Kennedy Theatre is in the noh

March 9th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Events

  • Web extra: Noh and kyogen mask-making with Hideta Kitazawa slideshow icon
Noriko Katayama in noh mask as a mother searching for her lost child and Jeremy Dowd as a ferryman in <em>Sumida River</em>. Kennedy Theatre photo by Karis Lo

Noriko Katayama in noh mask as a mother searching for her lost child and Jeremy Dowd as a ferryman in Sumida River. Kennedy Theatre photo by Karis Lo

In another first for Asian theatre at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the English-language world premiere of Japanese noh classic Sumida River is being held at Kennedy Theatre in March 2009.

Sumida River depicts a mother’s poignant journey in search of her abducted son.

The UH production is translated and directed by Richard Emmert, noh scholar, composer and licensed teacher of the Kita School of Noh. It is performed by an international cast of students from UH Mānoa.

One of the oldest forms of theatre, noh is characterized by very deliberate, stylized movements, dress and chant. The mostly male actors use wooden masks to portray women, children, old men, animals and supernatural characters.

While Emmert worked on the noh production, Kita School colleague Hideta Kitazawa taught the art of Japanese dramatic mask making to UH theatre and art students.

Kitazawa is a second-generation master wood carver who trained under his father. His UH classes were small, intensive hands-on workshops that met several hours a week.

One of the students was John Oglevee, Kennedy Theatre publicity director and a Mānoa MFA student in the theatre program.

Though Oglevee has 12 years of experience in noh and plays the main role in Sumida River, the task of making noh masks was too great for the short time span of the class.

“The balance is so difficult with noh, it’s usually such a simple mask that any blemish stands out,” he explains.

Instead, Kitazawa had the class make comedic kyōgen masks. Traditionally performed alongside noh, kyōgen masks have bigger expressions, more forgiving of blemishes that may even add to the comedy.

Kitazawa supplied traditional hand tools for the students to use. He told them carving would take him three days, but painting takes much longer. “We started with a block of wood and three weeks later we had a mask,” Oglevee says. “You carve it, then paint it, then sand it, repeat. We put on about 10 coats of paint, but for one he did for the performance he did about 100 coats,”

Examples of Kitazawa’s masks carved from cypress (hinoki) and photos of them in use form the exhibit Mirror and Mirage: Japanese Noh and Kyogen Theatre. Free and open to the public, the exhibit is on display until March 22, 2009 in Burns Hall, across from Kennedy Theatre on the Mānoa campus.

In addition, groups can book lecture-demonstrations about noh through May 17, 2009 through the Statewide Cultural Extension Program of UH Mānoa’s Outreach College. The presentations include short excerpts from the Sumida River and selected dances and chants that illustrate aspects of noh theatre.

Noh and kyogen mask-making with Hideta Kitazawa

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