Realisms in East Asian Performance

Subjects: Theater and Performance, Asian Studies, China, Japan, Korea
Paperback : 9780472056422, 290 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2023
Hardcover : 9780472076420, 290 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2023
Open Access : 9780472903849, 290 pages, 17 illustrations, 6 x 9, October 2023
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Essays by leading scholars expand understandings of theatrical realism through East Asian performances across premodern, modern, and contemporary periods

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration and Names
Introduction: From Realism to Realisms
Jessica Nakamura and Katherine Saltzman-Li
Part I: Revealing Realisms
1.    Theatrical Realism on the Kabuki Stage: Methods and Theories
Katherine Saltzman-Li
2.    Stylized Reality on the Jingju Stage: Revisiting Picking up a Jade Bracelet as a Case Study
Xing Fan
3.    Racing the Real: Korean Realism Theater and Racial Representation in Cha Bumseok’s Yeoldaeeo
Soo Ryon Yoon and Ji Hyon (Kayla) Yuh
Part II: Real Life Onstage
4.    The Subversion of Everyday Life: Neoliberal South Korea and the Theater of the Everyday in the Plays of Park Kunhyung
Kee-Yoon Nahm
5.    From Realist Drama to Theater of the Real: Postsocialist Realism in Contemporary Chinese Theater
Rossella Ferrari
6.    Three Kingdoms of Pain and Sorrow: Verisimilitude of Warfare Presented in 
Pansori Jeokbyeokga
Min-Hyung Yoo
Part III: Technologies
7.    Mediated Laugher and the Limits of Realism: Laughing Letter and the Kinodrama Experiment in 1930s Japanese Performance
Aragorn Quinn
8.    Realism, the Real, and Mediated Reality: Hirata Oriza and Beyond
M. Cody Poulton
9.    Realisms in Japan’s Eighteenth-Century Puppet Theater
Jyana S. Browne
10.    Costumes of the Present: Clothing and Realism in Traditional Chinese Theater
Guojun Wang
Part IV: Evolving Realisms
11.    Colonial Temporality, Diasporic Displacement, and Korean Realism in Yun Baek-nam’s Destiny
Miseong Woo
12.    The “Deep Realism” of Style: From Michel Saint-Denis to Huang Zuolin
Siyuan Liu
13.    After the Colloquial: Legacies of Realistic Expression in Contemporary Japan
Jessica Nakamura


Existing scholarly discussions of theatrical realism have been predominantly limited to 19th-century European and Russian theater, with little attention paid to wider explorations and alternative definitions of the practice. Examining theater forms and artists from China, Japan, and Korea, Realisms in East Asian Performance brings together a group of theater historians to reconsider realism through the performing arts of East Asia. 

The book’s contributors emphasize trans-regional conversations and activate inter-Asian dialogues on theatrical production. Tracing historical trajectories, starting from premodern periods through today, the book seeks to understand realisms’ multiple origins, forms, and cultural significances, and examines their continuities, disruptions, and divergences. In its diversity of topics, geographic locations, and time periods, Realisms in East Asian Performance aims to globalize and de-center the dominant narratives surrounding realism in theater, and revise assumptions about the spectacular and theatrical forms of Asian performance. Understanding realism as a powerful representational style, chapters collectively reevaluate acts of representation on stage not just for East Asia, but for theater and performance studies more broadly.

Jessica Nakamura is Associate Professor in the Department of Theater and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Katherine Saltzman-Li is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“While many studies exist on the classical and contemporary theatres of East Asia, a focus on modern drama and realisms—arguably the most popular forms of theatre with audiences in the region—have been widely overlooked and undertheorized… Well-conceptualized, addressing a critical gap in knowledge in the field, and including texts by the leading scholars in the field, Realisms in East Asian Performance poses important questions about theatre and modernity in East Asia.”

- Peter Eckersall, CUNY Graduate Center

“A groundbreaking work on directing theory and practice from a cross-cultural and comparative perspective. Well-articulated and convincing, the book succeeds in offering a more inclusive definition of realism and its varied practice that will be very useful for both Western and non-Western theater scholars.”

- Xiaomei Chen, University of California, Davis

“Too often performance culture is divided into ‘traditional’ theatre (i.e., the indigenous performance traditions of a nation) and ‘modern’ (meaning Western-influenced naturalistic theatre developed after contact with Europe). This volume destroys that artificial bifurcation, offering a far more complex and nuanced reading of ‘traditional’ and modern Asian theatres than is seen in standard textbooks.”

- Kevin Wetmore, Loyola Marymount University

Read: Q&A with the Editors | October 4, 2023