Kabuki Stagecraft & Curtain Drop

Kabuki Stagecraft & Curtain Drop

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Kabuki Stagecraft

The Kabuki theatre is well known for its use of various stage effects, due to its fondness for spectacle.  Its distinctive features include peculiar stage designs, midair performances (or “Chunori”), and its unconventional use of curtains (or “Maku”).

Kabuki theatre

Traditional Kabuki Theatre
Photo Credit: Shibai Ukie by Masanobu Okumura (1686-1764)

Modern Kabuki Theatre

Modern Kabuki Theatre
Photo Credit: Kanamaruza Theater (Japan Guide)

The characteristic feature of the Kabuki stage design includes the “hanamichi”, a raised passageway leading from the left side of the stage, through the audience, to the back of the theatre (used to highlight entrances and exits of actors).

Trap doors and lifts (or “seri”) were incorporated in Kabuki, both for changes of scene and for surprise entrances and exits. The revolving stage (or “mawari butai”), is also sometimes used to produce a scenery-change effect, much akin to the fade-out and fade-in of film techniques. 

Kabuki Drop Theatre Stage

Kabuki Theatre Layout
Image Credit: Invitation to Kabuki, Japan Arts Council

Kabuki Theatre Trapdoor

Kabuki Theatre Trapdoor
Photo Credit: Jikabuki Project 

Traditional Kabuki Drop

The use of curtains is a very important stagecraft technique used in Kabuki theatre.

Kabuki Theatre

Photo Credit: Kabuki-za Theatre

In traditional Kabuki theatre, special curtains, such as the “dandaramaku” (a large curtain with wide red and white horizontal stripes used as a temporary background), or more commonly the “asagimaku” (a pale blue curtain used for entrances), are used for the Kabuki drop to achieve different dramatic stage effects.

The “asagimaku” is often used, because its monotone, singular pale blue color can effectively juxtapose with the new scene’s flamboyant colors, to amplify the transition.

There are various types of curtains being employed in a typical Kabuki theatre and each has distinct uses to create different theatrical and dramatic effects:

  • Stage-set curtains (or “Dogumaku”) are scenery curtains, where actual scenery such as mountain, waves, and wall are painted on.
  • Mist curtains (or “Kasumimaku”) are used to hide musicians on stage when they are not performing.
  • Pale blue curtains (or “Asagimaku”) are notably used for “Furiotoshi”, which is the effect we now know as the “Kabuki Drop”.

Check out the video below to see a couple of uses of curtains in a traditional Kabuki theatre performance:

The drawing of the main curtain can be seen at the 4.32min mark and the Kabuki Drop can be seen at the 5.30min mark.

“Furiotoshi” was first introduced to the Kabuki theatre in the late 18th century, as sophistication of the scenic effects on stage advanced steadily over the years.

Furiotoshi

Traditional Kabuki Drop
Photo Credit: Invitation to Kabuki (Japan Arts Council)

“Furiotoshi” is the dramatic technique of making the stage instantly visible by dropping the curtain previously hung to conceal stage. Whisked down to the accompaniment of the clapping of the wooden “ki” (two wooden clappers), “Furiotoshi” allows for sudden scene changes, while “geza” music is used to maintain the audience’s tension.

“FURIOTOSHI” = KABUKI DROP

The “Furiotoshi” was constructed using a “Furidake”. A “Furidake” is simply a bamboo pole with small prongs or pegs attached to it at regular intervals. These pegs act as “drop points” for the Kabuki curtain (or “maku”). The pole is suspended, using rope over the stage, parallel to the stage front.

The pole is rotated and held in place so that the pegs point upwards. The curtain is hung on these pegs via curtain loops so that it covers the stage.

Bamboo Kabuki Front View

Image Credit: Magic Kabuki Drop

During the play, a rope attached to one of the end pegs is pulled by a “kurogo” (a ‘black boy’ or ‘black clothing’ stage assistant dressed and hooded in black). A “kurogo” goal is to be “invisible” and as inconspicuous as possible, who helps Kabuki actors, and carry out various stage duties.

This rotates the pole forward, resulting in the curtain loops slipping off the pegs and allowing the curtain to fall to the floor.

Bamboo Kabuki Side View

Image Credit: Magic Kabuki Drop

The “asagimaku” is thereafter swept away by stage assistants, and the effect is much like a quick cut in a movie, foreshadowing the taking place of a powerful scene.

Conversely, when the stage is visible and the curtain is dropped from the ceiling to instantly conceal the stage, the dramatic technique is called “Furikabuse” (shake down to conceal).

 

Disclaimer: This is a free resource site for educational purposes. To better illustrate points made in the articles, images have been used to accompany the information. Photo credits and links to the source material are given where applicable.

If you are a copyright holder for any of the images and do not want your image used in this resource site, please contact us at info(a)magickabukidrop.com and we will remove the image within 24 hours.

The authors accepts no responsibility for damages or injuries resulting from the fabrication or performance of any of the Kabuki Drop methods described in this website.

 

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