January 30, 2010

Japanese aesthetics and Black American theatre

Something I want to talk about: applying Japanese aesthetics to Black American theatre.

I'm intrigued by the possibilities of making theatre from a non-Western (or, to be more precise, non-Aristotelian) aesthetic. Of course, contemporary American theatre diverges from Aristotle's Poetics to the point that non-Aristotelian drama could be considered mainstream. Yet there is still something unmistakably Western about it, especially compared to the Japanese theatre I've seen - and I don't mean just the spoken words.

There seems to be no . . . space in Western theatre. And I mean this as an observation, not a criticism. Every moment has to be filled with sound or activity - always something to look at or listen to. Don't get me wrong, it can make for some exciting theatre. But for me, it can also make for exhausting theatre. Sometimes I want something more like what I talked about in my "Bonsai theater" post.

And yet . . . I'm also creating Black theatre - to be specific, Black American theatre. It's not just because I talk about race or include Black characters or endorse non-traditional casting. Without going so far as to endorse racial essentialism, Black people I've come across have a distinct way of relating to the world that's very different from what I've encountered in White people. I've talked about it before, but I can't put my finger on exactly what that is. However, it is something that makes understanding and applying Japanese aesthetic concepts instinctive for me, something that has a tremendous reflection in my style.

Like I mentioned way back when, my style is layered and subtle - there are powerful undercurrents to everything I write. At this point in time, it's likely that I have neither the skill nor the tools to adequately bring them to the surface without ruining the effect. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with a great deal of cleverness. I'm more of a term paper than pop quiz sort of person. In all likelihood, I'm one of those writers who has to be closely involved with the actors and directors to make my pieces work, at least for the time being. Ironically, this seems to be the sort of thing the Homing Project is about.


  1. If you haven't already, you might check out the work of Arianne Mnouchkine and Helene Cixous at the Theatre du Soleil. A lot has been written about them, but they're not as well known over here. (They're based in France, but travel to NYC every couple years.)

    They do a lot of that, fusing eastern forms with western textual work into something new. They do some pretty incredible stuff. (They also have a pretty incredible way of working.)

  2. Tony,

    You need to stop playing on my xenophilia like that.