Counterpoints to these Western theatrical views are the performance traditions of Islamic cultures themselves, including not only the various forms of South Asian performance and Iranian Ta’ziyeh, which have received much scholarly attention over the past thirty years, but also Arabic and Middle Eastern performance traditions, which have received far less attention.
In such sources as Don Rubin’s World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre, Volume 4: The Arab World, Victor H. Mair’s Painting and Performance, Metin And’s Drama at the Crossroads: Turkish Performing Arts Link Past and Present, East and West, or Mohamed Aziza’s Formes Traditionnelles du Spectacle, one can trace aspects of the complex history and present existence of indigenous and Western-influenced performance forms across the south shore of the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East, from Morocco to Iran. Most of these genres express an Islamic perspective. Whatever the nation, one sees in nearly every country the persistent presence of a few particular performance forms: al-hakawati solo storytelling, khayal al-zhi shadow theatre, various picture performance techniques (tamāthīl in Egypt, sandūq al-‘ajā’ib in Arabia, parda-zan in Iran), and numerous versions of puppet theatre (Aragoz in Egypt, for example, or the Abderrazak marionette theatre of Tunisia).
How do Westerners understand these genres, and what might such understandings do to our general sense of performance in Islamic societies? In the modern western studies of South, Southeast, and East Asian genres (in Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and other religious contexts) an essential element has been an understanding of particular aesthetic codes: rasa for Sanskrit drama; yugen and hana for Noh drama; alus and kazar for wayang; or the sense of “literal time,” “representational time,” and “non-time” which William O. Beeman has articulated in terms of Ta’ziyeh.
How might Westerners pursue these leads in order to enlarge their sense of performance in both specific and broader cultural contexts of Islam, particularly the performance traditions of Middle Eastern and Arabic cultures? A big problem standing in the way is The Drama, in its generally accepted Western mode as realistic, text-based actors’ theatre.