Kabuki dry riverbed of the Kyoto river

Kabuki is the one of
the best know form traditional Japanese theater. Kabuki was created during the early
17th century by Okuni. The people allowed to perform kabuki has
changed a few times threwout history. Within Kabuki there are a few different
types of shows. Kabuki is often known for its magnificent costumes and scenery.
Music is also a large part of Kabuki Theater.

Kabuki was first performed in 1603 in
Kyoto by Okuni. When kabuki was being performed in the early years of the genre
it was performed by companies of women. Kabuki came from the origin of dance, “It
is said that Kanuki began in the early Edoperiod (1603-1868), when a women
named Izumo Okuni began to dance something called ‘Okuni kabuki’ in the ancient
capital of Kyoto. She danced on the dry riverbed of the Kyoto river the main
river running through Kyoto, at the spot where Shijo Bridge crosses it.”
(Kabuki backstage on stage). Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese
drama with highly stylized song, mime, and dance, “The Three Chinese characters
now used to write the word ‘kabuki’ are ka(?)
meaning ‘song’, bu (?) meaning ‘dance’, and ki
(?) mening ‘skill’. But these are later
invention” ( Kabuki backstage on stage). In contrast to Noh, Ky?gen, Bunraku
today kabuki continues to be very popular.

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Threw out the history of kabuki who
was allowed to be a performer changed a few times. When Okuni started kabuki
all of the performers were females. The female Kabuki performers weren’t just
performers they were also prostitutes. After women had been banned from
performing in 1629 boys took their place and performed the same as the women
performing both female and male roles. The boys were also still being bought
for sexual services, because the prostitution it lead to the “…banning women
from the public stage in 1629 and boys in 1652, leaving only adult men with the
privilege of professional stage performance…” (Beautifal boys). Before the men
were permitted to continue performing kabuki the government required that the
actors avoid sensual displays and follow the more realistic conventions of the
Kyogen Theater.

Within the genre of kabuki there are
three different types of plays ” By the Beginning of the Genroku period, in the
late seventeenth century, tree major divisions of kabuki were recognized: Sewamono,
or plays about the lives of contemporary commoners; history plays, known as jidaimono;
and dance pieces, called shosagoto (keigoto in Kyoto and Osaka). ” (Bradon 5). Kabuki
theater is similar to Shakespeare in the way that plays would be written about
contemporary incidents but would be set in a different time period to avoid
making those in power angry. Kabuki plays were sometimes originally written for
Puppet Theater an example of this is Kanadehon Chushingura ” The most
celebrated of all plays of the doll theatre origin is Chushingura, or given it
its full title, Kanadehon Chushingura, the story of the forty seven loyal
retainers.”(scott). The kabuki that was 
more realistic was the Sewamono “The Sewamono  plays deal with the domestic life of the
people and human nature in it more plebian aspects….” (scott). Dance pieces, shosagoto,
where often between acts or at the end of a festival.

Costumes for Sewamono tend to be a realistic representations
of the clothes that people wear during the period period, in contrast jidaimono
use costumes that are often  thought of
when people think of kabuki. Jidaimono use beautiful robes made of brocade
fabrics and large wigs which is also very similar to those found in the noh
theater.

One of the main things I think of when I think of kabuki is
the hyper stylized makeup used to portray characters, “In a way completely
different from the realism and individualism basic to the makeup used in
Western theatre, Kumadori stylistically beautifies and emphasizes the
stereotypical personality of a specific role. At the same time, unlike
the Noh masks
or the Chinese stage makeup used in Peking Opera,
the Kumadori allows for greater power of expression since it closely follows the
actual facial features and expressions of the actor.” (Toshiro
Morita, Kumadori, 1985).  This Kumadori
makeup is very stylized to kabuki specifically. The makeup uses different
colors and patterns to help represent the main aspects of a character. Kabuki
actors generally use a white makeup as a base or foundation. As in most theater
we use makeup to emphasize the parts of the face we want the audience to be
able to see. By using makeup verse masks actors are able to emote as well as
and change expretions to better relay what is going on to the audience. This
kind of makeup is best applied by the actor using his fingers to trace his bone
and muscle structure. “The metamorphosis of a Kabuki actor
begins in his make-up. They call it ‘face making’ or ‘face preparation.’
Painting out their ordinary faces, they color in to create their new faces. The
make-up is the basic condition for an actor’s metamorphosis and it is the first
step to be taken in the process, a new beginning. From being a live
in-the-flesh human, with every dab of paint, the actor inches closer to
becoming one with the character of his given role. It is a process transcending
the mundane dimensions of time and space.” (Toshiro Morita, Kumadori
, 1985),  to use makeup to get in to the
character is a great way to become someone else.

            There are
three main colors that are used in Kumadori makeup if you don’t include black. The
first of these three colors is red. Red is used in kumadori to express strength,
courage, and justice. The second main color is blue which is used to represent
the villain. The fourth main color is brown which is used for the supernatural
monsters. Though a color is used for the on representation of a character the
meaning of the colors and makeup change with the pattern, for example to the
left there is a picture with multiple different makeups, some of the makeups
have more lines of red “To have more lines indicates that they are more
energetic and emotional” (http://goinjapanesque.com/10660/) This style of
makeup comes from the tradition of masks used in Noh. However unlike the masks
of Noh  Kumadori makeup doesn’t function
as a mask to distort the actors face but rather to enhance the actors face so
they can convey emotion in their facial expression.

            The
stage used in most kabuki has a lot of parts to them. They have rotating portion
and trap doors. It has a hanamachi which translates to “flower path” that
thrust into the audience to the back of the house on the stage right side.
Sometimes a second walkway could be placed stage left called the Kari- hanamachi.
The difference between the hanamichi and the Hashigakari used in Noh theatre is
the Hashigakari traveled to the side off of stage right. During Kabki actors often
enter and exit by way of the Hanamichi. 
When entering or exiting on the hanamichi the actor will stop thirty
percent of the total leangth and either strike a pose or deliver a line. In the
Hanamichi there is a small lift called the suppon which is used to make supernatural
characters entrances magical. Below deck is referred to as Naraku Which means
hell or bottomless pit. The stage itself is made of thick unpainted boards about
10″ wide at a right angle to the front of the stage.

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