- Founders of the Field II: Introduction
This is the second Founders of the Field series, following the first group of articles in the Fall 2011 issue of Asian Theatre Journal. In the first series, we traced the pioneering contributions by fifteen (mostly) American scholars of Japanese, Chinese, Southeast and South Asian theatre, plus the history of Association for Asian Performance since 1965. In this second series, we celebrate six scholars who have been equally instrumental to the rise of our field: Richard Schechner, Farley Richmond, Daniel S. P. Yang, I Made Bandem, David Goodman, and Benito Ortolani. They are each outstanding scholars, artists, teachers, and cultural ambassadors in their own ways. There are also features from the articles that point to some common paths in the rise of Asian theatre studies.
To start with, these articles put more emphasis on Indian theatre (which was represented in the previous series by Melvyn Helstien’s [End Page 271] study of Indian puppetry), featuring Richmond (who, among other achievements, has been instrumental in bringing kutiyattam to international attention) and Schechner (who started his encounter with Asia in India and continues to study and celebrate Ramlila, the Indian devotional performance). Their work has had a profound impact on the field, bringing important aspects of traditional India theatre to much greater attention in U.S. theatre studies. The significant book Indian Theatre: Traditions of Performance (1993), which Richmond, Philip Zarrilli, and Darius L. Swann wrote, provided for many an important introduction and included many forms that are divided into classical, ritual, devotional, folk-popular, and dance-drama traditions.
On the other hand, the fact that their book includes only one chapter on modern Indian theatre—even as we learn from Banerji’s article on Richmond that he initially studied modern Indian theatre and has directed several modern Indian plays—reflects the conventional starting point of traditional theatre that continues to prevail in the U.S. imaginary and is also true in other Asian regions. There is no denying the inherent lure of traditional Asian theatre to Western students and scholars, of course. At the same time, this focus on theatrical traditions also underscores the pioneering nature of works on modern theatre, such the 1970s groundbreaking effort by David Goodman to bring post-shingeki Japanese theatre as it was happening to the attention of the West. Thanks to efforts of Goodman and other scholars (such as J. Thomas Rimer, included in the first series), modern Asian theatre studies have gained tremendous momentum in recent years, even though there is still much to do to catch up with the considerable studies of traditional theatres.
Of course, many artist-scholars of Asian theatre have been able to transcend this binary traditional/modern division in their scholarship and practice, as evident from the directorial choices of Yang, Richmond, and Schechner. On the scholarship side, Ortolani’s The Japanese Theatre stands out in its comprehensive range from pre-nō performance, to the major traditional forms of nō, kabuki, and bunraku, to the modern genres of shinpa and shingeki. In doing so, Ortolani adds a European dimension of erudition and comprehensiveness to the works of his U.S.-based colleagues.
Another dimension of this series is the contribution of artist-scholars from Asia who came to the United States equipped with the performance skills of their native theatre, earned advanced degrees, worked in universities in the United States or at home, and have remained cultural ambassadors on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. There are three aspects to these individuals, as exemplified by Daniel S. P. Yang and I Made Bandem. First, their unique insight and training [End Page 272] of their countries’ performance traditions allowed them to stage authentic productions in the United States. Second, this familiarity with their own performance genres, once combined with their scholarly training in the United States, often lent exceptional insight to their scholarly work in English and their own languages. Furthermore, they are cultural ambassadors who cross borders with ease and authority in a globalizing world as directors, producers, and cross-cultural interpreters. Bandem spent most of his time, after his U.S. education, in...