Yuriko Doi’s Teaching and Transmission of Noh and Kyōgen in San Francisco


  • Judith Halebsky Dominican University of California


Yuriko Doi founded the Theatre of Yugen in San Francisco and taught American students noh and kyōgen for more than thirty years. Noh theatre, in living practice in Japan for more than six hundred years, incorporates music, dance, acting, and singing. While noh is serious and sombre, kyōgen is a comedic form traditionally performed within or between noh plays. Starting in the late 1970s, Doi’s Theatre of Yugen performed new works inspired and informed by noh as well as kyōgen in English around the US and also in Japan. Noh training ideally begins in childhood as one-on-one study with a teacher and continues into adulthood. The transmission of noh is considered to be from body (teacher) to body (student) without verbal explication. To teach students in an ensemble theatre company in California, Doi adapted aspects of the transmission process as well as aspects of the form. Doi taught the exterior qualities of movement and vocal technique and, at the same time, tried to instill a sense of noh’s interior qualities, which include time, aesthetic intensity, and art practice as a life path. While teaching noh and kyōgen, Doi wants her students to draw from all of their training and influences. She explains that trying to hide other performance traditions held in the body, such as Western acting technique, will deflate the energy of a performance. She argues that if an actor can develop a complex sense of noh they can integrate it with all of the other knowledge structures in the body, which will lead to a masterful performance. Based on a series of interviews with Doi, the treatises of noh founder Zeami Motokiyo, and recent scholarship on noh, this essay examines the practice and transmission of noh and how the art is continued and revised through Doi’s work.

Author Biography

Judith Halebsky, Dominican University of California

Judith Halebsky is professor of English at Dominican University of California. She holds a PhD in performance studies from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA in poetry from Mills College. For three years, she studied noh theatre at Hosei University in Tokyo on a fellowship from the Japanese Ministry of Culture (MEXT). Her articles on performance and cultural translation have been published in the Asian Theatre Journal and Theatre Research in Canada. She also writes text for performance and poetry. Willamette University staged her play The Weaver and the Dress in 2016. Her honours include a Graves Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and the New Issues Prize for her collection of poems Sky=Empty.