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the ottoman popular theater-in-the-round.

Sometimes described as "karagöz come to life," Ortaoyunu has frequently been compared to the com-media dell'arte because of its improvisational character. An urban entertainment, it was traditionally an open-air presentation performed by an all-male cast in a space encircled by the audience (women separated from men). Performances also were presented in taverns, palaces, and eventually theaters. Scenery was minimal: a chair or table to indicate a shop or booth, and one or two folding screens painted to represent a building, a forest, and so on.

A small group of folk musicians supplied music for dancers who appeared before the main presentation. This was followed by a burlesque dialogue between the two main characters, Pişekâr and Kavuklu, who correspond closely to the shadow play figures Hacivat and Karagöz, respectively. The play might be chosen from the special ortaoyunu repertory or, like karagöz, retell the plot of a well-known romance (Leyla and Mecnun, Ferhat and Şirin, etc.). The presentation was always open in form, however, and rather than a plot, might offer various scenes that entertained while imparting a human or political message.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the improvisational aspect of ortaoyunu inspired the tuluât theater, but attempts (including the staging of Western plays) failed to preserve the Turkish theater-in-the-round as a viable form of entertainment.


Halman, Talât Sait. Modern Turkish Drama: An Anthology of Plays in Translation. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1976.

kathleen r. f. burrill