Storyteller Theatre: Oral Literature Meets Performing Culture – a Middle Eastern Case

in Matters of Telling: The Impulse of the Story

Abstract

In the Islamic world where theatre has not developed as an independent art form, its orality has helped redress this imbalance by finding room for itself among the performing arts. Turkish meddah developed in accordance with the rules of nomadic life between the 11th and 19th centuries from the storyteller to one-man theatre. Absorbing the Central Asian shaman, singer of tales ozan (Tur.), Arabic maddah and the epic tradition of Persian Shahname, it has also gradually assimilated theatrical and dramatic elements. As an art form it combines orality with Turkish popular theatre. Books called ‘name’ (in Persian), like Battalname and Shahname, were spread orally and formed the basis of the repertoire of storytellers, as had been practised for centuries. This phenomenon reflects the complex interrelations between the ‘oral’ and ‘written’ culture models. Storytelling, when viewed as a narrative performance, has developed its position in contemporary European off-theatre and has successfully proved itself in the arena of intercultural and interdisciplinary projects. In the context of the Altaic and Middle Eastern oral traditions, the performing potential of storytelling art offers an example of a model of performance that provides equality between the performer and the audience. This chapter is the result of the personal experience of its author as a storyteller of Polish Storytellers Association ‘Grupa Studnia O’ (founded in 1997 in Poland, Warsaw), starting from academic research and on to the storytelling practice on the intercultural border between Occident and Orient.

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