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Asian Shakespeare 2.0

From: Asian Theatre Journal
Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2011
pp. 1-6 | 10.1353/atj.2011.0002

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Asia. An impossible interpellation.

—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2006: 121)

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!

Julius Caesar 3.1.112-114 (Shakespeare 2005)

The age of Asian Shakespeare 2.0 has arrived. It is an age in which performing Shakespeare in Asian theatrical styles generates incredible artistic and intellectual energy. It is an age in which certain Asian theatrical practices are foreign at home and abroad, while Shakespeare is proclaimed, once again, the bearer of universal currency. It is an age in which Asian performance and Shakespearean interpretations foster symbiotic and antithetical relationships with equal force and ever-increasing pace—fueled by the efficacy of virtual media (video sharing and social networking sites among them) and by rapid localization of globally circulating goods, ideas, and art works. Neither Asia nor Shakespeare has unified identities in any meaningful sense or even consolidated economic interests. Rather, they are defined by remarkable internal divisions and incongruities.

The last two decades of the twentieth century marked the first phase of sustained study of Asian Shakespeare performance as a marginalized cultural phenomenon (Leiter 1986; Kennedy 1993; Brown 1999). The present time is defined by the rise of Asian Shakespeare 2.0 as both artistic and intellectual paradigms. As theatre artists challenge fixated notions of tradition, critics are no longer confined by the question of narrowly defined cultural authenticity. More notable productions are emerging across Asia, and these productions are being archived, read closely, and used as case studies in the classroom. Stage directors such as Ninagawa Yukio, Oh Tae-suk, Ong Keng Sen, and Wu Hsing-kuo reached diverse audiences through new strategies to bring together different cultural contexts and genres. A wave of new English-language scholarship since 2000 also put Asian Shakespeare performance in the spotlight (Trivedi and Minami 2010; Kennedy and Yong 2010; Huang and Ross 2009; Huang 2009a, 2009b; Lee et al. 2009; Dionne and Kapadia 2008; Chaudhuri and Lim 2006; Trivedi and Bartholomeusz 2005; Minami, Carruthers, and Gillies 2001). But there are critical gaps to be filled in research on the topic. First of all, the two-way traffic of intercultural exchange has not been addressed adequately. Important in their own right, questions such as "what is it that endures when [Shakespeare] is deprived of his tongue?" dominated the research in the 1990s and continue to guide certain inquiries today (Kennedy 1993: 17; Kennedy and Yong 2010: 21), and the sea change occurring within Asian performing traditions has taken a back seat to what has been perceived as more urgent questions on Shakespeare's place in the modern world. Scholars are now seeking answers to how Asian Shakespeare formulates firsthand experience rooted in Asia (Trivedi and Minami 2010: 6).

This special issue adds to the scholarship on global Shakespeare and Asian theatre's relationship to Anglophone cultural texts. As an Asianist and Shakespearean constantly moving among a number of fields that do not usually talk to one another, I am very grateful to Kathy Foley and Asian Theatre Journal for giving me this opportunity to edit this issue and put on several hats at once. The selection of essays has been consciously designed to include historical as well as contemporary work and to highlight diverse geographical areas even as some articles and interviews cover the usual suspects, such as Japan. Supplemented by reviews of performances, an exhibition, online resources, and books, as well as artists' reflections on their own works and an interview, these articles contextualize the arrival of Asian Shakespeare 2.0.

Kathy Foley attempts to draw lines of convergence among what, at first glance, are disparate companies: an emerging troupe (Naked Masks) in Bangkok that tries to make Shakespeare a Thai contemporary, the work of a Balinese-influenced American company (Shadowlight) working in the shadow medium, and a Japanese theatre group (Setagaya) led by a traditionally trained kyōgen actor. Howard Choy's article on Tang Shu-wing's Titus Andronicus 2.0 shows the variety of approaches that directors have taken toward the violence of the script, noting the tendencies toward sensationalizing or aestheticizing. He contrasts these approaches with Tang's physical theatre, which...

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