By Jonathan Farrell 

San Francisco – California


Photography By Alex Sinclair



Photo by Theatre of Yugen

Theatre of Yugen performer Jubilith Moore



San Francisco’s Theatre Of Yugen




The word “Yugen” in Japanese roughly translates into English as a profound mysterious sense of beauty in the universe.  This became the name of one of San Francisco’s most unique and eclectic theatre groups ever – Theatre of Yugen.


This year marks the 40thanniversary of the group establishing its permanent home in San Francisco’s Mission District.  “We are a unique experimental theater company that blends Japanese culture/theater with such cultural forms as American, European, Native American and other world cultures,” said founder Yuriko Doi.  


Photo by Alex Sinclair

Theatre of Yugen {1890}: Adrian Deane as the Ghost of Christmas Past,
directed by Nick Ishimaru.


Doi came to the Bay Area from Japan 50 years ago with a vision to share Japanese theatrical traditions with Western audiences, officially establishing Theatre of Yugen in 1978.


Most people in America are usually acquainted with only Kabuki or Geisha; yet there are numerous forms of Japanese theatrical expression, such as the satirical Kyogen.  Forms like Kyogen go back centuries.  “It is not just like a slapstick comedy,” she said, “but more akin to a human comedy that depicts human weakness and makes fun of it.  Kyogen is one of the earliest satirical theatres,” Doi said. 


“Kyogen demands dancing and precise physical movements with rhymes of dialogue,” she said.  “It is fun to watch a Kyogen play even for audiences unfamiliar with Japanese theater.”


While a stylized form, it is a form of art within theatrical art, requiring the complete focus and commitment of the actors.


Photo by Alex Sinclair

Theatre of Yugen presents a Noh Christmas Carol – Ghost of Christmas Present (Adrian Deane) leads Sukurooji (Shannon Davis).


Even though Doi has been very dedicated to preserving Japanese traditional theater, she has also recognized the importance of incorporating other cultures into the work done by Theater of Yugen.


“Over the years our audiences have enjoyed original material like a Kabuki and Flamenco fusion production, a blend of Noh and Native American productions, and many others, just to name a few,” noted Doi.


Understanding the importance of live theatre over the increasing use of digital technology and the Internet, theatre still has a power over an audience like nothing else.


Theatre of Yugen artistic director Nick Ishimaru has said, “My instinct and natural pacing urges me to go faster and faster.  But when the more traditional tempo is much slower and controlled than I’m used to, I realize this is a disciplined art form.  It is that pacing that I love about the form so much – it has made me appreciate clean and precise movement and controlled tempo as an actor.”


To enjoy more about Theatre Of Yugen  –




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