This panel considers the impact of Kabuki audiences on the formation of Kabuki itself during the 17th, 18th and 19th century. We discuss the importance of the theatre teahouses, Kabuki performed at mansions of feudal lords, and how the theatrical experience changed in the Meiji period.
Who were the spectators who loved and formed Kabuki? What did they do at the theatres? The theatrical experience of the Kabuki audience is essential to understanding how, and why, Kabuki developed into the performing art it is today. This panel will clarify the question of the social spectrum of the Kabuki spectators, and their habits at the theatre during the early modern period, and further cast a light on Kabuki's transition to the Meiji era from the perspective of the spectators. Kabuki is said to have broke free from the restraints of Noh acting, which was reserved for the nobility and the warrior class, to provide entertainment for the common people. This notion holds true in the case of Kabuki performed in front of temples and shrines or in rural areas, because the entrance fee was low and accessibility high. However, recent research has shown that the social elite, starting with feudal lords and their female relatives formed an important part of the urban Kabuki audience. It is therefore conceivable that these spectators contributed to the shape of Kabuki itself. This panel explores this possibility by discussing audience related issues, which arose in the time period stretching from the 17th to the 19th century, based on primary sources, such as diaries, actor's reviews and Ukiyo-e prints from the Edo period, and newspaper articles and photographs from the Meiji period. We consider first the teahouses, which both catered to the spectators, second, the circumstance, which enabled Kabuki to performed at the homes of the social elite, and finally the social spectrum of the spectators during the Meiji era. Finally, we will open the floor for a discussion on how the audience and their experience at the Kabuki theatre influenced Kabuki itself, and how this experience transformed with the transition to the modern era.