Asian Theatre Journal 17.1 (2000) iii-iv
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From the Editor
As we move into a new millennium, this issue of ATJ allows us, like Janus, to look both backwards and forwards at the same time. Each play and essay comes to grips with questions of tradition and change, continuity and disruption, the past and the future. Mayama Seika's Yoritomo's Death, translated and introduced by Brian Powell, represents one way in which Japan's four-century-old kabuki theatre grappled with issues of modernity by attempting to bring psychological and historical realism into kabuki's highly conventionalized dramaturgy. The play epitomizes the best of what came to be called "new" or shin kabuki, but arguments continue as to whether such plays--whatever their artistic quality--should properly be called kabuki at all. Where, some have asked, does the kabuki end and the shin begin? Chinese dramatists too have struggled in the past century with finding a "modern"--even critical--voice to place alongside their venerable classical traditions, especially when faced by repressive political administrations. Recent economic developments have led to some opening up. But as Yang Qian notes in the introduction to Hope, his satire about the economic boom in Shenzen, artists must be extremely clever about getting their work produced, especially when the venue is not in one of the country's cultural capitals. That such plays can get produced, though, is reason to remember the play's title.
Laurence Kominz, ATJ area editor for Japan, was a fly on the wall as the great kabuki actor Nakamura Ganjirö III endeavored recently to resuscitate The Courtesan and the Great Buddhist Service at Mibu Temple, a long-forgotten kabuki classic by Japan's most respected Edo-period playwright. His enlightening essay recounts the travails--both artistic and managerial--involved in reintroducing such a play into the contemporary repertory. Here is a case of a classical theatre rediscovering a long-lost gem but puzzled about how to retain its original features while also making it pertinent to a modern audience. Min Tian's essay --which dissects the multifaceted issues represented by the replacement [End Page iii] of male dan (female role specialists) by actresses in classical Chinese theatre performance--similarly examines the problems encountered by the clash between classical convention and contemporary tastes. Finally, Hanne M. de Bruin raises a question introduced in ATJ's pages on several earlier occasions--the (re)naming of a traditional theatre, in her case the folk theatre of Tamil Nadu, India. This problem goes to the very heart of the old versus new conflict and, as de Bruin demonstrates, showers controversial sparks in every direction.
Samuel L. Leiter