Courtesy of Wikipedia:
Noh, or Nogaku- derived from the Japanese word for “skill” or “talent” – is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh ‘performance day’ lasts all day and consists of five Noh plays interspersed with shorter, humorous kyōgen pieces. However, present-day Noh performances consist of two Noh plays with one Kyōgen play in between.
While the field of Noh performance is extremely codified, and regulated by the iemoto system, with an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, some performers do compose new plays or revive historical ones that are not a part of the standard repertoire. Works blending Noh with other theatrical traditions have also been produced.
Together with the closely related kyōgen farce, Noh evolved from various popular, folk and aristocratic art forms, including Dengaku, Shirabyoshi, and Gagaku.
Kan’ami and his son Zeami Motokiyo brought Noh to its present-day form during the Muromachi period under the patronage of the powerful Ashikaga clan, particularly the third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It would later influence other dramatic forms such as Kabuki and Butoh. During the Meiji era, although its governmental patronage was lost, Noh and kyōgen received official recognition as two of the three national forms of drama.
By tradition, Noh actors and musicians only rehearse together once, a few days before the actual performance. Generally, each actor, musician, and chorus member practises his or her fundamental movements, songs, and dances independently, under the tutelage of a senior member of the school. Thus, the mood of a given performance is not set by any single performer but established by the interactions of all the performers together. In this way, Noh could be seen as exemplifying the medieval Japanese aesthetics of transience, exemplified by the saying of Sen no Rikyu, “ichi-go ichi-e”, “one chance, one meeting”.
1:hashigakari. 2:kyōgen spot. 3:stage attendants. 4:stick drum. 5:hip drum. 6:shoulder drum. 7:flute. 8:chorus. 9:waki seat. 10:waki spot. 11:shite spot. 12:shite-bashira. 13:metsuke-bashira. 14:waki-bashira. 15:fue-bashira.
The traditional Noh stage consists of a pavilion whose architectural style is derived from that of the traditional kagura stage of Shinto shrines, and is normally composed almost entirely of hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood. The four pillars are named for their orientation to the prominent actions during the course of the play: the waki-bashira in the front, right corner near the waki’s standing point and sitting point; the shite-bashira in the rear, left corner, next to which the shite normally performs; the fue-bashira in the rear, right corner, closest to the flute player; and the metsuke-bashira, or “looking-pillar”, so called because the shite is typically faced toward the vicinity of the pillar.
The floor is polished to enable the actors to move in a gliding fashion, and beneath this floor are buried giant pots or bowl-shaped concrete structures to enhance the resonant properties of the wood floors when the actors stomp heavily on the floor (compare nightingale floor). As a result, the stage is elevated approximately three feet above the ground level of the audience.
The only ornamentation on the stage is the kagami-ita, a painting of a pine-tree at the back of the stage. The two most common beliefs are that it represents either a famous pine tree of significance in Shinto at the Kasuga Shrine in Nara, or that it is a token of Noh’s artistic predecessors which were often performed to a natural backdrop.
Another unique feature of the stage is the hashigakari, the narrow bridge to the right of the stage that the principal actors use to enter the stage. This would later evolve into the hanamichi in kabuki.
All stages which are solely dedicated to Noh performances also have a hook or loop in ceiling, which exists only to lift and drop the bell for the play Dōjōji. When that play is being performed in another location, the loop or hook will be added as a temporary fixture.