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Kabuki: Theater for the People Essay

Kabuki theater is credited to a priestess of the Izumo Shrine called Okuni. She performed with the intent of raising money for her shrine and her audience was captivated by her physical appearance and graceful dances. In 1575, Okuni founded the first kabuki company with an all-female troupe that played both the male and female roles. Kabuki theater has since become the foremost theater style of the eastern world. From establishing male-only roles (onnagata) to borrowing features and ideas from Noh theater and puppet drama (Joruri), kabuki theater has transformed and fascinated audiences everywhere over the years. Kabuki is known for having extravagant theaters, and elaborate plays with complex music, but what may not be known is its indecorous beginnings. It has one of the most intriguing origin stories that is far more scandalous than western theater, and it all began with Okuni and her troupe of women (Swann, Peter).

Okuni stood on beside dry river beds of ancient Kyoto, which was a popular destination for “beggars”. But Okuni was no beggar; she was a priestess. She drew the crowds with her charm, beauty, and grace through the performance of a dance called Kabuki which was a classical Japanese dance-drama. Her performance was such a success that it attracted many other performers interested in raising money. The early performers of Kabuki were female and they met their financial goals in many ways, from donations to prostitution. These “Kabuki” actresses were so successful they attracted the eye of the government and in 1603 Okuni immortalized the art form when she and her troupe performed in the imperial court in Tokyo. But in 1629, in an effort to protect women and public decency, the shogun declared it immoral for women to dance on stage and in public. He banned them from the stage. This law opened up a market for young male actors originally from the Noh theaters. A new form of kabuki emerged only this time with an all…

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