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  • From the Editor
  • Kathy Foley

This issue serendipitously has a number of articles that speak to each other in terms of issues of gender and women. I invite readers to read them as a unit. While they are far from comprehensive they do give insight into the changes (or lack thereof) in women's roles or representations in theatre. Among these articles is one on kūṭiyāṭṭam, where Coralie Casassas reports women are making significant advances. She sees emergence of women as performers, dramatists, and innovators in a form that has often been painted as static in the prior literature. While Casassas tells only a part of the evolving history of the form in this essay, she delivers a hopeful message about women's advances in a traditional genre of Kerala. Jennifer Goodlander in her interviews with Balinese female dalangs gives a picture that gives us pause. Women made significant advances into the field of Balinese wayang in the 1980s, and a number of women have been trained in the academic programs. But why are these women performing so infrequently, and why do those who do complete the program end up more consistently working as arja performers (a genre that welcomes women) or television actresses? The connection to religion is what has kept wayang parwa alive and significant in Bali; one wonders if it is this same connection that makes it harder for women to advance beyond the "female phenomena" stage and have staying power in the field as actual dalang performers.

Henry Spiller takes on issues of gender, examining the way the female is depicted by comic female impersonators in Sunda, West Java. He notes the link to predictable topics—sex, cooking, and child care. These performances may not be that far from the madame in British pantomime or other Western male appropriation of the female for comic purposes. Anita Singh's interview with a major woman playwright shows the artist dodging the "feminist" and "woman's author" titles while acknowledging that the issues she takes on are those of women. Frank Episale's survey of writing in English on the onnagata is offered to provoke discussion. The author is not a Japan area specialist and brings Western gender theory to his analysis. He asks how [End Page v] the questioning of gender depiction has evolved and ideas can evolve from in Western theatre studies contexts apply in Asian genres. While Episale's discussion is important for us to think about, it is only part of a very complex story. Japanese theatre studies, with its androgynous heroines, was perhaps for at least a few scholars part of their search for wider gender liberation on the stage. Early proponents of kabuki in America, such as Earle Ernst and Faubion Bowers, were, by the end of their careers, openly gay. The onnagata's theatricality created more possibilities for male performers than the one-dimensional ways males can play women on Western stages (hypersexed and comic—what we see in Spiller's case discussed above). The onnagata is nuanced. Brandon and Edelson have shown that kabuki has had women playing alongside men or in all-female troupes. The post-World War II iteration of the art has, Brandon's research has argued, been exceptionally conservative. Espinale does not explore the related world of nihon buyō, where women have of course led and excelled. But he does raise the question. There are more that might follow: Why can nihon buyō never be called kabuki? Why was a female, Sada Yacco, made a star in late nineteenth-century Europe and America but the onnagatas were largely ignored by the European audiences, and now in twenty-first century cross-cultural reception they are the rage? I, like Episale, am an outsider to the field, but it is worth considering how our scholarship serves or challenges the status quo. At present there are women who are working against resis-tances to fully establish the place in Japanese traditional genres, where do we as scholars play a part in the dynamics of those arts we study? How do large changes in gender perception and reception change how forms are received interculturally in different periods? Clearly all...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2109
Print ISSN
0742-5457
Pages
pp. v-vii
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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