FOUR TRADITIONS OF THEATRE IN TURKEY*
Theatrical art in Turkey is currently believed to have developed from the same religious, moral and educational urge to imitate human actions that accompanied its growth in other countries, particularly in ancient Greece. The puppet shadow play, which involves two-dimensional puppets (figures) casting its shadow on a two-dimensional area of screen, had an important place in Turkey as well as throughout the larger area of the Ottoman Empire. To understand its place let us glance at four main traditions of theatre in Turkey. These are the “folk theatre tradition”, the “popular theatre tradition - shadow play (karagoz), storyteller”, the “court theatre tradition”, and the “western theatre tradition”. In order to understand the significance of Turkish puppets shadow play, these deserve special brief study.
Some Turkish Shadow Plays Puppets
1.The Folk Theatre Tradition.
The Turkish peasantry, which constitutes about three quarters of the whole population, is the most homogeneous and articulate element of the nation, and has throughout many centuries, retained its own peculiar character. The isolation of Turkish villages has caused in their unique forms, of traditional peasant dances, puppet shows and puppets shadow play. During public festivals, a type of crude drama sometimes accompanies the singing, dancing, mime and shadow plays. This is most likely a legacy from ancient religious rites, handed down from generation to generation. Maybe it originated in the shamanistic rituals of the Ural-Altaic region, which was the birthplace of the Turkish people, or perhaps it was part of the folklore of the Phrygian or Hittite civilizations of Anatolia. It is also through that many of the Anatolian peasant plays originated from festivals honoring such gods as Dionysus, Attis and Osiris, or from the Egyptian mysteries celebrated in Eleusis and other places. These dramas frequently display symbolic elements like puppets shadow play.
Although today these plays are, almost without exception, no more than mere diversions, they frequently display symbolic elements. Because of gradual additions, innovations and corruptions the centuries, and augmentations or reductions in the cast of characters, no standard versions of these plays exist.
One of my puppet shadow plays. Everybody is dancing with Karagoz
There are two chief incidents upon which all the folk dramas are based. The first is deadly battle, in which one of the combaants is kiled and subsequently restored to life, either with the help of a doctor or through magic. This may very well be a survival of such vegetation cults as the festival of Dionysus, where in the god of vegetation was killed, or it may derive from the days when an aged king was slain in order to give new life to the soil. There is no question that this theme is a dramatized symbol of the waning year and its rebirth as the new one.
The first sequence, frequently mimed, shows a battle between groups or individuals. This is a survival of ancient rites in which opponents comforted each other in such symbolic struggles as that between life and death, light and darkness, summer and winter, the waning and the new year, father and son, or the old king and the young. Anatolian peasant dramas often include Arab, a black-faced individual, dressed in a black goat or sheepskin, who represents night or winter. His opponent, in emphatic contrast, is usually white-bearded and wears a white goat or sheepskin.
The procession or quest sequence shows men either wearing animal skins, or with blackened faces, moving from house to house. The play that follows may take place inside or in front of one of the houses, and sometimes includes dancing and singing. Nearly all of them display such common features as blackened faces, following the tradition of Greek mysteries where the actors covered their faces with soot. Event the actors roles are sometimes transferred to people in animal disguises.
Every region in Turkey, every village even has its own dance. In all, these number around fifteen hundred, and some are in the nature of pantomime. The five general categories in which these may be placed are: the dramatization of animal actions; the everyday routine of village life; the exaltation of nature; and courtship. Even today these Turkish folk dramas, puppet performances, puppets shadow play and dances contain a vast source of artistic energy, which must be exploited if Turkey is to build up a strong national theatrical tradition.
2.The Popular Theater Tradition (Meddah and puppet shadow play Karagoz Hacivat)
The Turkish theater developed in two distinct geographical areas: in old Istanbul and other cities, and in the villages popular theater was a pastime of the urban middle class. It was presented to the public by three classes of professional performers: live actors; story tellers (Meddah) and puppeteers ( both puppet shadow play and marionette or puppets - Turkish mean is Kukla). Its characteristic traits were imitation and mimicry of dialectic peculiarities, and imitation of animals by stock characters called taklit, easily recognized by the audience because of their standard costumes and signature tunes and dances. The comedian, puppet shadow play master , puppeteer and storyteller memorized certain stock phrases some in rhymed couplets and enacted scenes from everyday life, using the colorful idiom of their time. They relied very title on properties and hardly at all on scenery . Men played woman’s parts. Performances were given, not in special buildings set apart for the purpose, but whatever they could be accommodated- in public squares, at national and religious festivals, at weddings , circumcision ceremony (Turkish mean is Sünnet) and fairs, in the yards of inns, in coffee houses, in taverns and private residences. Everything was done to music: wrestling matches were carried on to musical accompaniment, conjurers performed to the sound of the tambourine. The plays had little or no action, depending for laughs on lively slapstick and on monologues or dialogues involving puns, ready responses, crude practical jokes, double meanings, misunderstandings, and interpolated quips. There were clearly formulated rules of intonation. Performances were often include with songs or dances, or both.