Just Say Noh. But Also Say Kyogen: Crash Course Theater #11


Hey there I’m Mike Rugnetta, this is crash course theater and today we’re exeunt in late medieval Europe and headed to late medieval Japan introducing one of the world’s most distinct and Lasting theatrical styles, Noh. What’s that York? No. It’s no it’s called Noh. Yes Noh. No, Noh is the name no, spelled n o h The H is silent, handle it dude. Anyway, we’ll be tracing Noh’s origins showing how it flourished in the 14th century And then we’ll explore its staging. We’ll look at Kyogen, the farcical scenes between Noh plays which act as a nice reminder that the world isn’t all Vengeful ghosts and lamenting women We’ll also look at Atsumori, Zeami Motokiyo’s Flute playing samurai Noh drama so put on your favorite spirit mask and let’s go We don’t exactly know when or how theatres arrived in Japan But the mythical version goes like so.
One time the sun goddess Amaterasu Was teased so badly by her brothers that she hid in the heavenly rock cave and the world went dark. Not great, so the gods tried to get her to emerge But nothing worked until Amano-Uzumeno, the goddess of dawn mirth and revelry came up with a brilliant plan She would sing and dance while taking off her clothes, so she does this and the gods go crazy so crazy that the sun goddess pokes her head out and is like what’s all this fuss about Light returns to the world and maybe also stripping gets invented. Stripping, theater, and light a natural tree, oh really. In terms of non-mythical origins sacred dance was part of Shintoism the traditional religion of japan particularly important was Kagura or God music a dance performed by priestesses But in the 6th century CE, Buddhism arrived and with it Japan adopted Additional forms of dance and ritual we know about some of these from a 712 CE. text called Records of Ancient Things Sort of does what it says on the title. In 782 some killjoy Nobles nix palace entertainers who were then taken in by Buddhist and Shinto Temples at which point worship got a lot more exciting Maybe you’re noticing some similarities with the rise of liturgical drama in the West. Noh has two more immediate predecessors Dengaku, or field music possibly originated in Korea it was associated with spring rice sowing and fall rice harvest festivals and included comedy juggling and dance Sarugaku, or monkey music possibly originating in China featured animal acts and Nudity more significant for no Sarugaku also included dance theater in which the chorus would speak the lines for the main character when the dance became too vigorous in the 12th century Buddhist temples adopted Sarugaku Noh a cleaned-up version of the Sarugaku as a Teaching tool even without animal acts were still a pretty long way from no proper Though the real funny moment came with Kiyotsugu Kan’nami an acclaimed Sarugaku Noh performer . When he shows up Japan is structured as a Shogunate meaning that while there’s an emperor most of the ruling is done by the Shogun the highest-ranking general the Shogun in the late 14th century is Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. And he is big-time into culture he becomes a patron at two Kan’Ami and then a patron and lover of Kan’Ami ‘he’s son Zeami Motokiyo. Father Kan’Amii manages to combine Sarugaku Noh with stories borrowed from Classical Japanese sources like The Tales of Genji and then ties the whole thing up with a Buddhist bow Son Zeami then takes that form Perfects it, and write some theory about it Because I mean come on someone’s got to be doing theory at your theater, right? Zeami, also writes about a hundred of the plays Considered Noh canon and guess what we still have 21 of them yes sources. Noh plays are short only 10 or so pages long, but they take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours To perform, which may seem like a nice reasonable evening at the theater But when there are five types of Noh play and court entertainment includes one of each type Performances could last a but numbing eight hours each play consists of two scenes and most involve a ghost a demon or a Tormented human who can’t rest the language is a mix of verse and prose most of it sung or chanted Every Noh play ends with the dance the five types of noh Play are the Kami Mono, which involved the sacred story of a Shinto shrine. Shura Mono plays are about warriors like Atsumori We’re gonna meet him soon Katsura Mono plays or wig plays are about wigs. JK(just kidding) They’re about ladies who were played by wig wearing men because surprise surprise dudes only. the fourth type of no play is basically a grab-bag Though it often included Gendai Mono plays which told naturalistic stories or the Kyojo Mono aka mad woman plays which are Sad wig plays about a woman who loses a child or a lover and then goes insane. the final type the Kichiku mono or demon plays feature Supernatural beings and have the coolest masks I mean look at this and Also, this Noh dramas are philosophical and somewhat static they’re heavily influenced by Shinto ideas about our connection to nature and Buddhist ideas concerning the Transitory nature of life and the destructiveness of desire there’s not a lot of action and the goal is to convey a mood Rather than to tell a story each play has at least three characters and some have four or five The three essential types of characters are first the Shite, or main character This is the only character to wear a mask second the Tsure the Shite’s companion and third the Waki or witness or antagonist sometimes the Shite is disguised in the first scene and Reveals himself in the second scene sometimes as in Atsumori the Shite plays two different characters Between subsequent Noh plays and sometimes between the scenes of one play Comedy scenes called Kyogen were staged these were probably a nice change of pace because Noh plays Aren’t um? Funny? There are two kinds of Kyogen, parodies of know which are like satyr plays and scenes of everyday life based around stock characters, which resemble Roman comedies But in both cases. There is one big difference Kyogen are never vulgar They are short usually music less And though the language is more casual than in Noh they are still very Carefully performed the Noh stage is pretty rad the main part the Hon-Butai is Roofed like a shrine and held up by four pillars Jars are embedded under the stage to help with acoustics and a pine tree is painted on the back wall Okay, no not enough. No enough time for a pine tree stage right stands a bridge called the Hashigakari also roofed This is dotted with three pines representing heaven earth and man This is where the main characters enter and exit Noh theater doesn’t have scenery But actors wear beautiful costumes of embroidered silk and carry hand props The fan is the most important object as it can symbolize rain Wind the Sun the moon and a lot of other things a three or four person Orchestra called the Hayashi sits at the back of the stage dressed in samurai costumes traditionally the orchestra a flute and two or three drums Follows actors rhythms and movements in addition to the main cast a six to ten person chorus sings Narrates and takes over the lines of the Shite when he’s busy dancing like the Sanskrit theater Noh acting is highly gestural and codified no actors train from the age of seven there are no directors and nothing that we would recognize as Rehearsal rigorous training means the actors performances must be perfect every time Only the Shite are masked in most plays and that mask has one of five types. Agent, Male, Female, God or Monster. Zeami who wrote more than 20 booklets Explaining the philosophy and style of Noh said this about acting just as the transparent crystal produces fire and water or a colorless cherry tree bears blossoms and fruit a Superb artist creates a moving work of art out of a landscape Within his soul according to Zeami actors did this using three techniques Monomane, meant identifying with and embodying the character. Yugen meant lending that embodiment elegance while emphasizing the impermanence of life and Hana or flower meant and dowing the performance with spontaneity so that even within those highly systematic Style a play would feel a little different every time. Noh were primarily court entertainments performed for aristocratic audiences But unlike other cultures the Japanese mostly Revered actors during the height of Noh many performers were even able to join the noble cast the samurai Speaking of samurai let’s turn to our a tragic tale Zeami’s Atsumori. A story adapted from the popular tales of the Heike a Noh thought bubble, No Problem. The play begins as the Waki or witness dressed as a priest enters via the bridge saying Awake to awareness the world’s but a dream one may cast it aside is this what is real Just in case the Buddhist influence wasn’t totally clear the witness says his name used to be Kumagai But now it’s Rensho. He became a monk because he feels guilt over killing a young warrior Atsumori. Rensho explains he’ll take a trip and pray for his soul he crosses the stage and his journey is complete arriving at his destination He sees the Shite a flute playing grass cutter. Rensho marvels that a low-class person can play So well the grass cutter encourages him to be more woke and they talk about flutes it turns out the grass cutter is a Relative of Atsumoti so he and the priests pray together and now a pigeon interlude Where in the Waki asks a pesent to tell the story of Atsumori’s death? Turns out Atsumori was ready to escape a battle when he realized he left his precious flute returning for it He missed the last boat out He met enemy warrior Kumagae a who admired Atsumori’s bravery and elegance, but killed him anyway And then the Waki is like that’s me I’m Kumagai in the second scene the Waki prays before bed. The Shite masked as Atsumori’s ghost enters and Dances the chorus describes Atsumori’s death And there’s a moment where it seems like he’ll take revenge on Rensho But instead he kneels and asks Rensho to pray for his soul in the hopes They’ll both be reborn on a single lotus petal which is the Zen version of a happy ending? Thank you, thought bubble so the moral of the story is that attachment is bad Even if it’s two flutes and also don’t underestimate grass cutters we can see by its philosophical orientation slow pacing and Melancholy tone that Noh has a different feel than other types of theater We’ve encountered so far, but there’s an even more important difference unlike so much of the ancient theatre We’ve been learning about Noh is a living art form it is still performed today by troops. Who’ve inherited traditions passed down since Zeami’s time While it struggled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries now. It’s considered an essential part of Japanese culture well It’s time for me to take the hurry door next time. We’ll be heading to Italy where theatres briefly gets neoclassical and then Gets rude until then Curtain crash-course theatre is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios Head over to their channel to check out some of their shows like the art assignment and yawns, and it’s okay to be smart Crash course theater is filmed in each Chad and stacey emigholz studio in indianapolis indiana and is produced with the help of all of these very nice people our animation team is thought cafe crash course exists Thanks to the generous support of our patrons at patreon patreon is a voluntary Subscription service where you can support the content you love through a monthly donation and help keep crash course free for everyone forever Thanks for watching

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