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Japanese Performance Theory Workshop

Japanese Performance Theory Workshop

June 10–17, 2017  |  Apply by April 1!

The Japanese Performance Theory Workshop (JPTW) intervenes between Japanese Studies and Performance Studies to foster generative critical engagements with Japanese performance. Through seminar-style discussions, performance screenings, research presentations, and writing exercises, this intensive week-long summer workshop will help participants working on Japanese performance at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels develop better conceptual, methodological, and pedagogical tools.

At a basic level, the JPTW represents an experiment designed to address a few overlapping gaps. The initial idea for this residential workshop emerged several years ago, mainly out of frustration with a prevailing conservatism in the study of Noh drama within the Japanese academy especially. The theoretical and methodological worldliness that often characterized literary study of premodern and modern narratives did not obtain for some sectors of the academy devoted to “traditional Japanese theater.” It felt like there was a wealth of fascinating material being underserved by painstakingly informative but unduly positivistic approaches. What if there was a way to energize that material along different lines?

There also seemed to be a gap between conceptually vibrant performance studies scholarship that dealt mainly with modern and contemporary western forms, on the one hand, and historically astute but conceptually dilute work on traditional Japanese performing arts, on the other. Performance Studies programs tend to neglect East Asian performance traditions, while studies of East Asian performance—of the premodern era, in particular—tend to lack theoretical rigor. While there exist intensive summer opportunities for students of various academic and artistic backgrounds to study Japanese performance traditions, both in the U.S. (e.g. the Noh Training Project) and in Japan (e.g. the Traditional Theater Training Program), there are no comparable opportunities for university students and faculty to study Japanese performance with an emphasis on strengthening conceptual approaches to it and analytical writing about it. Given these circumstances, the basic aim of the JPTW will be to provide a venue in which to study Japanese performance practices and critical theoretical approaches to Japanese performance in relation to one another within the context of an intensive summer workshop.

JPTW is a residential summer workshop that focuses on improving engagements with Japanese performance and performance theory. The program will host advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty (five each), working across fields such as performance studies, Japanese literary and cultural studies, ethnomusicology, visual arts, dance studies, and creative writing.

To the extent that a rigorous engagement with Japanese performance need not require Japanese language skills or a performance background, neither of these is required for admission to the program. Indeed, this background can often inhibit more adventurous interpretations. Along these lines, the JPTW will maintain a critical stance toward prevailing notions of expertise and will explore forms of producing knowledge that do not adhere strictly to either an Area Studies model or a practice-based model.

Guiding Questions

What questions drive this project?

How might we foster critically-minded, creative engagements with Japanese performance?

How should we interrupt historical, institutional, and conceptual paradigms that impede the cultivation of more generative approaches to traditional and contemporary Japanese performance?

How might we reimagine the relationship between Japanese Studies and Performance Studies?

What “best practices” might we locate among these disciplines’ respective interpretive tools and styles of writing to translate our work more effectively to new audiences?

How might we improve our scholarly and artistic work on Japanese performance to enrich curricula across disciplines?


What is the JPTW trying to accomplish?

  • Create a space where scholarly and artistic work on Japanese performance can be shared and improved through conversation with a trans-disciplinary community of supportive participants
  • Explore conceptual and methodological tools for thinking, writing, and teaching about Japanese performance
  • Develop a robust conversation between Japanese Studies and Performance Studies
  • Raise the level of critical discourse on Japanese performance
  • Mentor students interested in Japanese performance and improve participants’ work
  • Imagine projects for future collaboration across disciplines

Summary of Important Dates

Do I still have time for everything?

The JPTW will be held at the University of Michigan from June 10–17, 2017.

January 15, 2017: Application Cycle Begins
April 1, 2017: Application Deadline
April 15, 2017: Admissions Decisions Announced
May 1, 2017: Accept/Decline Notification Due


What sort of participants are you looking for?

Short answer: “Interesting and interested ones.” Longer answer: JPTW seeks a diverse cohort of participants willing to make work and share work in a constructively critical environment. We seek intellectually ambitious participants at different career stages who are willing to refine their projects, rethink notions of what rigorous work should entail, and learn from each other. While I imagine a majority of applications coming from students of drama or Japanese language and culture, the goal is to assemble a group whose different perspectives and skills will offset one another in productive ways. Ideally, in addition to there being an even mix of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty, there would also be theater practitioners and visual/media artists joining the group.

Does my application really stand a shot even if I’m not majoring in something Japan-related?

Yes! The JPTW encourages applications from undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines, and faculty within and beyond fields like Japanese Studies or Performance Studies. In addition, JPTW also welcomes participation by playwrights, dramaturges, visual artists, and independent scholars with demonstrated interest in Japanese performance. If your investment is sincere and you’re doing interesting work, please apply!

How many participants will be admitted?

This program is open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral fellows, faculty, independent scholars, and artists. Fifteen slots are available; roughly five slots apiece will be allotted for participants in the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate (e.g. faculty/artist) pools.

What about tuition, travel, and lodging expenses?

Tuition for attending the JPTW (including course readings/materials) is free for all accepted participants.

Moreover, lodging and travel expenses will be covered for undergraduates, graduate students, and participants unable to secure funds by other institutional means. Faculty will be expected to use research funds if possible, but limited funds are available to defray costs for faculty demonstrating need. Note: Admissions decisions will be made irrespective of financial circumstances and every effort will be made to accommodate accepted participants at all levels, regardless of financial need. No potential participant should refrain from applying for financial reasons. Translation: If you’re broke but possess skill, sincerity, and hustle, then we’re willing to expend the funds and effort to get you here.

What if I’m not based in the U.S.?

Applicants from outside the United States are also welcome, though travel funding for multiple international participants may prove more limited. That said, every effort will be made to accommodate international participants’ circumstances.

What will the language of instruction be?

Given the nature of the readings, seminar discussions, and writing exercises, applicants must have high proficiency in English (reading, writing, speaking, and listening comprehension). Skype interviews will be conducted as part of the admissions process, both to learn more about applicants and, in some cases, to assess non-native speakers’ English language proficiency.

Applicants need not have previous Japanese language experience. Original language versions of texts will be available for interested participants, however.

No Japanese necessary? Why not?

Because having good Japanese doesn’t necessarily translate to having good ideas. Moreover, extensive training in Japanese language and culture, while beneficial in some respects, can also inculcate an expertise that limits the more exploratory work the JPTW pursues. Put simply, each applicant’s entire application will be evaluated and advanced training in Japanese will not automatically secure better chances of being admitted.

Application Process

I’d like to apply! What do I need to submit?

Applicants should submit all application materials via e-mail to the JPTW account ( by the application deadline: April 1, 2017.

Please note: undergraduate and graduate students will need to submit one letter of recommendation and should therefore contact potential recommenders immediately to allow recommenders ample time to prepare their letters.

Please compile all elements of the application into a single PDF file and send that file as an e-mail attachment to the address listed above.

Applicants will be asked to submit the following materials as part of the file:

1. A completed Application Form
 (downloadable here)

2. A Personal Statement describing your reasons for applying to the program; current scholarly or artistic interests; academic/creative/professional goals; and how the JPTW would further them. Why do you want to participate in this program, what would you anticipate contributing to it, and what do you hope to gain from it in the short and long term? What ideas, gestures, artists, or problems motivate your practice and why do you find them compelling?

The Statement should include information about courses taken and/or taught in relevant subjects (such as dance, visual art, music, theater, Japanese culture, criticism and theory, or other relevant training). What do you do well now and what would you like to learn to do better through joining this program?

3. A current Curriculum Vitae

4. One recent critical writing sample (in English or Japanese, not to exceed 10 pages), or sample of recently completed creative work
 (e.g. link to online archive, portfolio, or video)

5. Undergraduate and graduate students only must submit one letter of recommendation, to be sent directly from the recommender via e-mail as a PDF attachment. Recommenders should submit the signed recommendation on institutional letterhead with this e-mail subject heading:

“JPTW Recommendation for [LAST NAME, First name]”

When will I hear back about whether or not I got in?

Admissions decisions will be sent by April 15th. Participants must respond by May 1st with their signed Participation Agreement. Successful applicants who have not accepted the admission offer by May 1st cede their slot. If slots become available after the May 1st deadline, participants will be selected from the wait list and invited to join the program.

Travel and Accommodations

How would I get there and where would I stay?

Accepted participants flying to campus should book travel to Detroit Metro Airport (roughly 40 minutes from campus by car). Round-trip transportation for student and non-institutionally affiliated participants will be covered by reimbursement. Faculty participants will be expected to cover their own travel and lodging costs, but some limited funding exists to subsidize travel and lodging costs for participants who demonstrate need—regardless of status.

A block of dormitory rooms has been reserved on University of Michigan’s campus for JPTW participants. These rooms will be available to participants free of charge for the workshop’s duration. There will also be five hotel rooms available at a discounted rate for non-students who do not wish to stay in the dormitory. Participants are also welcome to make their own lodging arrangements.


So what will this workshop entail on a daily basis?

In terms of format, the JPTW will operate like a set of overlapping seminars based on the following activities: reading primary and secondary sources closely, writing reflectively on our own approaches to the material, sharing feedback aimed at improving our respective projects, testing unfamiliar methods of thinking and writing about performance, and screening performances together to practice analyzing them better. We will also concentrate part of our time each day on discussing how best to share and teach some of our material to other audiences.

Before the workshop begins, participants will receive access to a course website with relevant readings, media, writing prompts, and resources. Reading packets will also be produced. Everyone is expected to have read the material beforehand and to review for each day over the course of the week.

We’ll have a morning seminar devoted to analysis of readings on a certain theme or period (e.g. “medieval embodiment,” “Cold War theatricality,” or “queer archives”). Then we’ll write about what methods, concepts, or stylistic techniques seem most useful to carry forward or rework. After lunch we’ll share these assessments with the goal of refining what resonates most. This conversation will then lead into short presentations on our work. The presentation post-mortems will become a forum for sharing advice and for helping to solve conceptual or organizational difficulties participants may be experiencing. We will also focus on drawing connections historically, conceptually, and politically between projects, with an eye toward potential post-JPTW collaborations. Following the presentations we’ll break for dinner, after which we will screen and discuss a performance.

Sample Reading List

What texts will we be discussing?

Our JPTW syllabus will be finalized by incorporating input provided by participants in their applications. A portion of workshop material will be chosen to reflect participants’ conceptual orientations, research questions, and creative goals. Some potential texts include the following:

Agamben, “Notes on Gesture”

Ahmed, “The Orient and Other Others”

Baby Q, MESs

Barthes, Empire of Signs

Candelario, “From Utter Darkness to White Dance

Hankins, “Of Skins and Workers: Producing the Buraku”

Hahn, Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance

Isaka, “Box-Lunch Etiquette: Conduct Guides and Kabuki Onnagata

Looser, Visioning Eternity: Aesthetics, Politics, and History in the Early Modern Noh Theater

Kamei, Transformations of Sensibility: The Phenomenology of Meiji Literature

Kano, Acting Like a Woman in Modern Japan

Zeami Motokiyo, The Mountain Crone, “Transmitting the Flower through Effects and Attitudes”

Mishima, Patriotism

Miyazaki, “Between Arbitrage and Speculation”

Muñoz, “Gesture, Ephemera, and Queer Feeling: Approaching Kevin Aviance”

Nibroll, See/Saw

Shimakawa, National Abjection: The Asian-American Body Onstage

Surak, Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice

Tanizaki, “The Children,” “Miscellaneous Observations on Cinema”

Uchino, Crucible Bodies: Postwar Japanese Performance from Brecht to the New Millennium

Yanagita, The Legends of Tono

Yano, “Clichés of Excess: Words, Music, Bodies, and Beyond”

Yasuko Yokoshi, Hangman Takuzo


What if I still have questions?

For more information about the JPTW please contact

Reginald Jackson (

JPTW Coordinator / Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Performance
Department of Asian Languages and Cultures
University of Michigan