San Francisco – California




Photo by Theatre of Yugen

Libby Zilber as Jiro-Kaja, Lluis Valls as Taro-Kaja, and Jubilith Moore as Master in Boshibari (Tied to a Pole)




Kyogen at Theatre of Yugen

What is Kyogen?

Chapter Two of Four

Written by Nick Ishimaru



Kyogen is a comedic form of traditional Japanese theatre. Like its more dramatic counterpart Noh, it too follows has highly refined aesthetic conventions and theatrical rules, but its aim is to make an audience laugh. The word “Kyogen” is written with the Japanese characters for “mad talk” or “wild speech.” It has stock characters, much like Italian Commedia del ‘arte. Typically, the recognizable characters in a Kyogen play are masters and servants, pompous priests, or neighbors.


Photo by Jon Bauer

Lluis Valls as Kurodani Priest and Nick Ishimaru as Honkoku-ji Priest in Shuron (A Religious Debate)


Kyogen plays are relatively short, between 15 and 40 minutes. Like Greek comedies, Kyogen are performed as counter-points Noh. A typical performance day would be five Noh performances, with a Kyogen performed between each.


Theatre of Yugen


Gestures are enlarged and vocal delivery is exaggerated, unifying body and voice.  Artistic Director Nick Ishimaru talks of the benefits of training in Kyogen as “a total overhaul for the body and voice.”  It requires complete focus and commitment from the actors. “Kyogen demands dances and precise physical movements with rhymes of dialogue,” says Theatre of Yugen founder Yuriko Doi. “It is fun to watch a Kyogen play even for audiences unfamiliar with Japanese theater.”

Many plays also make use of masks, along with elaborate costumes that show type of stock character being portrayed and give some insight on the character’s state of mind.  By contrast, Kyogen relies strongly on pantomime to set the world of the plays, rather than physical sets or props.

Elements of satire and slapstick are present in most Kyogen plays. Yet as Doi explains, “It is not just like a slapstick comedy as we know it in the West, but more akin to a human comedy that depicts human weakness and makes fun of it.  Kyogen is one of the earliest forms of satirical theatre.”




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