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EarlyAsian Drama: Conversations and Convergences Introduction The idea for this special issue began as a proposal for a double session on the convergences of Eastern and Western Drama for the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo in the spring of 2003. Entitled "East Meets West in Drama," these sessions were intended to provide an opportunity to initiate a dialogue and to engage in a broader discussion ofan area ofdrama that had not previouslybeen addressed in a venue ofits own at the Congress before. The two-part session, located that year in one of the infrequently used and out-of-the-way buildings on the campus ofWestern Michigan University (Sangren Hall), drew a modest audience of interested conferees, some more knowledgeable on the subject than others, but all there to share what they knew and to learn more ofwhat they did not know. What became apparent from the active exchange of information and the sharing of firsthand viewing experiences was that another series of sessions would be necessary to continue the discussion we hadjust initiated.With that in mind, the next year brought further development of the topic, a broadening of its parameters, and a decision to feature mixed-media presentations, one by Max Harris on the Croatian sword dance (written with Lada Cale Feldman)l andanotherbyZvikaSerper,whichincludedaUveperformance. Two of the essays in this special issue derive from that early beginning —Mikiko Ishii's analysis ofweeping mothers in Japanese Noh and early English drama and Serpers discussion of the complementarity of Noh and Kyögen drama. The three other essayists and their topics— Dongchoon Lee on the carnivalesque function of Korean mask dance, Min Tian on the script markings ofChineseYuan zaju, and Cecilia Pang iiComparative Drama on the history and development ofChinese opera in the United States— were added alongthe wayto expand the purview ofthe subject as well as to demonstrate the range and adaptability ofAsian modes of drama. Whether read individually or in conjunction with one another the work presented here initiates a project rich in implications for contemporary audiences both expert and novice. EarlyAsian drama, subject to change, and adaptable to the surrounding sociopolitical environment whatever that environment might be, was at the same time able to retain distinctivelytraditional characteristics: skills andperformancetechniques, instrumental and vocal music, dance, gesture, costume, masking, and script markings to name a few.From folk drama to more formalized presentations , these plays engage their respective audiences and encourage both imaginative and physical interaction in the symbolic world they engender.Whetherhigh art orlow,whether artfullystylized orprofoundly parochial, the symbolic meanings of colors and shapes, of gestures and props, of masks and movement, transport their audiences to an otherworld,onejarringlyunusualyet atthe same time comfortinglyfamiliar . It is in the realm of the symbolic, these plays seem to suggest, that certain truths abouthuman existence can be expressed most openlyeven when those truths are represented as frequentlybyvisualjuxtapositions, percussive instrumentation, and nonverbal modes of communication as they are by verbal expression. Despite the most obvious differences between Asian drama and its Western counterpart, the many points of convergence and familiarity ofthemes—for example, the loss ofa loved one, the disenfranchisement or alienation ofselfor community—suggest the presence of an underlying effort to address the circumstances and conditions of human experience from the most fundamental of family interactions to the place of humanity in the larger scheme ofthings. In the essay that launches the collection Dongchoon Lee maps out the operations of such themes in Korean drama. Entitled "Medieval Korean Drama: The Porigsan Mask Dance," Lee's focus on mask dance, a form he calls a "composite art," demonstrates how dance, music, and symbolic meaning converge in carnivalesque fashion to defuse the frustrations ofthe "common people." Lee traces the history and development of the Korean mask dance, in particular the widely admired Pongsanvariety,andpoints outhowsocialandpolitical differences could Introductioniii be eradicated in the intermingling of players and audience. The mask dance and the clever use of language provided a means by which a dissenting message, even a scathing social critique, could be delivered without dire political consequences. That the art form moves from rural to urban environments demonstrates its ability to adapt to shifting economies. As Lee makes clear, "The value and...


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