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Reviewed by:
  • Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre
  • Andrew T. Tsubaki
Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre. Edited by Samuel L. Leiter. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2008. 1024 pp., 93 halftones. Cloth, $225.00.

This work is indeed the very first Encyclopedia of Asian Theatre and as such it will be very useful for the many students of Asian theatre. Because Asian performance is so expansive in time and space we can be significantly helped by a comprehensive work such as this. The two-volume work edited by Samuel L. Leiter was published by Greenwood Press in 2007. He was assisted by eight other editorial advisory board members: China (Colin Mackerras [traditional] and Ruru Li [modern]), Japan (Samuel Leiter and John K. Gillespie [modern]), Korea (Richard Nichols), South Asia (Richard A. Frasca [traditional] and Sreenath K. Nair [modern]) and Southeast Asia (Mathew Isaac Cohen [traditional] and Craig Latrell [modern]). This ambitious work was supported by ninety-five contributors. Just looking at the scale of coverage of this work indicates its enormity: Japan, Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Hong Kong, Macao, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma/Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. Listing of selected bibliography takes thirty pages and the index fifty-three.

The book starts off with an alphabetical list of entries (nine pages), then a topical guide to entries (ten pages). The main body follows to page 881 in the second volume. The selected bibliography of thirty pages comes thereafter; works covering multiple nations takes up a little over a page, then country-by-country bibliographic entries follow, with some countries such as China, India, and Japan having more pages. These bibliographic guides [End Page 168] should be very useful for quick reference, although the general entries in the text provide worthwhile reading to cover the subjects one might seek as well as provide a reference source at the end of entries. The fifty-three-page index is very detailed and very useful for quickly checking on a subject of interest. The work ends with a section about the editor and contributors, which provides brief background on each of them.

In order to illustrate how the content is treated, let me cite the entry of “Training” (2:797). We see Cambodia is covered in this page along with China (three and a half pages), then Hong Kong (half page), India (two), Indonesia (half ), Japan (two), Korea (one), Malaysia (half ), Philippines (half ), Taiwan (half ), and Thailand (half ). The item covers the modern scene, and, where it is appropriate, the activities relating to traditional theatre training are also cited, quite even handedly. The method allows for quick and evocative cross-cultural comparisons and correlations on the subject. This technique provides insights that confining the topics under a geographical rubric would not allow.

Some entries of genres that are significant by themselves are given multiple pages to cover properly. For example, “Kabuki,” written by Samuel L. Leiter, takes up four and a half pages with a quarter page photo. It covers all important aspects of historical phenomena from its birth to the twentieth century and gives a list of four books for further reading. Most events are briefly explained and important names of actors and playwrights are cited, along with significant social background. Some names that are brought up may not be fully explained but a reader can understand the importance of the reference. If a reader has a general understanding of the genre already, what is presented provides an excellent summary of what the form is about. For a beginner it is obvious that a further reading is expected to fully appreciate what is presented in the entry. But what is presented here is sufficient to establish a starting point for study.

The general quality of writing throughout the book is well controlled and most entries should be useful for any reader seeking some information on a subject. However, one may need to read related and cross-referenced entries or consult the books suggested at the end of the item in an extensive search of information in the book or beyond. The reader who does this will gain a deeper and fuller knowledge of the...


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pp. 168-170
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