THURSDAY OCTOBER 1
5:00 -7:30 pm, Panel #1: ABSORPTIONS
The Deep Reality of Style: From Michel Saint-Denis to Huang Zuolin
Siyuan Liu (University of British Columbia)
While much research has been conducted on the Chinese huaju (spoken drama) director Huang Zuolin’s 1962 speech that employed Brecht to reintroduced xiqu (traditional theatre) to the Stanislavski-dominated huaju or his adoption of the xieyi (“writing meaning”) concept in the 1980s to hybridize xiqu and huaju, little attention has been paid to the two-year (1935-1937) theatrical education Huang and his actress wife Danni (Jin Yunzhi) received in England and its impact on huaju production and education after their return to China. During those two years, Huang received a master’s degree from Cambridge with a thesis on the history of Shakespearean productions, while he and Danni also enrolled in the French anti-realist director Michel Saint-Denis’ London Theatre Studio, with Danni in acting and Huang in direction (and auditing in acting). They also briefly studied with Stanislavski’s disciple and rebel Michael Chekhov and avant-garde German choreographer Kurt Jooss, and read Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares and Brecht’s “Alienation Effect in Chinese Acting.”
Such an eclectic education in European theatrical realism and anti-realism allowed Huang to eventually reject huaju’s dogmatic adherence to realism and the System, largely based on his belief, adopted from Saint-Denis, of realism as only one of many styles in the long history of world theatre, or, as Saint-Denis put it, the “superficial” and “deep” realisms. Based on archival and published sources, this paper examines Saint-Denis’ influence on Huang’s pursuit of the deeper realities of style in huaju through European and Chinese theatres.
Three Kingdoms of Pain and Sorrow: Verisimilitude of Warfare Presented in Pansori Jeokbyeokga
Min-Hyung Yoo (Korea University)
The presentation will be about how Jeokbyeokga, one of the five classics of pansori, approaches realities of warfare during mid-to-late Joseon dynasty around 17th century. Jeokbyeokga has its roots in the classical Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, sharing the same plot and characters. Instead of glorifying warfare in the great battles of good versus evil like the novel does, the pansori is not hesitant to show the cruel and tragic aspect of warfare where conscripted foot soldiers are separated from their families, maimed and constantly in threat of death. In Jeokbyeokga, pre-modern realist themes are shown in both traditional and magic-realist sense.
In order to present my case, I will first make a brief introduction of both Romance of the Three Kingdoms and pansori Jeokbyeokga, then I will introduce and analyze four songs in Jeokbyeokga, called “Soldiers’ Lament”, “Death Song,” “Roll Call”, and “Song of the Ghost-birds” in order to illustrates the differences of the novel and the pansori, and to show that the latter highlights the realities of war.
In those four songs, which are original to Jeokbyeokga and not at all present in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the perspectives are given to common people, not heroes, to show that in full detail that conscription takes families apart, battles hurt and kill people with absolute brutality, and there can be no ‘just cause’ of warfare. Through the voices of the soldiers, Jeokbyeokga conveys the message that war itself should be subjected to criticism.
Author, Translator, Adaptor, Director: The Perplexing Legacy of Osanai as Playwright
David Jortner (Baylor University)
Osanai Kaoru’s legend outstrips his biography. Often called the “Father of Shingeki,” Osanai is credited with the modern theatre’s break from kabuki, the emergence of Stanislavkian style realism into Japanese performance, and the production of Western plays which challenged the politically conservative mores of the kabuki stage. His production of John Gabriel Borkman in 1909 is often claimed as the first shingeki play; certainly it was the first full production of a Western realist drama. He is also a central figure in the emergence (with Hijikata Yoshi) of the Tsukiji Shōgekijō (1923), both the company and the theatre, and the creation of a cultural home for modernist based experimentation in performance. Not all stories about Osanai are positive, however. Osanai was accused of blocking the development of Japanese playwriting with an occidentalist favoritism towards Western authors.
Osanai was himself a playwright, and felt that his own plays were somewhat lacking. Osanai’s playwriting is now often seen as merely tangential to his other work; his plays remain untranslated and are often seen as adaptations of more successful Western dramas than playtexts in their own right. Yet what is striking is that for many years, Osanai’s plays, especially his play Musuko (The Son) remained extraordinarily popular with the Japanese populace. Musuko, which premiered in 1922, was an adaptation of Harold Chapin’s moderately successful London play Augustus in Search of a Father and, in many ways, a response to Kikuchi Kan’s shingeki play Chichi kaeru (Father Returns, 1917). This paper will examine the originating text of Musuko, Osanai’s writing, and how it connected and reflected Osanai’s ideas about theatre, modernity, adaptation, and authorship in the early 20th century.
Colonial Temporality, Diasporic Displacement, and Korean Realism in Yun Baek-nam’s Destiny
Miseong Woo (Yonsei University)
In the East Asian tradition, space and time, the two key components of understanding a society’s temporalities, were approached as both a concept and a practice, the simultaneous realm of spirituality and materiality, rather than as merely a physical place or a present condition. In traditional theatre forms in Korea, such as Talchum, Pansori, and Changgeuk, conventions required a heightened awareness of the audience’s dynamic association of the current conditions with the metaphoric or symbolic realm of the staged contents. Yun Baek-nam’s Destiny (1920), the first Korean diaspora play, portrays a triangular love affair involving a well-educated Korean picture bride in Hawaii, her illiterate husband, and her former lover. Under colonial censorship and the isolated and depressing space of the confined island, the female protagonist’s diasporic sense of displacement and her emotional struggle in the play resonate the colonial temporality of the times to the audience, ventriloquizing the country’s disjointed past, present, and future.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 2
2:00-4:00 pm, Panel #2: TRANSITIONS AND TRANSFORMATIONS
Realism, the Real, and (Virtual) Reality: Hirata Oriza and Beyond
Cody Poulton (University of Victoria)
Critics in the 1990s began to talk about a “return of the real” to contemporary Japanese theatre after nearly a generation since angura’s challenge to the old, shingeki-style realism in the 1960s. This trend, also dubbed “quiet theatre,” was spearheaded by playwrights like Hirata Oriza, Iwamatsu Ryō, and Matsuda Masataka. The renewed focus on the problems of everyday life, rendered into colloquial, contemporary Japanese, has also had a profound impact on 21st-century playwrights like Okada Toshiki, Matsui Shū, and Maekawa Shirō, though there have been some notable exceptions.
In focusing on the work of Hirata Oriza, I wish to examine his innovations in contemporary stage language, dramaturgy, and directing. Hirata’s dramatic methodology is an explicit challenge to European standards of naturalism or Stanislavskian realist acting, as well as a rejection of European realist drama’s privileging of human subjectivity and humanist rationality. What constitutes the “real” of his dramaturgy and directorial method points to an attention to the unfolding of real time—through nuance, pace, voice, volume, timber, and action—that is so scientifically calibrated that one might call it “digital dramaturgy.” The precision of Hirata’s directing, whereby performance times of a play vary by only seconds from one night to the next, also lends itself to the programming that he and Ishiguro Hiroshi have done for their robot and android theatre productions.
I will proceed to discuss how contemporary live theatre negotiates its place among a plethora of other popular entertainments on the contemporary Japanese stage of an increasingly mediatized, digital, and virtual nature. What is the place of realism in a world of mechanical reproduction, of simulacra without originals, of drama without subjectivities? Can one speak of a posthuman, non-Eurocentric mimesis?
Script to See: Eyes Rule the 1920s Chinese Realist Theatre
Man He (Williams College)
This talk uncouples Chinese realist theatre experiments of the 1920s from both their post-19th century Western definitions as well as from the May Fourth conflation of realist theatre with social problem plays. These two associations, repeatedly perpetuated, are misleading. They either deny the presence of an indigenous Chinese aestheticism of representing reality in the modern imagination of realist theatre; or they reduce the creative endeavors of modern Chinese theatre to their political motivations. This talk analyzes Yu Shangyuan’s early drama works (Mutiny (Bingbian 1924) and Statue (Suxiang 1926) in tandem with his visions and theories of realist theatre, all made while he was a student in the US. Rather than presenting Chinese realism as a mere copy of a Western Other, I consider alternative conceptions of realism grounded in culturally-specific locations and times. Specifically, I argue that Yu grounded his realist theatre activities on sight, formulating an innate connection between the Neo-Confucian tradition of gewu (investigating things) and Ibsenesque “ocular realism.” This productively challenges the stock conflict between tradition and modernity, and between Confucian and scientific interpretive systems. Yu’s cosmopolitan experiences and indigenous understanding of representation fueled his creative energies and allowed him to connect sight, reality, and theatricality. This talk, thus, aspires to answer a key yet much neglected question regarding the aesthetics of spoken drama: what occurred when eyes- of characters, dramatists, and spectators - became the principle subject of modern Chinese theatre.
Suzhou Dialect in Early-Qing Kunqu: A Theatre of Realism in Embryo?
Catherine Swatek (University of British Columbia)
My presentation for this conference is based on work I have undertaken for some time on dialect humor in Kun opera, in the plays of Li Yu (1602?–Post 1676), a playwright active in Suzhou in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Li Yu made frequent use of actors trained to perform in both local Suzhou dialect and standard dialect based on Beijing vernacular (guanhua). These actors often performed in ensembles of three roles (jing, fujing, and chou), and many of Li Yu’s plays include several scenes that feature them. I am intrigued with this new dimension of xiqu, absent from late Ming chuanqi written by literati playwrights and performed in the Kun opera style, and have explored this phenomenon in both zhezixi performed throughout the Qing dynasty, and in some of Li Yu’s extant chuanqi, where scenes performed in dialect are interwoven with scenes that feature the iconic dignified roles for which Kun opera is known, performed by actors singing and speaking exclusively in stage guanhua.
These scenes, which sometimes take the form of skits within larger scenes, were performed in various mixes of dialect and guanhua and strike me as an early form of spoken drama, sometimes performed in scenes focused on those actors and at other times performed within scenes largely focused on dignified characters. Given the often jarring juxtapositions of down-to-earth and often vulgar skits in dialogue and lyrical segments sung according to Kunqu’s highly formalized conventions, what impact would they have had when performed on the public stage? Can we think of this aesthetic of the common as injecting a kind of social realism and naturalism into Kun opera, which subverted or at least commented caustically on the sentiments encoded in Kunqu’s high aesthetic as expressed by characters speaking and singing in guanhua?
I will focus on one play, Qingzhongpu (Register of the Pure and Loyal, printed pre-1659) and one popular scene from it titled “Protesting the Edict” (“Nao zhao”). I will explore how this play and this scene reflect how Li Yu wrote against the grain of Kun Opera’s formalism, creating scenes that invited actors who typically played “low mimetic” characters to experiment with mixes of language that made their performances both accessible to new audiences and expressive of unvarnished social and political commentary unprecedented in Kun opera. I will discuss how Li Yu depicted recent historical events that featured local Suzhou citizens in Qingzhongpu, unfolding events in “real” time that involved “real” historical actors familiar to Suzhou audiences. I will explore how he used the actors portraying these local personalities in “Protesting the Edict,” and conclude by considering whether we can characterize Li Yu’s experiments with the chuanqi form and Kunqu’s performance conventions as a form of realism smuggled into an elite form of xiqu, or whether we can think of such dialect performances as realistic at all.
4:30-7:00 pm, Panel #3: INSTRUMENTS OF REALISM
Costume of the Present: Clothing and Time in Traditional Chinese Drama
Guojun Wang (Vanderbilt University)
Whereas a large number of plays were composed based on historical events and lives of individual persons throughout China history, the performance of traditional Chinese drama is often regarded as highly stylistic and ahistorical. Theatrical costumes, as a salient example, are frequently described as timeless. How, then, did theatrical costuming engage with different time schemes in premodern China? In particular, how was clothing used to indicate the present in various theatrical practices? Two groups of materials shed light on this issue. First, a cluster of phrases like “costume of the present” (shifu 時服) that appear in theatrical records reveal the ties between clothing and time in China’s long theatrical tradition. Second, some individual dramas use clothing to mark the progress in personal life, the transition of dynasties, and the emergence of the modern world. Synthesizing these materials, the paper argues that the present in traditional Chinese drama is not the simple embodiment of a pre-given “now.” Rather, it is an effect of differentiation produced through the interaction between print media, performance spaces, and theatrical tropes such as costuming. This paper thus questions both the ahistorical understanding of Chinese theater and the representational relationship between Chinese drama and Chinese history.
After the Colloquial: Staging the Real in Japan’s Digital Age
Jessica Nakamura (UCSB)
This paper asks what happens to representations of the real after Hirata Oriza’s groundbreaking gendai kōgo engeki(contemporary colloquial theater) emerges in the 1990s. Described by Hirata as more suited to Japanese language and culture than the Western realism-inspired shingeki, gendai kōgo engeki aims to portray life “as it is” through understated quotidian expression. If according to Cody Poulton, Hirata’s style “shifts the modernist emphasis from self and message to attention on the other, one’s particular environment and nest of social relationships” (28), I explore how changes to lived conditions after Hirata alter portraying life “as it is.” For this paper, I consider the ways in which digital modes of communication and expression that increase after Hirata first develops his style prompt not only Nancy Baym’s question “what does it even mean to be real?” but also how do we define life “as it is”?
Against the context of these digital modes, this paper explores theater after 2000 through an exploration of stage material—props, set dressing, and other miscellaneous objects. The next generation of theater artists, including Iwai Hideto, Matsui Shū, and Okada Toshiki, were all influenced by Hirata and engage in some way with his colloquial style. In their performances, however, onstage material is frequently used in unrealistic ways that seem to disrupt conventions of realism. I explore the ways in which this stage material, while initially appearing to undermine a portrayal of life “as it is,” frequently becomes a site through which the performances mediate between lived experience, theatrical style and addressing new forms of digital communication and expression. In so doing, I contemplate new expressions of life “as it is” and use Hirata’s conception of the colloquial to resituate recent performances as deeply invested in “real life.”
Yoshida Bunzaburō’s Quest for the Real
Jyana S. Browne (University of Maryland)
Yoshida Bunzaburō, the most celebrated puppeteer in his time, performed at a crucial stage in the development of the puppet theatre. He debuted at the Takemoto-za using one-operator puppets in 1717 for Chikamatsu’s The Battles of Coxinga in Later Days (Kokusen’ya gonichi kassen) and took over as lead puppeteer for the theatre in 1725. In his later career, he won stardom for his puppeteering of three-operator puppets in the three plays most associated with the golden age of puppetry: Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy (Sugawara denju tenarai kagami,1746), Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees (Yoshitsune senbon zakura, 1747), and Chūshingura (Kanadehon chūshingura, 1748). Throughout, he continually innovated by designing new mechanisms for the puppets that enabled greater articulation of the puppet body. Through his skill as a puppeteer and these innovations, his contemporaries lauded him for making the puppets “human-like” (hito no gotoku) in performance. Theatre historians describe Bunzaburō’s puppetry as having a high degree of “realism” (shajitsusei).
What can eighteenth-century commentaries tell us about conceptions of “realism” at the time? What did it mean to represent the human body with a puppet? Unlike the early eighteenth-century puppet theatre which located realism in dramatic situations and the expression of feeling, particularly through the vehicle of the chanter, as the form developed and increasingly became in competition with kabuki, puppeteers emerged as the key architects of the “real” on stage. In this paper, I examine commentaries of Bunzaburō’s performances in Sugawara, Yoshitsune, and Chūshingura to reveal how ideas of the real moved from the voice to the body with movement as the animating factor.
Racing the Real: Realism and Racial Representation in 20th Century Korean Theatre
Soo Ryon Yoon (Lingnan University) and Ji Hyon (Kayla) Yuh (Montclair State University)
In this presentation, we argue that theatrical conventions of racial representations in Korean performing arts are rooted in the adoption of Euro-American theatrical realism in the early to mid-20th century colonial and post-war conditions. In the 1930s, directors trained in Japanese and European institutions began considering stage makeups, set designs, and props as important means to articulate their understandings of dispositions and racialized visual characteristics of characters in a play. Their productions imagined whiteness and non-whiteness, especially blackness, in codified visuality and visual excesses (or the lack thereof). In post-war Korea, theatrical realism continued to evolve in the 1960s thanks to the theatre artists who were newly exposed to American cultural hegemony. Based on a comparative study between the 1930s’ staged adaptations of Gogol’s Revizor and Korean playwright Cha Bumseok’s Yeoldaeeo (Tropical Fish, 1966), we discuss the theatricality of racial optics used as a way to achieve what the practitioners considered “racial authenticity” in approximating their respective visions of the “real” world. We propose to understand this practice as “racing the real,” in which a staged reality is determined by a process of assigning racial dispositions to theatrical characters and their world.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 3
2:00-4:00 pm, Panel #4: ADAPTING FORMS
The Making and Unmaking of Shinpa: On Representation, Realism, and Reality of Birth Search and Reunion in South Korea
Jieun Lee (Wake Forest University)
Drawing the historical trajectory of colonial and postcolonial constructions of shinpa and its relationship with realism in twentieth century Korea, this paper examines the contemporary theatrical production Ilgopzipmae (2013). In postwar time, configuring shinpa as a type of consumable sentiment, the mechanism of making shinpa as a nationalistic, capitalistic, and patriarchal spectacle has been concretized through TV and filmic re/presentations of search and reunion narratives since the 1980s. This contemporary shinpa-making process has often featured Korean transnational adoptees and their birth family member(s) and staged their search and reunion popularized within the phase of “global” Korea. Building upon this conceptual framework, I argue that Ilgopzipmae exemplifies as a “revised realistic resistance” in contemporary Korean theater, which unmakes the mastery of shinpa in regard to representing birth search and reunion. I further explicate the production’s gestures toward the “real” of the embodied experiences of a Korean mother who happens to be a former gijichon woman (military camptown prostitute serving mainly U.S. soldiers), and her relinquished son, a Korean American adoptee who happens to come back to Korea as a U.S. soldier. Moreover, this paper ponders over the efficacy and ethics of foregrounding on stage the “reality” of traumatic life stories of actual people from postwar U.S.-Korea’s entangled history of institutionalized military prostitution and transnational adoption.
Theatrical Realism on the Kabuki Stage: Configurations of Representation
Katherine Saltzman-Li (UCSB)
Kabuki was born around 1600, together with the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868). Following a century of experimentation and establishment, lasting defining features were developed during the latter part of the 17th century and the first part of the 18th, such as multi-act plays and an elaboration of role types, including the art of female impersonation.
Conceptual and practical ideas of realism in kabuki can be considered by focusing on four points in its long history. The term jigei, the earliest term used to indicate theatrical realism in discussions of kabuki, first appeared in connection with the late 17th-early 18th century period mentioned above of substantial expansion and deepening of artistic practice. The mid-eighteenth century saw full fruition of those developments, resulting in complex plays with patterns of act and scene structures that presented varying kinds and degrees of reality supported by an expanded range of role-types. New role types again emerged in the first part of the 19th century, most prominently, those from a grittier world than kabuki had earlier depicted, as well as more fantastic figures who enacted a new harsher affective reality. Finally, in the late 19th century, the start of Japan’s modern period was marked by experiments in re-orienting kabuki through incorporation of the real in ways that completely broke with earlier conventions, including the “living history” plays championed by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX (1838-1903) and the attempt at re-introducing women actors, both pushing the limits of kabuki realism and marking those limits by their failure.
In this paper, I discuss play structure and content, together with supporting stage and acting practices, during these important points in kabuki history to examine how various balances – between imitation and stylization, between characters and stories from the past and those of the present, between practices based in Edo vs those in Osaka and Kyoto – defined the possibilities for theatrical realism, a term that can only have meaning within specific time, place, and genre parameters. The primary argument of this paper is that the major periods of kabuki change and development, as outlined above, are marked by new engagements with the notion of realism. In other words, while kabuki is a highly-stylized art, evolving conventions of theatrical realism have been at the core of its vitality and longevity. The paper explores those conventions and seeks to define the term realism for the kabuki context.
Understanding a Haunting Paradigm: Theatrical Realism on the Jingju Stage in Twentieth Century China
Xing Fan (University of Toronto)
Realism has been a haunting paradigm for modern Chinese literature and art as a whole. As Marston Anderson observes in The Limits of Realism, beginning as a promise of cultural transformation during the May Fourth movement, realism “continues to have considerable rhetorical—and political—bite in China today: the literature of each major period of political thaw […] has been applauded as a salutary return to the ‘realist’ tradition of preliberation fiction” (4). The trajectory of xiqu (umbrella term for Chinese classical/traditional theatre) during the twentieth century echoes this obsession with realism except for one dilemma: in the reformist view, xiqu does not have a “preliberation ‘realist’ tradition” to return to. It was actually construed as a symbol of old, stale, and decadent China since day one of the May Fourth movement. What has realism meant for the xiqu stage in twentieth century China? How did Western ideas of theatrical realism—with their Chinese interpretations and adaptations—interact with xiqu practice? And how might we be able to define and analyze elements of realism in xiqu?
In this paper, I will use Picking up a Jade Bracelet (Shi yu zhuo), part of the jingju traditional repertory, as the primary case study. My three tasks are: (1) to trace its textual evolution in the context of changing interpretations of realism from the earliest available version in 1912 to the present; (2) to analyze performance practices such as acting, music, costume, and makeup in the context of the continuing agony of form/content conflict in realist jingju; and (3) to propose an alternative interpretive strategy–the aesthetic lens–to approach realism in jingju. I argue that the Chinese obsession with realism in twentieth century jingju, which is essentially dominated by Western ideas of theatrical realism, leads only to a dead end, because the jingju stage accentuates a stylized reality, which has constituted an alternative realist tradition since its origin during the late eighteenth century.
Photo credit: "Actuació musical pansori a la presentació del cicle 'Corea i el món del pansori'" by filmotecacat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0