Noh theatre is a Japanese performance art involving music, dance, and drama popularized in the 14th century. Noh theatre combine with Kyogen, which is the brief and comical form of theatre used in between Noh acts as an intermission to form Nogaku. Noh theatre’s status advanced during the Muromachi period and was produced by Kan’ami and his son Zeami. Zeami revolutionized Noh production by gaining government patronage through shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Noh theatre was associated with the samurai class, who were members of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan and wealthy merchant class members. The main actor, Shite, illustrates one emotion for the entire performance, mostly entwined with the supernatural world. Shintoism and Buddhism were integrated into the performance to reflect the social class’s deep religious beliefs, such as paintings of the sacred pine tree in the theatre. The theatre was simple, with little decorations and an open main stage to illustrate a battlefield since most members were high ranking samurais.
The Brechtian theatre was developed by Bertolt Brecht, who was a poet, playwright, and theatre director. He wanted the audience to remain objective and unemotional during plays to make rational judgments about the work’s social and political aspects. Epic theatre developed in the Industrial Revolution age; thus, attendees included members of the middle class. The economic factors influencing epic theatre production were the problematic aspects of capitalism that affected the working class; thus, actors mostly articulated exploitive labor laws. There were preconceptions of exploitation by the wealthy through crony capitalism; thus, epic theatre used alienation and gesture effect to hinder the audience’s tendency to empathize with characters. Epic theatre was meant for the working class to illustrate the evils of social stratification in the economy while showcasing Marxism’s ideas of social equality. The stage mechanically rotated; thus, the audience and performer switched places during the performance (Weinstein, 24). This exemplified the notion the working class would think critically about money, political ideologies, power, and ethics in society.
The Harlem Renaissance, which began around the 1920s era, was the cultural and artistic movement within the black community that expressed their cultural pride. The movement emerged in Harlem, New York, caused by blacks’ great migration from the South to the North (Scott, 428). Three companies produced the theatre; Krigwa players, Harlem Experimental Theatre, and Harlem Suitcase Theatre. The audience was mostly African Americans from a poor urban background. The movement was meant to challenge white supremacy as African American artists established their culture and identities that were unique to the community. The artists’ preconception was to confront both racism and totalitarianism thriving in most of the U.S populace. The production was meant for the black community living in urban centers as the artists sought to reconceptualize the black race apart from white misconceptions (Scott, 433). Harlem was the hub of African American owned and run music companies that funded the plays’ production. Some of the most influential bankrollers were W.E.B DuBois and Claude McKay.
Ancient Greek theatre was prominent in Athens in the 6th century BCE and was open to men. In the mid-5th century, entry was made free. Ancient Greek theatre origin was in choral songs sung to local heroes and gods such as Dionysus to Greek tragedy inspired by Greek mythology (Wiles, 49). Greek tragedy was produced to allow Athenian citizens to collectively think through their issues, such as the state’s values and structures. Athens’ political context shaped the meaning the plays had for their audience (Wiles, 92). Greek mythology was part of Greek religion and often dealt with morally accepted behaviors, thus disallowed violence in the theatre. Greek amphitheater reflected the divide between the gods’ sphere up on the rocks and mortal men down on the orchestra (Weinstein, 22). In 486 BCE, comedy competition was introduced and commercialized. Prominent Athenian citizens decided which comedies would be performed in a competition by funding their production. The Choregos acted as playwrights as he controlled the context of the play. The state paid the actors and chorus in the form of sacrificial animals and bouquets.
U.S popular Theatre (Minstrelsy, Vaudeville, and Broadway musical)
In the 19th century, the U.S invented three different musical theatres; Minstrel Show, Vaudeville, and the Broadway Musical. The shows were founded on the comic enactment of racial stereotypes, especially African Americans. The comic skits, dances, and music performances depicted the way of life of the slaves, where white people in black faces mostly performed the acts to play black people’s role. The primary audience for the shows were men. Minstrel codified and popularized the negro acts that appealed to the audience’s inherent racist tendencies (McNamara, 389). The white actors impersonated African American culture through song, dance, and satire such as Jim Crow. Minstrel and Vaudeville production was meant for the low social classes, which resonated with the low ticket prices. Wealthy barons bankrolled the production. The production was commercialized since both white and black actors earned their living from the shows. The Broadway musical revolutionized musical theater by articulating art instead of racial bigotry. The theater’s architecture in minstrel and Vaudeville was simple since they were not legitimate and reflected the audience’s inferior status.
McNamara, Brooks. “The Scenography of Popular Entertainment.” Popular Theatre: A Sourcebook (2003): 12.
Scott, Freda L. “Black drama and the Harlem Renaissance.” Theatre Journal 37.4 (1985): 426-439.
Weinstein, Beth. “Stage and Audience: Constructing relations and opportunities.” The Routledge Companion to Scenography. Routledge, 2017. 19-32.
Wiles, David. Tragedy in Athens: performance space and theatrical meaning. Cambridge University Press, 1999.