Kabuki Theater

Woodblock print by Utagawa Toyokuni III.

More than 400 years after the creative boom of the Heian era, the capital moved to the east to current-day Tokyo, ushering in the Edo Era (A.D.1603–1868). Citizen life flourished more than ever during this peaceful time period, informing another wave of artistic innovation.

Kabuki was born in mid-17th century, and was very popular among both the high and low classes. This dance-drama theatrical discipline is characterized by a number of specific conventions. Naomi Iizuka’s play 36 Views— on the Lantern Theater Company stage May 26 through June 26, 2016 — calls on several of these elements, expertly weaving Japanese and Western theatrical traditions.

Wooden clappers make ki, one of the most distinctive sounds of the Kabuki tradition, largely used to cue technical elements such as the beginning and end of the play, scene changes, or the entrance of musicians. The tsuke is a similar sound used to underscore important moments of the play and to heighten the effect of dialogue, movement, and performance.

Kabuki theater is deeply invested in transformation and revelation. To that end, costume changes are frequently dazzling. Layered costumes and techniques like bukkaeri and hikinuki allow immediate and complete costume changes at the moment of transformation, instantaneously physicalizing the revelation of a character’s true self or demonstrating a rapid shift in circumstances.

These moments of stage magic would be impossible without the kurogo, onstage assistants who help an actor with their props and costume changes. The kurogo are meant to be invisible; they are usually clad in black, with their faces shrouded, and their movements are timed precisely to the actor’s so as to make the kurogos’ own efforts disappear.

All of these elements are present in 36 Views, as requested by Naomi Iizuka in her script. To ensure the accuracy of Kabuki practices in our production, we enlisted the help of Michael Goldberg, an expert on the form who has traveled the world performing, training, and teaching others. Michael held a weekend workshop for our cast and crew, and placed Asaki Kuruma, our Artistic Consultant and Assistant Stage Manager, in charge of overseeing its continued implementation by naming her Dance Captain.

For a look at the traditional practices given a modern twist in our production, take a look at this UNESCO video, which includes glimpses of the kurogo and a spectacular costume change.

Come see how these practices inform our production of 36 Views, now on stage at Lantern Theater Company.

Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets. We run until June 26th!