Farideh Shirjian

In Mirror Of Stage

Have you ever considered position of philosophy in your works of art?

What you are reading now is a report on a personal theatrical research that was started in April 2009, and has been thriving meticulously and with a cautious approach to some theatre pieces at the most professional centre, City Theater Complex.

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The main subject of the research is the philosophical position of the human being in Iranian plays. It is fascinating that there is similarity between theatre and philosophy. What draws attention is that both are headed towards one destination, although they move in two different directions.
1. Philosophy tries to provide a definition for humanity and the universe. In theatre, playwrights and directors confront two human communities, the performance group and audiences, as well as endeavor to reach a comprehensive and precise definition for case and position of the human being on stage which symbolizes the universe.
2. The first and the most indicative theatre theoretician has been the philosopher Aristotle and his famous book called Poetics.

We are able to classify playwrights in three groups throughout the history of the theatre:
1. Playwrights who have enjoyed most the philosophical theories of their period.
2. Playwrights who have had their own special and independent philosophical attitude (philosopher artists).
3. Philosophers who have authored plays instead of writing theoretically philosophical texts (artist philosophers).
The companionship of philosophy and theatre is not limited to the content of the works of art, themes and messages. It shows itself in the form and details of the works such as: setting and plot, language, characterization, type of conflict, etc.

Most Iranian theatre artists and professors on mass media, during seminars and conferences, state that the shortfalls in the theater halls, budget and weak management, are the biggest problems of Iranian theatre. According to the author, even if such problems are solved, Iranian theatre will still remain problematic, because one of the most crucial problems of Iranian theatre is its separation and alienation from philosophy especially the Eastern and Islamic philosophy. Iranian society is one where Islamic philosophy and religion are deeply rooted. Although throughout Iran’s history these two have sometimes gone far from their original content and application, history proves that not only every social movement, motion and popular revolution have occurred through them, but also that all forms of traditional plays (in performance and text) have been inspired by them—for example Naghali, Mareke, Tazieh. 

In the Iranian theatrical history we can find only one group (National Art Group) who could generate some distinct and stable works based on Iranian dramatic tradition and its cultural characteristics, while introducing elements of Western Theater. 
The group enjoyed forms and techniques of the eastern and Iranian theatre more than thoughts and ideology of eastern and Islamic philosophy. Whereas form and content were matched together in the past; the two representative and excellent examples of this harmony can be seen in the works of Mareke and Tazieh. Speaking about Iranian theatre is indebted to their effort, but the mission hasn't been completed yet and other endeavors must be undertaken in order to reach further development in different domains. 

Today, most of the works played on stage, either original texts or translated ones, do not have roots in thoughts and life of Muslim and Iranian audiences, and are often conflicting. For instance, in Islamic philosophy, the human being is the greatest creature of God, but for instance in one of the plays of Samuel Becket you encounter a human character living in a garbage bin. Moreover, the word "wait" in Islamic philosophy is so meaningful and so different from the connotation of wait in the play "Waiting for Godot”. Some Iranian artists have performed it several times because of its popularity and reputation in the theatre world but they have never noticed that there is a huge difference between the connotations of the word “wait” in these two philosophies. Plays by Iranian playwrights (apart from a few considerate works) usually lack strong philosophical insight.

Normally, there are some reasons for such phenomenon, and one of them is described in this article. It seems that in the societies which are socially and politically changeable critical conditions and social subjects are more attractive and essential so that artists are interested in them and focus on them more. Therefore Philosophical discourse remain academic: as theory in books, seminars, conferences and universities, and is hardly incorporated into the practice of artistic works. It remains vague or dormant under layers of works that may have appeared occasionally in some works, once every 10-20 years.

Generally, fundamental and philosophical discourse may be discussed in societies in which there is calm and tranquility. How can we expect from an artist to discuss the human status in the world while his/her society (his/her country or neighboring countries — and even sometimes both of them) are increasingly involved at every moment in problems such as civil or foreign wars, political tension, ignorance, historical neglect and forgetfulness, modern slavery and consumerism which reinforced by mass media, and when his/her position in the country is unknown and unsteady?

I came to this conclusion while I was comparing contemporary theatre of Iran with contemporary theatre of India after 1992; as both of countries have experienced similar circumstances. The repetition of some terms such as revolutionary changes, exploitation, identity, colonization, colony and boycott in theatrical texts, particularly in Nemichandra Jain's books and articles, gives readers the impression that they are reading social rather than theatrical books.

In recent years, the tendency to use the comedy genre to help in the forgetting of problems by writing plays with familial subjects that imitate western and translated plays is a sign of the decline in subject matter within Iranian theatre. The position and role of family in Iranian society are very different from those in American and European societies. Nevertheless, Iranian playwrights imitate American and European works without any attention to this matter or to the role of the spectator in Iranian theatre. In my point of view this topic deserves further research.