New Emissary

Iran’s ‘Puppet Operas’

Will its puppet theater shows create more overseas Persian art and culture enthusiasts?

Can ‘puppet opera’ create more Persian art and culture enthusiasts overseas? A renowned Iranian stage director is convinced that it can, and has recently gone as far as to approach Iranian officials and asked them to create a special budget to fund such cultural products.

Behruz Gharibpur is known for founding puppet theatre venues in major Iranian cities and has reportedly even turned a Tehran slaughterhouse into the ‘greatest’ Iranian cultural centre. And he believes that Iranian puppet shows, including the country’s unique opera-style format, will have great appeal for international audiences—especially in the US.

He has his reasons.

Earlier this year, Gharibpur encountered ‘great enthusiasm’ in some American visitors who saw a Rumi puppet opera performed in his country, and were so captivated by the performance that they took DVDs tapings of it home with them. Moreover, it seems that after they returned home, the same tourists contacted Iranian expats there about starting puppet opera shows in the US. On top of this, there is allegedly a group of Iranians there who are translating the text into English while the unique type of theatre is also gaining fans who have found performances on the internet.

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Gharibpur was quoted by local media saying ‘Staging the Rumi puppet show in the United States will remind Iranian nationals in the US that Persian art and culture is still rich.’

Iran in fact has a long history of puppetry—the hand-controlled dolls are known to have existed in the country for thousands of years. And in more contemporary times, Tehran has been recognized as being the first Asian city to host a puppet show opera, with Rostam and Sohrabbased on the opera composed by a contemporary composer and conductor Loris Tjeknovarianthat debuted at the Ferdowsi Hall in Tehran in 2005.

For me there was one particularly surprising (and appealing) element to puppet opera in Iran that I discovered in a local review earlier this year of one of Gharibpur's shows, titled Molavi. The reviewer gave it high praise overall, recommending the ‘wonderful show’ to ‘everyone who likes poetry, history and performance art or just wishes to see something different and enjoyable.’ And she also pointed out that ‘At the end of the performance all the puppeteers came to the front of the stage, and I was delighted to see that they were almost all young ladies!’