Dramaturgies for contemporary kabuki: Towards an understanding of the kokera otoshi celebrations at the Ginza Kabuki-za in 2013-14

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This paper aims to apply studies in dramaturgy to enhance understanding of the performances staged at the Ginza Kabuki-za theatre to mark its reopening from April 2013, and of the kokera otoshi or opening ceremony as a cultural event. The performances on the new stage inside the theatre were a celebration of kabuki intended primarily for actors and audiences (including both regular attendees and newcomers) and as such may be expected to have drawn on existing dramaturgical traditions. The kokera otoshi event as a whole, however, lends itself to analysis according to sociologically based interpretations of dramaturgy, since it had a wider impact which might be regarded as having civic, media, national and even global implications.
The first section will deal with dramaturgies for performing kabuki on stage and will examine the following key questions. What aspects of the historical, aesthetic and cultural context of kabuki might we consider to be the origins of its dramaturgy? How has kabuki’s dramaturgy changed or evolved over time and how has a tradition developed? How and why does dramaturgy continue to be relevant to the understanding of contemporary performance a genre for which few new plays are being written and produced, and in which repetition of established and recognizable patterns of performance is emphasized? This section will include an analysis of some of the plays performed for the April 2013 kokera otoshi programme, paying attention to how their content has been formulated for kabuki performance and how individual elements are arranged and interrelated. The same analysis also attempts to assess how far these items on the kokera otoshi programme adapted kabuki’s existing dramaturgical traditions to suit the specific context of the occasion.
The second, longer section looks at the kokera otoshi from a broader perspective, as the focus for a series of kabuki-themed celebratory activities. Important examples of activities integrated into the kokera otoshi were the associated religious ceremonies; the opening of galleries, restaurants and shops in the newly constructed Kabuki-za Tower and redeveloped Higashi Ginza station; and the exhibitions held in the area adjacent to the Kabuki-za to celebrate its reopening. This section will be informed in part by approaches to dramaturgy from studies in social and political sciences, initiated by Goffman (1959) and recently extended by Alexander (2011) with regard to the relationship between culture and power as it is expressed and managed through social performance. It attempts to determine how the kokera otoshi event shaped perceptions of kabuki and the reopening of its main performance venue into a story to be enacted on the “stage” of Tokyo’s Ginza district, by considering the following questions. What were the active processes surrounding the event and whom did they involve? Who were the target audience members and how successfully did it reach these people? How far did those who “staged” the event draw on, or seek to educate their “audiences” about, traditional kabuki dramaturgy? The discussion will also take into account other factors which may have influenced, or may be used to explain, the public presentation of the kokera otoshi: for example, the diverse economic interests of Shōchiku as a company which deals with film and real estate as well as traditional theatre, and the importance attached to the concept of Japan’s “soft power” in both domestic and foreign policy.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2014


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