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Alumni & Friends

Born to Be Wild


Photo of Yuriko Doi. Photo courtesy of J. Walker.Yuriko Doi isn't afraid to mix kabuki with flamenco.
Photo courtesy of J. Walker

As a Teenager growing up in Japan, Yuriko Doi (M.A., '71) fell in love with the 600-year-old comedic theatrical tradition called Kyogen (loosely translated to "wild speech"). She liked it, she says, because "The women were always strong and got to criticize the husbands." The style was "more free" than Kyogen's serious counterpart, Noh -- another tradition on which Doi is now an international authority.

Thirty-two years ago, Doi founded San Francisco's groundbreaking Theatre of Yugen, which has continued to bridge East and West since Doi retired as artistic director in 2001. The troupe makes seamless connections between styles -- once even crossing a Kabuki classic with Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding" in a show using flamenco dancing and Bunraku puppets. But Doi's own crossing into the American theatre landscape was not so effortless.

Her father didn't think theatre was a respectable career for a marriageable young woman. Doi studied Western playwrights like Beckett and Crawder at the University of Waseda anyway, and apprenticed herself to a Kyogen master, undertaking rigorous training in vocal and acrobatic techniques. A year after her father's death, she still felt family and friends would judge her for making a life in theatre. So she came to the U.S., where she obtained fellowships at Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, until friends told her SF State was "the more practical degree."

"I wanted to learn directing, and everyone said State was the place to get hands-on experience," Doi says. "And they were right."

Soon Doi was giving back to SF State faculty and students by sharing her Japanese training. She staged a Noh play, and directed a Beckett play in similar style, with spare sets and Noh-style physicality. "It's the same energy in the body, but minimal movement," she explains.

She finished her degree and began to teach in the Theatre Arts Department. A student wanted to continue working with her beyond the semester and Theatre of Yugen was born.
Today Doi maintains her ties with Theatre of Yugen and SF State, occasionally leading workshops on Kyogen technique, which includes wild facial expressions and vigorously embodied speaking. "Yuriko is a compassionate guide and inspired teacher whose engagement with the University community widens horizons," says Theatre Arts Professor Yukihiro Goto, who feels fortunate to have been cast in Doi's 1997 Kabuki staging of "Blood Wedding." "The idea sounds crazy, but it worked!"

Theatre of Yugen just wrapped a Noh adaptation of "King Lear" under the direction of Doi's former student Jubilith Moore. Doi will attend, though these days she is as likely to be found sailing to Tahiti with her husband, a former Theatre of Yugen board president, with whom she has two children. Not surprisingly, the irrepressibly strong and mischievous Doi still loves Kyogen more than Noh. "It's so human," she says.


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