Japanese Performance Theory Workshop at University of Michigan

I repost here information on the forthcoming Japanese Performance Theory Workshop at University of Michigan, organized by Prof. Reginald Jackson. This looks like a wonderful chance to start thinking about how we could build bridges between the scholarship on Japanese theatre, often based on a literary/historical approach, and the rich variety of methodologies that have become common practice in contemporary performance studies.

image.jpgThe following is quoted from the University of Michigan, Center for Japanese Studies website:

The Japanese Performance Theory Workshop (JPTW) intervenes between Japanese Studies and Performance Studies to foster generative critical engagements with Japanese performance. Through seminar-style discussions, performance screenings, research presentations, and writing exercises, this intensive week-long summer workshop will help participants working on Japanese performance at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels develop better conceptual, methodological, and pedagogical tools.

At a basic level, the JPTW represents an experiment designed to address a few overlapping gaps. The initial idea for this residential workshop emerged several years ago, mainly out of frustration with a prevailing conservatism in the study of Noh drama within the Japanese academy especially. The theoretical and methodological worldliness that often characterized literary study of premodern and modern narratives did not obtain for some sectors of the academy devoted to “traditional Japanese theater.” It felt like there was a wealth of fascinating material being underserved by painstakingly informative but unduly positivistic approaches. What if there was a way to energize that material along different lines?

There also seemed to be a gap between conceptually vibrant performance studies scholarship that dealt mainly with modern and contemporary western forms, on the one hand, and historically astute but conceptually dilute work on traditional Japanese performing arts, on the other. Performance Studies programs tend to neglect East Asian performance traditions, while studies of East Asian performance—of the premodern era, in particular—tend to lack theoretical rigor. While there exist intensive summer opportunities for students of various academic and artistic backgrounds to study Japanese performance traditions, both in the U.S. (e.g. the Noh Training Project) and in Japan (e.g. the Traditional Theater Training Program), there are no comparable opportunities for university students and faculty to study Japanese performance with an emphasis on strengthening conceptual approaches to it and analytical writing about it. Given these circumstances, the basic aim of the JPTW will be to provide a venue in which to study Japanese performance practices and critical theoretical approaches to Japanese performance in relation to one another within the context of an intensive summer workshop.

JPTW is a residential summer workshop that focuses on improving engagements with Japanese performance and performance theory. The program will host advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty (five each), working across fields such as performance studies, Japanese literary and cultural studies, ethnomusicology, visual arts, dance studies, and creative writing.

To the extent that a rigorous engagement with Japanese performance need not require Japanese language skills or a performance background, neither of these is required for admission to the program. Indeed, this background can often inhibit more adventurous interpretations. Along these lines, the JPTW will maintain a critical stance toward prevailing notions of expertise and will explore forms of producing knowledge that do not adhere strictly to either an Area Studies model or a practice-based model.



— Diego Pellecchia

Thoughts on IFTR 2013

20130730-114826.jpgBack from the IFTR 2013 conference at the Institut del Teatre in Barcelona. Spanish organisers Boris Daussà-Pastor and Mercè Saumell did a terrific job coordinating what has been the biggest IFTR ever, with more than 800 participants (!), distinguished keynote speakers and thought-inspiring presentations. Japanese theatre was present in various working groups, not only in the Asian Theatre working group, coordinated by Mōri Mitsuya and Nagata Yasushi, but also in Dance, Theatre and Religion, Theatre Historiography, and others. I particularly appreciated Tsutsumi Harue (Seijo University) on ‘The Production of Hyōryū kitan Seiyō kabuki (The Wanderer’s Strange Story: a Western Kabuki) (1879) and the Journey of Iwakura Embassy (1871-1873) and Hiranoi Chieko (Hosei University) on the ‘History of Local Amateur Kabuki, Ji-shibai, the latter being particularly pertinent to my current work on Noh amateurs. Noh theatre, as expected, only had one representative – myself. My presentation was on the ethical dilemma of a Noh scholar-practitioner who is divided between the loyalty to a teacher and the ethos it represents, and the need for freedom to formulate and express criticism.

The lack of Noh at IFTR cannot but point to the need of a more international (intercultural?) and interdisciplinary approach to Noh in the wider context of theatre and performance studies. We ‘new generation of Noh scholars’ should join forces and open up the knowledge of Noh qua performance, not only as study material for translators and historians.