Persian theatre

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Persian theatre goes back to antiquity. The first initiation of theater and phenomena of acting can be traced in ceremonial theaters to glorify national heroes and legends and to humiliate the enemy, as in the classics "Soug Sivash" and "Mogh Koshi" (Megakhouni).[citation needed] Ancient Persian theatre and dance was significantly researched by the Greek historian Herodotus of Halikarnassos, who lived during the Persian rule in Greece. In his work Book IX (Calliope), he describes the history of Asian empires and also the Persian wars until 478 BC.[1]

Historical Persian theatre[edit]

These are a few of the dramatic performing arts that became popularized in Iran in 7th century AD, long before the advent of cinema. A few examples include:

  • Naqqāli (recounting stories)
  • Ta'zieh (Shi'i martyr plays)
  • Kheimeh Shab Bazi (puppet theatre)
  • Siah-Bazi (comical acts on politics)
  • Ru Howzi (comical acts on domestic life)
  • Pardeh Dari (screen based storytelling)
  • Pardeh-khaani (mobile singing, storytelling read off a curtain)
  • Naghali (storytelling)
  • Ghavali (minstrelsy)
  • Shahnameh-khaani (singing storytelling performance of the story of Shahnameh)
  • Rowzeh Khani (mourning performance)
  • Saye-bazi (shadow plays)
  • Mirnouroozi (comic play during Nowruz)
  • Kachalak bazi or Pahlavan Kachal (comic play with a bald clown-like character)
  • Baghal bazi (comic play that takes place at a grocery store)


Iranian actor doing Naqqāli

Naqqāli, is one of the oldest forms of the traditional Persian theatre. The Naqqāli is the performer and recounts stories in prose often accompanied by music, dance and decorative, painted scrolls. Both men and women can be Naqqāli performers and can perform with mixed-sex audiences, which is unusual in Iran.[2] The performer often wears simple costumes and a single piece of a historical but related costume, like one old piece of armour.[2] This art was formerly performed in coffeehouses, private houses and historical venues such as ancient caravanserais. A decline in the popularity of coffeehouses in Iran, and with new forms of entertainment, has resulted in diminishing interest in Naqqāli performance. The aging of master performers, (who are called morsheds) and the decreasing popularity among younger generations have caused a steep drop in the number of skilled Naqqāls, threatening the survival of this dramatic art. Naqqāli was included in 2011 to the UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in need of urgent safeguarding.[2] Other similar Iranian story-telling and performance traditions include Naghali, Pardeh-dari, Pardeh-khaani, Ghavali (minstrelsy), Shahnameh-khaani, Ta'zieh.[3]


Main article: Tazieh
Ta'zieh performance as theater in the round

Ta'zieh, also known as Tazieh, is a form of traditional, religious Persian theatre in which the drama is conveyed through music, narration, prose and singing. Ta'zieh dates from before the Islamic era. A common theme is the epic tragedy of Siavash in Shahnameh of Ferdowsi.[4] In Persian tradition, Ta'zieh and Parde-Khani are inspired by historical and religious events, and symbolize epic spirit and resistance. The common theme is hero tales of love, sacrifice, and resistance against evil. Ta'zieh resembles the European opera in many respects.[5]

Kheimeh Shab Bazi[edit]

Kheimeh-shab-bazi is the Persian traditional puppetry which is performed in a small chamber. There are two people involved in the performance: a musical performer and a person telling the story (called a morshed). The dialogue is between morshed and the puppets. The method of performance, its characters and the techniques used in writing the puppet show make it unique and distinguish it from other types of puppetry. A newer genre of Iranian puppetry emerged during Qajar era. Puppetry is still very common in contemporary Iran.


Siah-Bazi, also known as Siyah-Bazi is a type of Iranian folk performing art that features a blackface, mischievous and forthright harlequin that does improvisations to stir laughter.[6] The term Siah-Bazi literally translates to "playing black" and is a sketch in which two men dressed in red turbans, one has black face paint and they engage in a verbal duel which is often witty, political in nature and humorous.[7][8] The character with the black face takes on a clown-like role and tries to disgrace the master. Outwardly the master appears to be a respectable person but underneath he is immoral and not to be respected.[9] The blackface character is portrayed as a carnivalesque underdog of the working class and the audience can empathize with their struggle through humor.[citation needed]

Siah-Bazi and Ru Howzi both have a blackface clown character and involve lewd jokes, but Ru Howzi is a social theatre that satirizes domestic life and is often performed at private Iranian residences on a stage over a pool of water that is often found in home courtyards. Siah-Bazi is performed in more public places like theatres or coffee houses because of the political subject matter.[8]

The Iranian Revolution affected the tone and performance of Siah-Bazi, and they edited away the sexual references, dancing and music. The performances continue only because of the acceptance of the standards of the Islamic Iranian Revolution.[9]

Contemporary Persian theatre[edit]

The Iranian professional theatre movement is especially active in Iran's main city, Tehran. Rostam and Sohrab puppet opera is an example of the most common type of Kheimeh-Shab-Bazi performance you would see in modern day Iran.

Farroukh Qasim (1948–2010, Tajikistan) has brought renewal to theatre in Tajikistan through his approach to the creative reworking of an eclectic repertoire. He has created performances based on sources as varied as Rumi, Zoroastrian and Koranic texts, Sufi mystics and plays by Molière and Bulgakov, for example a Tajik King Lear incorporating 10th century Persian verses.[10]

Persian theatre of Afghanistan is rising after several years of silence.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kiann, Nima (2000). "Persian Dance And Its Forgotten History". Nima Kiann. Les Ballets Persans. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Naqqāli, Iranian dramatic story-telling". UNESCO Culture Sector. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  3. ^ Talebi, Niloufar (July–August 2009). "Memory of a Phoenix Feather: Iranian Storytelling Traditions and Contemporary Theater". The Translation Project. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ Jahandideh, Mitra; Khaefi, Shahab. "The Most Important Performing Arts Arisen from Shahnameh of Ferdowsi: "Shahnameh-khani and Naqqali of Shahnameh"". International Congress on Culture and Society. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ Iranian performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (BBC Persian)
  6. ^ Fathali Beigi, Davood (January 16, 2013). ""Siah-Bazi A Forbidden Play" Released". Iranian Book News Agency (IBNA). Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  7. ^ Taheri, Amir (April 19, 2013). "Opinion: The "Cursed Three" and the "Supreme Leader"". Asharq Al-Awsat News. Asharq Al-Awsat News. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Armbrust, Walter (2000). Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond. California: University of California Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0520219260. 
  9. ^ a b Lazgee, Seyed Habiballah (February 1994). "Post-revolutionary Iranian Theatre: Three Representative Plays in Translation with Critical Commentary" (PDF). University of Leeds, School of English (Workshop Theatre). Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  10. ^ Prince Claus Fund: Prince Claus Awards 2004 - Farroukh Qasim

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