Young Noh performers series: annual East-West joint session 2013

photo-3I just came back from the Yoseikai tozai godo kenkyu happyokai (養成会東西合同発表会), an annual performance session that brings together the participants to the yoseikai, a training and performance programme for Noh and Kyogen actors and musicians, from different parts of the country. The yoseikai is sponsored by the Bunkacho (Agency for Cultural Affairs), and is one of the few government-sponsored Noh activities.

Now some random thoughts about today’s event (I’m copying what I scribbled on the back of my programme). Firstly, it was GREAT to see many young performers on stage. It is difficult to describe this feeling, but I think it was the pleasure of feeling youthful vigour, perceiving the efforts, sensing the hopes of these performers, whose career as full professionals is just about to begin. It brought the world of Noh closer to the world I am living.

It was refreshing to see young performers as well as many different styles one next to the other: one of the characteristics of this annual event is that performers not only come from different parts of Japan, but also that they belong to artistic schools that you would not easily see on the same stage.

There definitely should be more opportunities to see Noh performed by young actors. I have two simple arguments for this:

  1. I have seen experienced actors who would not stand comparison with some of these young gentlemen (don’t give me Zeami’s flower of age, most of the ‘flowers’ I’ve seen have withered, or else they never really bloomed’). They go on stage simply because they rank higher due to seniority, and family name.
  2. More occasions for young performers to perform (especially shite actors) cannot but help them to hone their skills while they still have the physical and intellectual capability to shape their style.

Not only this: there should be more chances for actors of different schools to perform next to each other. I might be thinking of Kyoto in particular here, where only Kanze and Kongo schools are present. I think that actors should be able to travel more and be confronted with different audiences, and most importantly be exposed to various styles of many different performers. This already happens today, but it is not enough. Noh still is regulated by a bakufu-esque system of territorial subdivision, governed by the much ineffectual Noh Association. Instead of this Noh needs competition and meritocracy.

Finally, among the various things that must be done (yet are not done) to help young performers is advertising these performances, according to the principle of fuchi furai (不知不来, ‘if they don’t know, they don’t come’) Also, programmes should be less cryptical than they are now: they might contain pictures, short bios of performers, something that allows the audience to take an interest in who these people are. Of course, a specialised audience would not need any additional information, they would already know who the actors are, who their parents and grandparents are, etc.. in fact, that’s why programmes are accessible only to a specialised audience – because there is no other audience! It’s August, university hasn’t started yet, and yet! … performers were young and vigorous, but the audience was just out of the convalescent home waiting room, as always!!!

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