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Ph.D.?

November 8, 2012

Needless to say, this economy is pretty rough on the arts, and the job market has never been specially kind to actors/designers/theatrical technicians in any case (not to mention novelists.  Being out of print is discouraging, and the thought of going through the finding-a-publisher rigamarole all over again is a bit of a daunting one). This being the case, I find myself wondering if it would be worth my while to pursue a Ph.D.  At the very least, if I were to pursue doctoral studies, I could probably work as a Graduate Assistant and flesh out the post-secondary teaching experience bit of my CV, which could ideally make my job hunt easier.  In happy news, once upon a time I wrote a dissertation/field research proposal for THEA 660 at UHM, and I am still very much interested in pursuing the subject matter.  This morning, I changed a grand total of five words (mostly because I had to clarify that I now have the MFA I was working on at the time) and came up with this:

Other and Same: Gender and Representation in Evolving Cross-Gender Japanese Traditional Theatrical Arts

Through this project, I intend to explore the evolution of traditional Japanese performing arts (specifically Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki) as performed by all-female or partially female professional theatre organizations in modern Japan, with particular regard to areas in which gender representations are or are not modified in the context of a group of performers who are not exclusively male.

Background:  As a woman with a Master of Fine Arts degree in the field of Asian theatre performance, and as someone who has multiple years experience living in Japan, I am interested in the actress’ place in specifically Japanese styles of theatre.  Many modern, western and experimental style troops of women work professionally in Japan‘s theatrical community, and it is not uncommon for them to present performance pieces dealing with modern women’s issues.  The University of Hawaii’s library has a very good dissertation on the subject on file.  On another end of the spectrum, though the topic seems rarely explored in academic literature, I find it perhaps an even more significant sign of progress toward gender equality that women are filling actor positions in the more traditional Japanese theatrical arts.

Due to strict sumptuary edicts barring women from the stage during the Tokugawa Shogunate, most traditional Japanese performing arts are now thought of as fundamentally all-male institutions.  Of course, as with many situations in which women have been traditionally barred, in the modern day women have found (and are still finding) ways to break into these performing fields.  Since the first female Noh professional was registered in 1948, the number of professional female Noh artists has risen into the hundreds.  One distinguished and long-standing Kabuki family, the Ichikawa family, has allowed three actresses from Nagoya Musume (all-women’s) Kabuki to use the Icikawa name.  Otome (all-women’s) Bunraku has altered the traditional three-man-per-puppet Bunraku style into a one-women-per-puppet system but professionally performs traditional Bunraku plays.  Also, some traditional Bunraku organizations now include women professionals. The questions I would like to address in my field research are: how are these traditional arts evolving as a result of the inclusion (and in some cases exclusivity) of female performers?  Are gender representations in these arts in any way different when performed by female professionals?  What do these female artists feel and think about their work, and are they more often interested in protecting the long-perpetuated traditions or in advancing and changing them?

Aside from a Newsweek article on women in Noh and an exceptionally thorough book about women’s Gidayu (a traditional narrative storytelling art), there seems to have been very little written on the subject, and certainly not in English.  I am interested in helping to amend that.

Significance:  This proposed study pertains to a broad range of fields and interests, most notably those of performing arts, Japan studies, and gender studies.  Moreover, the phenomena of women in these arts is still fairly recent and far from universally accepted, especially among their traditionalist performing peers.  Women in these arts are still blazing a path and defining their own significance as performers in these fields, and I believe that is a very good reason to bring their stories and efforts to the academic forefront.

Methods/Research Plan:   I plan to observe rehearsals and performances, survey audience and performer opinions, conduct interviews when possible, and if permitted, make video and audio recordings.  I am largely interested in how female professionals define their roles and significance in their respective arts, so the interviews and surveys may be especially important to the process.  When possible, I also plan to attend rehearsals and training sessions for young performers and observe those processes to the end of defining what could possibly make the arts different for female trainees.

Ideally, I would be able to make contacts and spend 3-4 months focusing on female performers from at least one company representing each specific art (Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku).  Total, I would need at least 12 months to complete a comprehensive and comparative study of the works, ideas, and gender representations of women performing in all three.

Goal and Dissemination:  Apart from this research project’s necessity for the completion of my dissertation, I believe the project is significant as a pioneer study of women in arts only recently (in historic terms) open to them.  The project is intended to be a push in the right direction for theatrical gender studies and Japanese gender studies and will hopefully lead to projects that can expand on early ideas and views as opportunities continue to grow and expand for Japanese female performers.

Once my data is collected, I plan to organize my findings into a comprehensive book that I will hopefully subsequently publish.  I also plan to submit articles to various theatrical and international-studies journals while I work to make publishing arrangements, and if enough video data can be collected, I hope to edit it into a short video documentary.

Mid-long term goal:  Most of my mid-long term goals with concerns to my research career have to do with the publishing of the above-mentioned book that I hope will result from my dissertation research.  Once my dissertation is defended and accepted, I also hope to obtain a teaching position in an institution of higher learning and help to mentor other scholars with interest in Asian theatrical studies.

Tada!  A bit wordy, I’ll admit, but it’s not bad.  What do you think?  Should I try to sell it as gender studies, theatre studies, women’s studies, or Japanese studies?  Regardless, I’d be moving back to Japan every summer for at least three years, and I couldn’t do it without aggressively hunting for funding.  Grant writing can be a full time job at least as frustrating as job hunting, but at least I could apply to grants available for all of the above-listed fields.  And I suppose what is really important in all of this is that I am passionately interested in studying this subject, and I suspect that I would be very good at it.  Come to think of it, maybe I should start brushing up my Japanese…

For now, here’s wishing me luck and/or figurative broken legs -E.G.D.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2012 4:03 pm

    Lovely! I’ll simply say: “Don’t break your nose!”

  2. November 9, 2012 11:08 am

    Thanks, Mom ^_^

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