Noh Theatre


Students will understand the emotional and symbolic nature of Noh theatre by reading Atsumori and discussing Noh concepts.



Materials Needed:

– one copy per person of Atsumori



Hook: (10 minutes)

Last time we looked into the basics of Noh Theatre and had questions about how many actors were actually in Noh plays. Turns out that even though we only saw clips with one actor, there are at least three actors in every Noh play. Discuss the following character types with the students.



Instruction: (30 minutes)

Noh Character Types
Shite. In plays where the shite appears first as a human and then as a ghost, the first role is known as the maeshite and the later as the nochishite.
Shitetsure. The shite’s companion.
Waki performs the role that is the counterpart or foil of the shite.
Wakitsure is the companion of the waki.
Kyōgen perform the aikyōgen interludes during plays. Kyōgen actors also perform in separate plays between individual noh plays.
Hayashi, or hayashi-kata, are the instrumentalists who play the four instruments used in Noh theater: the transverse flute, hip drum, the shoulder-drum, and the stick-drum. The flute used for noh is specifically called nōkan or nohkan.
Jiutai is the chorus, usually comprising six to eight people.
A typical Noh play always involves the chorus, the orchestra, and at least one shite and one waki actor.

Once you feel the students have a basic knowledge of all the characters, have the students bring four chairs into a square at the front of the room. Tell students that they are now going to learn how a Noh audience immediately knows who each character is the second they walk on stage solely based on where they’re standing. Discuss with students for 4 pillars of Noh.



Stage Direction: 4 Pillars of Noh

the waki-bashira in the front, right corner near the waki’s standing/sitting points.
the shite-bashira in the rear, left corner, next to which the shite normally performs.
the fue-bashira in the rear, right corner, closest to the flute player.
the metsuke-bashira, or “looking-pillar”, so called because the shite is typically faced toward the vicinity of the pillar.

Now we’re going to read a Noh play called Atsumori. We are going to split into groups of three. In Atsumori there are three characters: the shite, the waki, and the kyogen. The kyogen is not in the majority of the scenes, the person reading the kyogen will also need to read the stage directions written in the script. This is very important. As we saw yesterday, Noh movements are hugely significant in the play, and since movements are codified these same stage directions will be applicable every time this show is produced.



Practice: (15 minutes)

Read Play



Discussion: (10 minutes)

What did you notice about the play?
Did you find anything interesting about the characters?
Did you agree that reading the stage directions was important?
Were you able to visualize the play from reading it? Why or why not?
How is this play different in structure from the realism plays we are used to?



Instruction: (10 minutes)



Noh plays fall into several different categories:

Noh Play Types

1. Kami mono or waki nō typically feature the shite in the role of a human in the first act and a deity in the second and tell the mythic story of a shrine or praise a particular spirit.
2. Shura mono or ashura nō ( warrior plays) have the shite often appearing as a ghost in the first act and a warrior in full battle regalia in the second, re-enacting the scene of his death.
3. Katsura mono (wig plays) or onna mono (woman plays) depict the shite in a female role and feature some of the most refined songs and dances in all of Noh.
4. There are about 94 “miscellaneous” plays, including kyōran mono (madness plays), onryō mono (vengeful ghost plays) and genzai mono (plays which depict the present time, and which do not fit into the other categories).
5. Kiri nō ( final plays) or oni mono (demon plays) usually feature the shite in the role of monsters, goblins, or demons, and are often selected for their bright colors and fast-paced, tense finale movements.

What type of play do you think Atsumori falls into? Why? What if you were to classify The Wiz into a category? Which would you choose? Why? Leads into…. Final project discussion!



Discussion: (10 minutes)

For your final performance for this unit, you will be performing a monologue. Obviously, we understand you can’t really perform a Noh monologue in Japanese because it takes years to master all of the techniques used within the artform. So, instead, each student will be selecting an American Realism monologue, then every day as we discuss more elements of Japanese Theatre, we will also add elements to the final list of things you need to present with your final monologue. Some will be written assignments, and some will need to be presented in the final monologue. Start making a list. Here are the things we learned today that will be incorporated into the final monologue.

– Written: One paragraph describing the type of Noh play category your American Realism play would fall into. Obviously, it will not exactly match the description, but all you need to do is select one area and accurately defend it. As long as you defend a logical decision, you will get full points.
– Written: One paragraph describing the type of Noh character your American realism character would fall into. Same argument approach applies here.
– Performance Element: Noh Blocking. Based on what type of character you are and who you are talking to within your monologue, you need to decide where you will be standing and looking according to the four pillars of Noh.

If students need an example, continue on with the Wiz theme and categorized the Scarecrow into a character type and where he might stand on the stage and why.