteristics of theater to be distinguished from other performative activities, in order to clarify “theatricality” to some degree. From Creator to Audience Theater is play and so is music. As an art form, theater and music have some structural similarities. In the aesthetic classification of art forms, theater and music are put into the same category—performing arts. A composer writes a piece of music, which is perceived by someone else. This “someone else” is usually a musician who plays the score to be perceived by the audience. This sequence can be schematized as follows:
Composer —> Musical Composition —> Score reader Musician—> Musical performance —> Audience

The upper and the lower levels have a similar structure in the way they are produced. For this reason, music is called an art form of “double productions.” Different musicians may play the same score differently, but it would not be unreasonable to say that what the composer composes and what the musician plays are almost the same. In a competition of musical composition, the nominated works are performed in front of the judges. What the audience finally perceives is supposed to be the same as what the composer originally had in mind. The audience and the composer share the same artistic experience. We can modify the diagram to the cyclic structure as follows:
Composer —> Musical Composition —> Score reader Audience <— Musical performance <— Musician

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The second production repeats the first one but in reverse. Theater is also an art form of double productions. Therefore, on the surface, the analysis of its structure is similar to that of music.
Dramatist —> Drama —> Drama reader Actor—> theater performance—> Spectator

However, unlike music, the second production does not repeat the first one in reverse. A theater performance onstage is quite different from a drama on paper, and what the spectator conceives is not at all the same as what the dramatist had in mind. It used to be said that the dramatist imagines the stage production as he writes, so that one can read in the drama—provided it is a good one—every detail of the stage production. Obviously this is wrong. Even the realist Ibsen would not possibly have imagined the way A Doll’s House or Ghosts might be performed today. This is because a theater production is a combination of two different aspects: drama and play. I have detailed these aspects elsewhere (Mori, 1997), but it is primarily the play aspect that makes the difference between what the dramatist writes on paper and what the actor performs onstage. If what the musician plays is fairly much the same as what the composer composes, the above written diagram of the music structure could be as simple as this:
Composer —> Musical Piece (Score-Musician-Playing) —> Audience

But the diagram of theater structure cannot be shortened. It remains:
Dramatist—> Drama —> Actor —> Playing —> Audience

Structurally speaking, the musician is a mediator between the composer and the audience or an interpreter of the score (a musical performance is sometimes called an interpretation), while the actor is a creator of a kind of art form that is different from a written drama. This is another way of saying that music depends only on our sense of hearing, but theater on both hearing and sight. True, we enjoy the pianist’s passion-filled bodily movements, but the sight is not supposed to affect our evaluation of his or her musical performance.
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Actor Plays Character for Audience The unique feature of theater lies in its process of performance. Hence any discussion of theater tends to focus on the performance level. Peter Brook says in the opening passage of his The Empty Space, “A man walks across [...the] empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theater to be engaged” (9). This statement is rather misleading. The man who crosses the empty space may be an actor and the man who watches him a spectator, but Brook mentions no character that the actor plays. Nevertheless, the man’s action of crossing the empty space implies his playing something or somebody else. Therefore, we can find even in Brook’s statement three basic elements of theater: Actor plays Character for Audience. Admittedly, this formula has been challenged in the second half of the 20th century, and various theaters, which seemingly lack one of those elements, have been advocated and practiced. But it seems that no one has proposed more than these three as the primary agents composing a theatrical event. So, this formula can still be a good point of departure. First, the relationship between these three elements is to be seen not as linear but as triangular. The diagram can be drawn thus:
A(ctor) —————— C(haracter) Au(dience)

This kind of triangular relationship is meaningless in art forms other than theater. The impossibility of technological reproduction of a theater performance also derives from this structural relationship. This triangular diagram may be viewed in two ways: either from each corner point, or from each line between the two corners. The latter view is preferred here, for in this way we have a chance to grasp a theater production as a whole without cutting it up into pieces to be examined one by one. If we look into the triangle from the line between A and C, for example, we see Au beyond the line so that Au is not at any moment excluded from our view of the A-C relationship. In this way the whole theatrical event could be viewed, if not in its completeness, at least adequately enough. Each line of the triangle—i.e. the relationship between each two of the three agents—is closely related with each of the three basic aspects of theater: playing, drama, theatrical space. The relationship between Actor and
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Audience transforms a physical place, where they simultaneously exist, into a theatrical space. The aspect of playing stands in the relationship between Actor and Character, and Drama is not something Actor presents to Audience, but something formed between Audience and Character. The triangular diagram, therefore, can be enriched as follows: playing A ——— C space —> <— drama Au

Creating a Theatrical Space When and how is a physical place transformed into a theatrical space? Peter Brook refers to empty space as if it exists before a man crosses over it. But “empty space” does not exist in this world. In both an open-air theater and a proscenium-arch theater, many things have been in existence before the man crosses over the space. In fact, it is the man’s crossing it that makes the place into the “empty space” for the one who watches. The actor’s action makes every pre-existing thing (except those set up for his action) invisible to the audience. This is apparent particularly in the indoor theater, which became common in the 18th century, both in Europe and in Japan. Before that, most theatrical performances took place in open- or semi-open-air theaters, surrounded by nature. In some Greek theaters the audience could have a view of a natural landscape or townscape beyond the skene (Carlson, 62). One of the oldest Noh stages in Japan stands in seawater, and the audience, sitting in another building, can notice the sea-level change as the performance proceeds. Even the Shakespearean theater, already encircled by walls, must have made best use of the effect of the movement of the sun during the performance. I would like to call this characteristic of the theatrical place “field” in contrast to empty “space.” It is an interesting coincidence that both European and Japanese theater history had a transition from “field” to “space” in the 16th and 17th centuries. In Europe in this period, the tradition of medieval drama lost its vigor and modern secular drama came to be formed, while in Japan, the long-established Noh drama made room for the newly-emerging Kabuki theater form. Apparently, on both sides, this change
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was reinforced by a new type of dramatic character on the stage—a type that was more realistic than in previous dramas. The “space” characteristic of the stage is closely related to realism in theater. Realism demands that the audience ignore the pre-existing decorations and forms of the stage and see characters as if they were really living there. The more realistic the drama becomes, the more the stage is required to be “space,” and vice versa. The “space” also cosmopolitanizes drama, because a drama’s “space” can be transferred to any other theater without essential alterations. This was not possible for Shakespearean drama, for example, which still retained the “field” aspect to a considerable degree. Nevertheless, a physical place cannot transform itself into a theatrical place without acquiring aspects characteristic of “space.” An absolute “field” will remain a natural place of daily life. Thus the question, “When and how is the physical place transformed to theatrical space?” can be modified to, “When and how is field transformed into space?” Field and Performance The “field” aspect of the performing place is nowhere more apparent than in folkloric rituals, which still today are regularly seen in Japan and other Asian countries. The place can be a rice field, the area around a shrine, a village market place, etc. Every ritual must be performed in its particular “field” and cannot be moved to any other place. However, the “field” of the ritual is not a mere natural, everyday field. An actual rice field, which is chosen for the rice ritual on a specific day of the year, is decorated in a special way for the performance by girls selected in the village for this occasion. This is no longer an ordinary rice field, but the one devoted to a divine being in a wish to have a good harvest, not only for this particular field, but for all the fields in the village. The “space” aspect already creeps in here. The selected girl performers and the surrounding village people have a special relationship with each other in their wishes, which transforms this rice field into a ritual space or, we may say, a theatrical space. Let us take another example. A ritual performance at the Nigatsu-do Hall of the Todaiji Temple in Nara is called Todaiji-shunie and takes place in the middle of March. The climax comes after dark. Monks carry eight or nine burning torches (ca. 10 meters long and half a meter in diameter), each held by several monks, up to the wooden veranda of the Hall, about 20 meters above ground level. They are laid side by side on the edge of the
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floor, the burning heads being thrust in the air. Hundreds of thousands of people come to watch this performance, standing on the ground below, so that sparks of fire fall upon them. This is truly a spectacular sight. While the torches are burning on the veranda, a group of monks conducts a special rite in a small room inside the Hall. They continue the rite all night long, sometimes sitting on the floor, sometimes walking or jumping around an altar, but all the time chanting prayers. At around three o’clock in the morning, a monk brings another burning torch into this small room and hits the wooden floor with full force. Sparks of fire spread out and monks jump over them. This is an incredible performance, even more spectacular than the performance outside. Only those who have obtained special permission from the Temple are allowed to witness this rite from a side room. No women are allowed. They must remain outside, but may watch through a grill. The monks completely ignore the spectators, the rite being conducted first and foremost for themselves. I cannot deny the great excitement I felt when I saw the enactment of this rite. And yet I had no personal feeling toward the monks, but rather an impression of a great panoramic picture, like an erupting volcano or an awesome ocean wave. It was an event completely of another world, so to speak, which we were peeping into; similar to a cinematic experience rather than a theatrical one. No definite theatrical relationship between the performers and the spectators was formed. It was different in the case of the ritual that I once experienced in the region of Kofu, in central Japan. The performance took place inside curtain walls set up around the village shrine, so that the performance was totally hidden from the spectators. Nevertheless, we, standing outside, clearly felt related to those performers inside. I say “we” because I could sense the festive atmosphere prevailing among us while waiting for the end of the performance. This feeling, I assume, came from the fact that we had talked with the village performers and had walked behind them to the shrine before the performance. The whole process was a ritual, only a part of which was the performance inside the curtain walls. So we were participating in the ritual not only by having followed them to the shrine, but also by waiting outside the curtain walls. It was odd indeed that we had a feeling of being related to the performers whom we could not see—a kind of feeling one did not have for the other performers whose spectacular action had made an awesome impression. Although I did not share the belief of the village people in their divine being, I at least could understand their belief. Herein lies the crucial point of our relationship. Both I and the village people perceived something existing outside our relationship, or better said, something that
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assured our close relationship. Even if it is doubtful that this “something” could be called Character in our diagram of the theater structure, it was, without doubt, because of this “something” that the area of the village shrine became a theatrical space, which the small room for the rite in the Nigatsudo Hall was not. I had been struck by the sight of the monks’ performances, but almost completely alienated from their belief. Without at least a glimpse of C, the relationship will be reduced to that of Player-Spectator. I mean by “Player” the performer who performs for him/herself, and by “Spectator,” the one who watches the performance as a mere bystander. The Player—Spectator relationship is, in fact, no relationship. This is the case with sports, games or music. Some sports, and certainly music, are played for spectators (or listeners), and some may claim that musical performers are influenced by the audience’s responses. This is true especially in popular music concerts, but these come close to being theater performances. Spectators are not essential for players of music, nor are players necessary for “spectators.” We enjoy recorded music as a substitute for live performances, even if it is not a completely satisfactory one. This is not the case with theater, as anyone knows. Actor and Character The relationship between Actor and Character is the most problematic one in the triangular structure of theater. We say that an actor plays a character, but this activity is called acting. The difference between playing and acting corresponds to the distinction between Player and Actor, respectively. Acting implies “playing a character,” but the “play” element, being situated between Actor and Character, stands independent of both. In actuality, A, p and C are combined together in a person acting in front of the audience, but in theory these three can be separately examined. I have done so in some detail on another occasion, basing my arguments on the following schema (Mori, 1997): A(ctor) —— p(lay) —— C(haracter) Au(dience) As is easily understood, realistic theater tends to hide p, or tries to make p unseen to Au. In non-realistic, or stylized, theater, p is emphasized rather than hidden, and when a certain pattern or form of p is repeated by one
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actor or one generation of actors after another, what is called kata in Japanese is born. This is the case with the stylized movements in Kabuki and Noh.3 And the traditional puppet theater in Japan, today called Bunraku, is an interesting example by which we can illustrate each element of this scheme— A, p and C—not in theory, but in actuality. Any puppet theater consists of three basic elements: the puppeteer, the puppet, and the narrator. The puppeteer manipulates the puppet according to the dialogue or narrative spoken by the narrator. In most puppet theaters the puppeteer and the narrator are the same person who hides himself from the audience so that they see only the puppet. But in Bunraku, all three elements are in sight. The narrator chants the story with the shami-sen (threestringed instrument) musical accompaniment, played by a shami-sen player. Both narrator and musician sit side by side on the small platform, stage-left. A puppet is two-thirds the size of an actual human being, and is operated by hand by three puppeteers; the main puppeteer handles the head and the right hand, the second the left hand, and the third, the legs. Usually puppeteers cover their heads and bodies in black so as not to distract the audience’s attention from the puppets, but curiously enough, the main puppeteer shows his face in important, dramatic scenes of the play. These three elements of Bunraku—puppeteer, puppet and narrator (with music player)—correspond to the above-schematized three structural elements of acting, A, p and C, respectively. This rare case of Bunraku reveals that C cannot be a theatrical element without being bodily expressed by p, and that p could not be theatrical p, no matter how stylized it may be, without being framed by C. But the most interesting thing to see is that A and p are indeed two separate entities in acting. The Audience can see p without paying attention to A, or even both A and p at the same time but separately. The audience can see all the structural elements of theater performance independently. In this respect Bunraku manifests the most basic structural characteristic of theater performance. Of course this manifestation is not possible in an ordinary theater. But what is really revealing in Bunraku for the present argument is the fact that A does not play C in the sense that A’s movements represent C to Au. Au watches p, or A and p together, but C is given independently from a different side. In Bunraku, what the narrator chants is not only the dialogue of the characters but the whole narrative story. It can be appreciated as a freestanding form of literature. Herein lies a key to the everlasting question concerning acting: is it the actor or the character that the audience is watching on the stage?
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Actor/Character Our perceptive organs can perceive only one object at a time, never two or more. It is not possible for us to watch both the actor and the character at the same time. Some think that we watch them alternately. But this is absurd, for then the character is split into pieces, and each member of the audience may have entirely different portions of the character. Some also think that the actor is a real person and the character an imaginary one, so that both are compatible. But real or imaginary, we cannot perceive two objects at the same time. What is wrong about the above-asked question is the presupposition that character is a “person,” real or imaginary. For in fact, a character is not a person but a conception, which is formed in the audience’s mind. When a person appears on the stage, we notice him, of course, but do not know if he is an actor playing a character or not. He may be the man we call Hamlet, but he may turn out to be the man who is going to apologize for the delay of the performance. Even a man who we suppose is playing Hamlet can take off his pretence at any moment and come back to himself as an actor. This means that we cannot be sure of having a complete character until the final curtain falls. We have a character only when the play ends. But when the play ends, the character is gone. He remains only in our minds, as a conception. Therefore, we may say that, watching the movements of the actor and hearing his lines, we build up the conception of the character little by little. Sometimes he may surprise us by an action, which his previous behavior had not led us to expect from him, but we adjust our hitherto builtup character to that new behavior and amend the conception accordingly. No matter how much his behavior confuses us at a certain moment in the play, we get a total conception of the character at the end. If we do not, we feel that the character is incomprehensible. Although everything in theater is pretense, a pretense that the audience is well aware of all the time, the audience can believe in the character all the same. This belief is supported by the fact that a man on the stage is a real human being, which is not the case in cinema or the novel. So, coming back to the question of actor-character confusion, the audience’s illusion of character is based on the reality of the actor’s being. And if Character is a conception that we complete only at the end of the play, it is to be understood in the genuine sense of the word “character”—ethos in Greek. Aristotle put the primary importance on mythos rather than ethos, in his analysis of Greek tragedy in the Poetics. Mythos, usually rendered into English as plot, is a series of actions. Hence his definition: “Tragedy is a representation
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of an action.” But we humans have the amazing ability to discern the plot of a play that consists only of dialogues. In a theater, we hear only actors’ lines, with no explanations by the author or any one else, but we can still discern the story of the play as if it were narrated. This ability is obviously related to our ability to understand language. In the same way that we conceive the meaning of a sentence in a linear sequence of words, we weave the texture of the story little by little as we see actions going on. The story grows bigger and bigger from the series of small stories within each scene, until we get the whole story—the plot of the play—at the final curtain. If the series of actions does not form a plot, everything we see is on the level of bare reality, and there is no formation of character, either. If one were to diagram the formation of both character and plot, they would be the same, since character and plot are actually one and the same thing. A character cannot stand alone, but can exist only in relation to other characters.4 That a character is complete at the end of the play means that all the relationships between characters are completed, which is nothing but the plot of the play. We make up a character, little by little, in our minds, as we gradually make up the plot. Here arises the question of Drama. But before pursuing this question, I would like to take a couple of examples to illustrate how reality and fictionality intersect on the stage. Reality and Fictionality There is a scene in a Noh play, Dojoji, where an actor seems to step out of the realm of the fictional world into reality. In this scene, called ran-byoshi, the shite (main role) makes stamping movements in accord with the drum music, played by one of the four musicians sitting on the floor upstage. The shite of this play is a female entertainer who has been infatuated with, but deserted by, a young priest, and who chases after him to the temple where he hides himself. At the temple, the celebration of the completion of a new bell is held, but the female entertainer’s jealous passion makes the bell fall down. She transforms herself into an evil snake inside the bell and comes out only to be soothed by a priest. The scene ran-byoshi takes place right before the fall of the bell. When the play reaches this scene, the player of the small drum changes his posture so that he directly faces the shite, who is standing beside the right pillar, downstage. Usually the musicians, facing toward the main auditorium, pay no attention to the players. In this scene, subtle movements of the shite’s feet, stamping on the floor, and sporadic sounds of the small drum are in accord and discord with each other, as if both players were engaged in a battle of life and death. Each of them is
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concentrating greatly, the actor on the timing of his movements and the musician on the beating of the drum. The fictional plane of the play disappears for several minutes of this scene, and the audience senses both players existing on the plane of reality. A sudden stepping out of the fictional world happens more often in Kabuki, and in a more festive mood. The typical one is koh-joh, a scene where actors on stage pay the audience ceremonial greetings on the occasion of the succession of a big actor’s name by a junior one.5 A koh-joh scene sometimes takes place in the middle of the play; that is to say, all the actors on the stage at the moment, who are usually the young one’s family and relatives, stop acting all of a sudden and sit in a horizontal line on the stage to greet the audience one by one. After the greetings are finished, they resume acting and the play continues. It is even more obvious here than in ran-byoshi of Noh, that we see actors in reality rather than characters in fiction. However, if, as we have discussed, character is not a person but a conception that the audience conceives in the course of the performance, and if character is in fact the same as the plot, these scenes of Noh and Kabuki, which seem to be carried out on the plane of reality in the middle of the play, should also be included in the conception of character and plot. Indeed, in these scenes actors do not change their costumes, and their actions—stampings or greetings—are still very stylized. They are definitely in kata. Therefore, the plane of reality that suddenly manifests itself in these scenes is not everyday reality, but reality in fiction, one may say. It is a theatrical device to make the audience realize that in theater, reality and fiction are interwoven in a complicated fashion. And it is at this moment that the audiences of Noh and Kabuki have the feeling of utmost theatricality (engeki-sei), a feeling that we rarely get from any other art form.6 Drama Audience builds up Character, which is identical to Plot. This identification of Character and Plot forms Drama. Drama here is not the drama the playwright writes. In my definition, Plot and Drama are the same as Story, but Drama is an expression of a view of life, while Plot is a series of actions. Drama emerges from Plot and yet is a larger world than Plot. We can get a plot out of what the playwright writes (what a playwright writes is also a series of dialogues, and the reader composes the plot of the play in the same way that the audience does it from the lines spoken by the actors), but Drama must be formed in theater—that is, from actual actions on the stage.
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Drama has been the subject of elaborate discussions among literary critics, and we do not need to go through them. But a few observations on Japanese theater may be of some use for our discussion on theatricality. When drama was invented as the form of Noh in Japan, it was not the same as Greek Tragedy or any later Western drama. Noh consists not only of dialogues, but—more important—of narrative and lyric forms. Lines include explanatory descriptions (or stage-directions) and the words of the chorus (ji-utai) of eight chanters, sitting stage-left, who speak sometimes as pure narrator and sometimes in unison with the main character, shite, who also partly narrates his actions by himself. Therefore Plot is not formed by, but given to, Audience as in an epic. Nevertheless, an abyss lies between the participatory role of Audience in Noh, and that of the earlier performative forms of narrative and lyric (both were performed in all countries in premodern times). While the latter could be totally passive in perception of the narrative story or lyrical poetry, the former (Audience in Noh) is supposed to conceive the extended world of poetry, only a small portion of which is enacted or narrated on the stage. This world is Drama in Noh. In typical Noh plays (though the present repertories of about 220 plays contain many different kinds), the shite is a dead person appearing in this world from an old literary world such as The Tale of Genji or The Tales of Ise, or from an historical epic of major battles such as The Tale of the Heike or Taihei-ki. The play is enacted in the present tense (otherwise it would not be drama), but the story is given in the past tense because it is about a world from the past. The shite, therefore, exists in both worlds, present and past, at the same time. We conceive beyond the episodic story of the shite the entire world of the tales or historical epics. When, for example, the wife of Narihira, the shite of the most famous Noh play, Izutsu, looks down into the well and sees the reflection of herself, whom she sees as her beloved husband (she is now wearing Narihira’s clothes, in her yearning for him), we feel beyond her longing the whole world of The Tales of Ise, a story about Narihira. More than that, we sense the long tradition of Japanese poetry, for Narihira was one of the best and most representative figures in Japanese poetry. In this sense Noh calls for an active audience, which no performance art in Japan did before. Greek or European drama is primarily enactment of an action, which looks forward to the future. Noh drama is enactment of a feeling, which looks backward in the past. Or, better said, Noh makes no clear distinction between the past and the present; characters come and go between the two worlds. It has been pointed out that the Buddhist way of thinking lacks the
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sense of history, which the Christian tradition clearly holds. In the Kamakura Era, the period preceding the formation of Noh, new schools of Japanese Buddhism emerged one after another. One of them was Japanese Zen, under the influence of which Zeami was culturally educated. This may have something to do with the above-stated characteristic of Noh drama. When new forms of theater emerged around 1600 as Kabuki and Nin’gyo-joruri (the original name of Bunraku), they did not have a pure drama form, either. To be more precise, Kabuki did develop a drama form of dialogue during its early stage, but in time it came under the dominance of the Puppet Theater and adapted the puppet drama form to human actors; actors play in part according to the narrative chanting. Most of the famous Kabuki plays in the present repertories are of this type. Kabuki, though closest to Western theater among the traditional theaters, acquired a pure drama form in dialogue only in the second half of the 18th century. Before long, however, it succumbed to the temptation of performing only some scenes extracted from a long play, which originally had been performed from dawn to twilight. Bunraku, too, follows this custom today. Kabuki’s Plot, like Noh’s, is not identical with Character, but is composed of dialogue and narrative (stage directions). In a sense, the story has been given to the Audience beforehand. Most audiences know the play; if you do not know the story of the play, you do not understand the scene. The primary enjoyment results from the appreciation of the acting. And yet, just as the Audience of Noh conceives a larger world beyond the shite, the Audience of Kabuki appreciates the manifestation of a long tradition in the acting styles. This larger world, Drama, keeps the Audience’s interest within the realm of the Actor, rather than having it dispersed into mere interest in the Player. Actor Plays Character for Audience Having circumnavigated the triangle corners and lines of the theatrical structure, we come back to the original formula: Actor plays Character for Audience. But we have said that Character is only an abstract conception that Audience completes at the final moment of the play. Is it not odd, therefore, to say that Actor plays Character? However, when we say that an actor plays, for example, Hamlet, what we actually mean is that he plays the role of Hamlet. This “Hamlet” is no character in the sense we have discussed, but a generally accepted image of a man called Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Different actors play the same role of Hamlet but the audience conceives different characters of Hamlet in different actors. The role of Hamlet is a sort of stock character, like Pantalone, Arlecchino, or Dottore in commedia dell’arte. He is not someone we conceive at the end of the play, but perceive
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from the beginning. Roles are recognized in appearances and patterns of movements and behaviors. In everyday life, we recognize Student, Teacher, Priest, Fireman, etc. or more fundamentally, Man, Woman, Youth, Old Man, etc. as roles. When small children play Father and Mother, these are roles, too, not characters. As is commonly said, we are all playing roles of our own in life. Stock roles are common not only in commedia dell’arte or ancient Roman comedy, but in most traditional Asian theaters. Each role has a distinct appearance and its own patterns of behavior and movement, that is, kata. In fact we are all behaving according to the kata most suitable to ourselves in everyday life. Without this custom, the convention of female impersonation in Kabuki or Elizabethan theater would be impossible. Role is an outer feature, and Character is an inner quality. Role is a physical appearance, and Character is a conceptual idea. In life and on the stage, Role and Character are inseparable and together give us the complete person. Thus, we should now amend our original triangle diagram as follows: A —— C, R(ole) Au Note that Role or kata is nevertheless on the plane of abstraction, though based on the level of everyday life. Different young men have different patterns of behavior, but a certain typical pattern is abstracted from them and called the role of the handsome young man. Character and Role are two sides of a coin, a conception; they are not inseparable in actuality. However, Character is equated with Plot, as we have seen, but Role is not. Role is more on the side of reality, or, one may say, abstraction in reality. It is possible that an actor plays the role of Hamlet without knowing the character of Hamlet, or plot, only by moving as he was told to move, for the patterns of his movement are decisive factors in the performance, out of which Audience will compose Character and Plot. A famous Noh actor, who had been greatly admired, confessed one day that he did not know the story of the play he was playing on the stage. In Kabuki productions in the old days each actor was given a script in which only his lines were written so that he had no knowledge of the whole plot before the dress rehearsal. When Role is the dominant factor in the C-R element, Plot tends to be fragmented; it stands for the manifestation of Role rather than for Drama, the view of life. This is exactly what has happened in Kabuki; today the usual Kabuki
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repertories for an evening consist of three or four famous scenes taken from long plays. When children are playing Father and Mother, it is of this type, too; the important thing is being Father or Mother and not the story that they play. C is split into C and R in the new diagram. But this is nothing peculiar. A and Au also have double faces. As was mentioned before, A contains a “Player” aspect in itself and Au is endorsed by “Spectator.” So, the triangle structure should be like this:

A(ctor), P(layer) ———— C(haracter), R(ole) Au(dience), S(pectator) The double faces of each corner element are inseparable, but the one stands on the plane of fictionality and the other more on the side of reality. Apparently Actor is related to Audience, which composes C, but Player is seen by Spectator as a person who plays Role. The triangle of three pairs is in fact two triangles, (a) and (b): (a) P(layer) ———— R(ole) S(pectator) (b) A(ctor) —— C(haracter) Au(dience)

Any theatrical performance must have both structural triangles of (a) and (b) together. Triangle (a) is more on the level of reality and (b) is more on the level of fictionality. Because of its slant toward reality, triangle (a) tends to exclude R, which is by nature not real but conceptual. However, when (a) is reduced to a mere P-S relationship, it will be sports or music. Player and Spectator do not necessarily communicate with each other. By the same logic, triangle (b) tends to ignore the existence of Actor, which is on the plane of reality as a real human being. But when (b) comes to be only a C-Au relationship, it will be a narrative or a novel. It needs Actor’s performative aspect to be theater. Character is Character only by being conceived by Audience as Plot, and Actor must be present in order to make Plot theatrical.
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To endorse the element of R in triangle (a), (a) needs (b), and (b) needs (a) to assure A’s performative function. One may say that triangle (a) is a triadic relationship—that is, we must look at the triangle from each corner element, while triangle (b) is a tri-linear relationship—that is, we must look at the triangle from each line between the corners. The ran-byoshi or koh-joh scene seems to put more emphasis on (a) than (b) and makes the Player aspect come forward because the fictional level is stripped away in these scenes. But the Audience is never lost, for in the koh-joh scene in Kabuki, the actors are directly addressing the Audience, and in the ran-bryoshi of Dojoji everything is meant for the Audience. Noh actors look absolutely indifferent to the audience when performing, but the goal of Noh is the satisfaction of the audience, which Zeami called “making hana (flower) bloom.” Being aware of the double triangle schemes of theater structure, we may be able to clear away confusions that sometimes occur in theater performances. When the Actor element is supposed to be emphasized, it may, in fact, be the Player aspect that comes forth because of the lack of Character. Or, when the Actor attempts to emphasize Plot, the emphasis may actually be on Role, not on Character at all. New experimental theaters are often entangled in two kinds of triangle relationship—the triadic and the tri-linear—without being conscious of it.

Theatricality Now we finally come to our main issue, theatricality. Theatricality is by definition “being theater-like.” If theater is conceptually based on the structural relationship between A-C-Au, it is the physical relationship of the above-diagramed (a) that concretizes the conceptual (b) into an actual or physical event, which is truly what we call theater. In short, it is the (a) triangle that makes a performance of the (b) triangle. However, if the aspect of (a) is too much in front, theater tends to be broken because of the loss of fictionality. The less apparent the (a) is in a performance, the more we believe in the plot in the (b), and it may be praised as a good theater of realism. It seems that theatricality emerges when the (a) breaks into, and yet does not destroy, the (b), that is, the (a) and the (b) are combined in the stylized performance, which actually stands on the edge of ficitionality. A spectacular scene or an acrobatic performance in theater, for example, gives us a feeling of theatricality because of its manifestation of the (a) in the realm of style, which actually is the (b).7 If traditional Japanese theater appears rich in theatricality, it is because Japanese theater essentially appreciates the
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aspect of (a) in style, as in the case of ran-byoshi in the Noh play, Dojoji, or the koh-joh scene of Kabuki, discussed above. This is the characteristic of what we call geinoh in Japanese, which I mentioned in the beginning of this essay. Geinoh or geinoh-jin (geinoh people) has in some contexts a pejorative sense because it implies vulgarity or low artistic status. Modern theater would refuse to be called geinoh . Geinoh covers traditional Japanese music performances but never Western music (whose reviews in daily newspapers usually appear in the culture section rather than geinoh section). However, geinoh is often used in scholarly research works as a concept to cover all the theatrical genres and performative activities, including the tea ceremony and Sumo wrestling.8 Following the structural analysis we have developed so far, we may say that geinoh includes every kind of performance that contains the above schematized triangular structure of (a), but that it needs even the slightest hint of the triangle of (b). Rituals have a definite tendency to base themselves mainly on (a). But if they give us an impression of geinoh, they always have certain aspects of (b). In the case of the ritual performance, which was executed inside the curtain walls and out of sight, we felt a definite relation to the performers, which means that we were transformed from mere Spectator to Audience by something outside us that we shared with the village people. This ritual performance definitely falls into the category of geinoh. The rite in the Nigatsu-do Hall of the TodaijiTemple, on the other hand, refuses to let us be Audience. True, the monks in the small room are no longer ordinary monks. They are playing sacred roles that are quite different from their everyday roles. Nonetheless, they do not go further to be totally characterized as Actor, and the rite remains on the border between a geinoh and a purely religious rite. Conventional theaters that hold a clear structural relationship of (b) may dislike being classified as geinoh. But since triangle (b) could not stand for a theatrical performance without (a), they, too, are categorized as geinoh. Thus, geinoh requires: (1) the triangular structural relationship of (a), Player-Role-Spectator, but (2) that at least one of these elements be lifted up to the plane of the fictional relationship of triangle (b), Actor-CharacterAudience. Both traditional Japanese performances and Western experimental ones tend to step out of the fictional plane of (b), but while the former still keep the triangular structure with regards to the aspect of Audience, the latter seem to put more emphasis on Actor in their own structure. Both share the same intersection of reality and fictionality. Therefore, these Western experimental performances give us a definite impression of being in the
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realm of the geinoh even if they are rigorously trying to get rid of the traditional structure of theater. Thus, geinoh and theatricality go together, side by side. And whenever the Western concept of “theater” suffers from narrowness and ambiguity, the term geinoh may be recommended. Adopting this term, it will be possible to denote the broader implication of theatricality as well as to make distinctions between different kinds of performance, theatrical and nontheatrical. Perhaps we need a new discipline of geinoh studies in order to further explore the issue of theatricality. Seijo University, Tokyo Notes
1. Sino-Japanese characters for engeki did exist early in the 19th century, but labeled not as engeki but as kyogen (see, Mori 2001). 2. The meaning of geinoh, which originally came from Chinese usage, first meant “skill,” but went through a considerable degree of change from the 10th to 14th centuries (see Moriya, 1981). 3. Kata is described in the New Kabuki Encyclopedia as follows: “Kata essentially are fixed forms or patterns of performance and, while the term most commonly refers to acting, may be found in all production elements, such as the arrangement of a program, of scenes, and the traditions of scenery, props, wigs, makeup, music, and costumes.[...] A kata may be said to have been born when an actor created an appropriate interpretation of the spirit of a play and his role in it (in terms of movement, speech, appearance, and so on) and this interpretation was transmitted as a convention to the next generation of actors...” (Leiter, 289) However, in my opinion, kata in Kabuki is more a pattern, while kata in Noh is more form, or Form in the sense close to the Platonic idea. Kata as pattern can be changed, as we see in the history of Kabuki, but kata of Form cannot, since Noh will no longer be Noh if its kata is changed (See Mori, 1997, II). 4 Bert O. States holds a similar view of character: “All characters in a play are nested together in ‘dynamical communion,’ or in what we might call a reciprocating balance of nature: every character ‘contains in itself’ the cause of actions or determinations, in other characters and the effects of their causality… Hamlet is made of Gertrude and Claudius, Osric and Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, et cetera and vice versa. Seen from the characterological viewpoint, Hamlet is a collection of relationships”(14648). 5. A Kabuki critic and scholar, Tamotsu Watanabe, claims that the koh-joh scene presents the essence of Kabuki in various aspects (see Watanabe, 1989). 6. The intersection of reality and ficitionality is most clearly seen in the convention of Kabuki’s onnagata, a female impersonator. As is well known, this convention was practiced in Elizabethan theater, too. But the comparison of both cases would show the differences of theatrical sensibility between the East and the West. To take examples from Shakespearean comedies, Viola and Rosalind disguised as men do not conceal their true selves from the audience, and the audience knows everything and enjoys the various layers of philosophical implications in their ironic situations. In contrast, Kabuki’s disguise hides the true self of the character not only from other characters in the play but also from the audience, so that the revelation of the real self is a surprise for both. A SubStance # 98/99, Vol. 31, nos. 2 & 3, 2002

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typical example is the Hamamatsu-ya scene in the play Benten the Thief. The thief is a handsome young man and played by an actor who can be an onnagata. When he appears on the stage, disguised as a young princess, the audience naturally takes him as an onnagata—that is, a genuine princess who is not disguised. He even uses some theatrical gimmicks to maintain that illusion with the audience. It is in the climactic scene that he is detected as a man. He suddenly takes off his kimono and identifies himself with a long and melodiously narrated monologue. 7. This characteristic of theatricality in theater will become clear when we consider cinema. Cinema has, on the surface, a similar structural relationship between actor, character and audience. In a movie house an audience is watching an actor playing a character, but on the screen. The essential difference between theater and cinema is often expressed by the phrase, “the theater audience confronts a real person on the stage while the cinema audience watches only a shadow of a person on the screen.” Structurally speaking, this means that cinema is based solely on the conceptual relationship of (b), not at all on the physical one of (a), though this may sound the other way round at first. A movie actor looks just like himself on the screen, that is, the same as in his actual life. But this is so because there is no gap between Actor and Player. If what we are watching must be either a real person or a fictional character, it must be a character, for otherwise we could not enjoy the fictional world there. When we see Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet on the stage, we never imagine that Hamlet actually looks like Olivier. But when he is playing Hamlet on the screen, Hamlet is no one but he. This is another way of saying that cinema is totally realistic. Therefore, a movie, even a spectacular type, does not give us a feeling of theatricality. Anything on the screen does not appear artificial (not theatrical in every sense of the word) to our eyes; if it does, it must be a miserable failure. 8. It may be difficult to imagine that Sumo wrestling was in the old days regarded as geinoh. But it was geinoh not because it was something like today’s pro-wrestling—a kind of show entertainment—but because it was a performing competition dedicated to divine beings. If this sounds odd to us today, it is because we have lost the ability to sense the transformation of Sumo elements to those of triangle (b). In contrast, the tea ceremony gives us a clear feeling of geinoh. Here Player and Spectator easily transform themselves to Actor and Audience. Despite the fact that no shadow of Character appears in the performance, the feeling for a larger world clearly emerges. Actor and Audience constantly exchange their roles during the performance, and yet the host is the host and the guests are the guests; the triangle structure remains.

Works Cited
Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. London: MacGibbon & Kee Ltd., 1968. Carlson, Marvin. Places of Performance: the Semiotics of Theater Architecture. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1989. Leiter, Samuel L. New Kabuki Encyclopedia, a Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten. Westport, Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press, 1997. Mori, Mitsuya, “Thinking and Feeling.” In Stanca Scholz-Cionca & Samuel L. Leiter (eds), Japanese Theater & the International Stage. Leiden, Boston & Köln: Brill, 2001. ——. “Noh, Kabuki and Western Theater: An Attempt at Schematizing Acting Styles.” Theater Research International, Spring Supplement, Oxford University Press, 1997. ——. “Koten-geki to gendai-geki (Classical and Modern Theater).” Iwanami Koza, Kabuki, SubStance # 98/99, Vol. 31, nos. 2 & 3, 2002

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Bunraku, Vol.1, Tokyo: Iwanami, 1997. Moriya, Tsuyoshi. “Introduction”, Nihon Geinoh-shi (The History of Japanese Geinoh). Vol. 1, Tokyo: Hosei University Press, 1981. States, Bert O. Great Reckonings in Little Rooms. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1985. Watanabe, Tamotsu. Kabuki: kajonaru kigo no mori (Kabuki: A Forest of Signs). Tokyo: Shinyoku-sha, 1989.

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