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There are four types of performers who portray the roles in Noh and Kyogen: the shite (main actor), the waki (supporting actor[s]), the hayashi (musicians), and the kyogen (Kyogen actor[s]).

The shite actor undertakes various roles\playing the part of the main character (shite), or of the accompanying character (tsure), or even the child role (kokata); making up the chorus (jiutai); and serving as a stage assistant (koken), who fixes the appearance of the costume and hands props to the main character. The type of character portrayed depends upon the type of play being performed, but the majority of characters range from the spirits of men and women and even plants or trees, to gods, demons, and supernatural beings. In principle, there is a Noh mask appropriate for each main role.

The waki actor serves to support the main actor, and thus performs the roles of waki and waki-tsure. Depending upon the play, they might be Shinto priests, Buddhist monks, or samurai, but they are always roles portraying real, living men. The waki does not wear a mask.

There are four types of musicians who play in Noh, and sometimes (but rarely) in Kyogen: the flute player, the shoulder-drum player, the hip-drum player, and the stick-drum player.

The Kyogen actor, it goes without saying, performs Kyogen comedies. Within a Noh play, however, an ai-kyogen actor ("Kyogen actor who performs during the interval") appears after the shite of Act 1 has exited, and serves to relate to the waki the story of the place, telling the tale in great detail. Within a Kyogen play, the main role is called the shite, and the supporting role is called the ado.

The Instruments
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Copyright 2004, by the Japan Arts Council. All rights reserved.