Anatolian Shadow Theatre

Turkish Shadow theatre is the traditional shadow puppet theatre of Anatolia. It is known as one of the oldest shadow performances in the world dating back nearly 700 years. Karagoz was inscribed on the UNESCO representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in Turkey in 2009.

Karagoz show is performed on a white curtain with a figure called tasvirs, which are made from camel or water buffalo hide manipulated with sticks. A single artist impersonates almost 20 characters at the same time and performs the play on his own by improvising.

Karagoz performers are multidimensional artists, who combine identities of writer, director, musician, actor and tasvir-maker and who take the lead to create new plays and to specify the needs of the people. These artists have a rare talent and intelligence because they vocalize all characters and music on their own, they change the lines by improvising in accordance with the audience, they make their tasvirs by themselves. Old masters’ tasvirs are exhibited at many great international museums like the British Museum, Harvard Museum, Topkapı Palace Museum, and others.

The play, which is named after the head character Karagoz, is regarded as one of the most precious inheritances of world culture. There is still ongoing controversy over the genesis of this art. When and how it came to existence is a matter of scholarly debate and dispute, even today. Some studies suggest that the first Karagoz–Hacivat play was performed for Sultan Selim I (reigned 1512–1520) in Egypt, but 17th-century writer Evliya Celebi stated that it had been performed in the Ottoman palace as early as the reign of Bayezid I (reigned 1389–1402). A film by Ezel Akay in 2006 goes further in its historical chronology and shows that the first play in the early Ottoman era took place during the Orhan Sultan, the second leader of the young state after the founder Ottoman Sultan. Still, when the first play was performed remains something of a mystery and a matter of controversy.

A play begins with the projection of an introductory figure to set the scene and suggest the themes of the drama, before it vanishes to the shrill sound of a whistle, giving way to the main performance that may incorporate singing, tambourine music, poetry, myth, tongue-twisters, and riddles. The usually comic stories feature the main characters Karagoz and Hacivat and a host of others, including a cabaret chanteuse called Kantocu and an illusionist-acrobat named Hokkabaz, and abound in puns and imitations of regional accents.

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