Category Archives: Research

Event on Katarimono at Kyoto City University of the Arts

Event on katari (narration) in Japanese medieval performing arts. Prof. Fujita Takanori from Kyoto City University of the Arts talked about two traditions still performed today: Kōwaka-mai in Fukuoka and Daimokudate in Nara. Fujita analyzed musical aspects of the chant-narration such as melody and meter. It was interesting to compare styles of chant that are thought to pre-date noh (this point is currently debated by scholars) with noh chant. Videos of training and performance were also shown during the lecture. This is rare footage as these traditions are currently transmitted only within small local communities. The videos from Kōwaka-mai are available as DVD here.

In the second part of the event waki actors Yasuda Noboru (Hōshō school) and Arimatsu Ryōichi (Takayasu school) discussed narration drawing from the plays Aoinoue and Sumidagawa. It was interesting to see actors from different schools who usually do not appear together on stage (or backstage!) discuss differences in narration styles.


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

Symposium and Performance Demonstration Interactive Interplay: Waki and Ai-Kyōgen Roles in Noh


JPARC – Japanese Performing Arts Resource Center Lecture Series
ARC – Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

Symposium and Performance Demonstration
Interactive Interplay: Waki and Ai-Kyōgen Roles in Noh

Date November 17, 2015 15:00-20:00
Place: Ritsumeikan University, Kinugasa Campus. Art Research Center. Multipurpose room.。

This event consists of two parts. The afternoon symposium (in English with discussion in Japanese) will address the importance of waki and ai-kyōgen roles in late-Muromachi period noh with reference to building an interactive text of the play Funa Benkei for the JPARC database. In the evening demonstration (in Japanese), kyōgen and waki actors will discuss their roles in Funa Benkei, and perform portions of the play.

Symposium  15:00-17:30
15:00 Opening
15:20 Presentation (in English): ” Important auxiliary characters – the case of Funa Benkei and late Muromachi noh plays” by Dr. Lim Beng Choo, National University of Singapore
15:50 Presentation (in English): “The sonic comic: How kyōgen actors create a scenic soundscape” by Dr. Jonah Salz, Ryukoku University
16:30 Break
16:50 Presentation (in English): “Traditional Japanese Theater Websites and the Aims of the JPARC Website” by Dr. Diego Pellecchia
17:10 Round Table Discussion (in Japanese and English) “Purpose, Problems, and Perspectives on Creating Bilingual Interactive Texts, the case of Funa Benkei.” Discussants: Akama Ryō, Diego Pellecchia, Monica Bethe, others
17:40 Break (light refreshments will be provided)
Performance demonstration (in Japanese) 18:30-20:00
“Waki and Kyōgen Players in Late Medieval Noh, the case of Funa Benkei.”
Performers: Izumi Shinya (Kyogen actor, Izumi-ryū)
Arimatsu Ryōichi (Waki actor, Takayasu-ryū)
Oka Mitsuru (Waki actor, Takayasu-ryū)
Introductions: Diego Pellecchia

Towards a Community of ‘Amateur Creativity’ Research?

Here is a great review of the symposium ‘Amateur Creativity: Inter-disciplinary Perspectives’ – delighted to read that my paper on Amateurs in Noh Theatre was so well received!

Get Creative Research

Within days of beginning the Get Creative Research Project we came across the AHRC funded initiative, ‘Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Space’, and were excited to find that a symposium coming out of the project would be taking place at the University of Warwick in mid-September. The Amateur Dramatics project – of which Helen Nicholson is the Principle Investigator – is a collaboration between Royal Holloway and the Universities of Exeter and Warwick, where co-Investigators Jane Milling and Nadine Holdsworth are based respectively. The project also involves two PhD projects, undertaken by Cara Gray and Sarah Penny.

Attending the symposium in Warwick on 17th and 18th September was a great opportunity to hear more about the work of the Amateur Dramatics initiative, and to engage with the work of researchers within theatre studies (and some from other disciplines, including media studies and anthropology) whose research…

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Basic questions


The other day a Noh scholar asked me if I didn’t feel uncomfortable with Asian actors taking roles in opera productions. The question implied the fact that it is normal for the Japanese to be uncomfortable with non-Japanese taking roles in Noh theatre, and was supposed to merit a positive answer. My answer was simply ‘of course not’, as I didn’t really know where to start explaining why the answer could not be anything but ‘OF COURSE not’. When I am asked about foreigners in Noh I often use opera as a comparison, as I take for granted that most people accept that ‘European classical music’ is now an artistic patrimony of many countries in the world. I assume that no one is shocked to see a Korean soprano or a Japanese tenor singing arias written in 19th century Italy, for example. European classical music (I apologise for the awkward appellation) is part of the educational curricula of all Japanese schools. However, I realise that this should not be taken for granted, especially in environments as conservatives as that of Noh theatre. We really have a long way to go…

Present and Future of Noh seminar series

Today I am going to speak at the Fall Seminar series entitled Present and Future of Noh, organized by the Hosei University Noh Research Institute in Kyoto. I am honored to have been invited to talk about the International Noh Institute and Udaka Michishige. Today I will be presenting along with shite actor Kanze Yoshimasa and Kyogen actor Nomura Manzō. I am looking forward to the talk and I will be posting again after the event.


Noh theatre and adaptation

9781408184721Theatre and Adaptation: Return, Rewrite, Repeat (Bloomsbury Methuen), edited by Margherita Laera, is out today! I have contributed to the book with the interview ‘Conservative Adaptation in Japanese Noh: Udaka Michishige in Conversation with Diego Pellecchia’. Instead of looking at adaptations of Noh plays by other theatre genres, or adaptations of other plays through the Noh techniques, I have reflected on what ‘adaptation’ means within the Noh tradition by looking at Udaka Michishige‘s shinsaku (newly written) Noh plays. “How does the notion of ‘adaptation’ apply to a classical theatre genre where language, dramatic structure, music, and mise-en-scene are prescribed by a canon? Can this English word be used invariably to describe works belonging to any cultural area? “

About the book (from the publisher website):

“Contemporary theatrical productions as diverse in form as experimental performance, new writing, West End drama, musicals and live art demonstrate a recurring fascination with adapting existing works by other artists, writers, filmmakers and stage practitioners. Featuring seventeen interviews with internationally-renowned theatre and performance artists, Theatre and Adaptation provides an exceptionally rich study of the variety of work developed in recent years. First-hand accounts illuminate a diverse range of approaches to stage adaptation, ranging from playwriting to directing, Javanese puppetry to British children’s theatre, and feminist performance to Japanese Noh”. 

The book is available for purchase in paperback or eBook on the usual internet vendor websites.


Beyond the Black and White

On Wednesday May 21st 2014 at 18:00 I will present my current research in an event part of the Kyoto Lectures series, organised by the ISEAS/EFEO. The lecture will be held at the Institute for Research in Humanities (IRH), Kyoto University (seminar room 1, 1st floor). Free entry, booking not required.

Beyond the Black and White: Amateurs and Professionals in the World of Noh Theatre


Amateur practitioners have constituted the economic and social foundation of the Noh theatre establishment since the Meiji restoration, when teaching to private students became the principal source of income of most Noh professionals. However, while the number of Noh amateurs witnessed an increase during the post-war leisure boom period, partially due to the attempt to popularise Noh among the middle-class, in recent times the amateur population has suffered severe decline. Simultaneously, the average age of the audience has increased considerably, impacting on the economic conditions and on the artistic welfare of professionals. Today, Noh amateurs are artistically marginalised by a hierarchical social environment that foregrounds performers belonging to families where the art is transmitted from father to son: amateurs are expected to fullfill the duty to support their teachers financially and socially, in a one-way relationship that excludes outsiders from contributing to the aesthetic development of the art. Drawing from historical research and extensive fieldwork, this talk examines the complex, mutually dependent relationship between amateurs and professionals, sketching trajectories of solution that reconsider the role of amateurs in the world of Noh.

PELLECCHIA Kyoto Lecture 5:2014

Amateurs at the heart of Noh – 能の中核をなす「素人」

As part of my year at the Art Research Centre at Ritsumeikan University under the Japan Foundation Fellowship Programme, I have been asked to write a brief article about my current research on the role of amateurs in the world of Noh. The article is available both in English and in Japanese on the Japan Foundation web magazine Wochikochi.


Noh: "Kiyotsune" - photo by Barbara Mosconi
Noh: “Kiyotsune” – photo by Barbara Mosconi

[New book] To Hallow Genji: a tribute to Noh

Prof. Royall Tyler told me about the imminent publication of his new collection of Noh translations just a couple of weeks ago. To Hallow Genji: a tribute to Noh is an interesting Amazon ‘print-on-demand’ independent publication format (does Royall Tyler need an editor at all?) including many rare and bangai plays that fell off the current repertoire of the five Noh schools. Prof. Tyler does not really need any introduction, but for those who are approaching Noh for the first time, I would like to remind that he has published his first Noh translations in the 1970s: his Japanese No Dramas (Penguin, 1993) is an important contribution to the dissemination of Noh in the world – I think it was the first Noh book I’ve ever bought, actually. He is the author of various major essays and translations of Japanese classical literature, including his recent English translation of the Tale of the Heike (Penguin 2012).

From the book’s blurb:

“This tribute to the Noh theater includes eighteen plays and four essays. Among the plays are five non-repertoire that survive in Zeami’s own hand. The eighteen are Genji kuyo, Akoya no matsu, Funabashi, Furu, Genjo, Hakozaki, Higaki, Kuzu, Matsura Sayohime, Naniwa, Nishikigi, Nomori, Saoyama, Tadatsu no Saemon, Togan Boto, Toru, Tsunemasa, and Unoha. The essays are entitled “The Sword of Furu,” “Matsukaze and the Music of the Biwa,” “The Jewel of Shidoji,” and “A Note on the Theme of Wholeness and Rupture.”

I am looking forward to lay my hands on this book. Amazon’s print-on-demand seems like an interesting alternative to the e-book format, which still needs improvement, especially when it comes to books that require columns and other special pagination and formatting.