The development of drama in Iran, like cinema, is intertwined with and infl uenced by the political and economic developments in the country. Since cultural and political policies often applied to both of these arts, and had similar consequences for both, the following is a brief presentation of the history and nature of drama in Iran. Modern drama in Iran began in the late 19th century when Iranians educated in the Western countries came back home, translated Western plays into Persian, and promoted modern arts. A series of plays, written by Iranian intellectuals at the time, came to set the tone for thematic of modern drama. For instance, plays written by Mirzâ Fath-‘Ali Âkhundzâdeh in Turkish and published in the Caucasus stimulated Mirzâ Âqâ Tabrizi to write several plays in the 1870s. As was the case at the time, most intellectuals were concerned with the backwardness of Iranian society and the despotic rule of the Qâjârs. These themes fi lled the plays written at the time and strengthened the “critical” aspect of traditional Iranian dramatic expressions. Drama became a medium of social criticism and satire. The most distinguished playwrights of the time included Mortazâqoli Khân Fekri Ershâd Moayyad-ol-Mamâlek, Ahmad Mahmudi Kamâl-ol-Wozarâ, Mirzâdeh ‘Eshqi, and Abo’l-Hasan Forughi. As discussed in the case of cinema, Rezâ Shah’s ascendance to power was accompanied by his desire to modernize the country; thus his support for modern theater. However, his support was conditioned by his intolerance of any criticism of the regime. Plays glorifying pre-Islamic culture, supporting the shah’s modernization plans, promoting nationalism, and critical of traditional superstitious aspects of the culture received support and encouragement from the government. Several examples of this genre include: Sa‘id Nafi si’s Âkherin yâdgâr-e Nâder Shâh (“The Last Memento of Nâder Shah,” 1926) about the glorious memories of victory by an old Iranian soldier who had been in Nâder Shah’s army during the war with Russia; Hasan Moqaddam’s popular comic J a‘far Khân az Farang âmadeh (“Ja‘far Khân Returns from Europe ,” 1922) dealing with confusions arising from encounters between Iranian and European cultures; Zabih Behruz’s Jijak ‘Alishâh (1923); and Sâdeq Hedayat’s Parvin, dokhtar-e Sâsân (“Parvin, Daughter of Sâsân, ” 1930). The “Spring of Freedom,” as the period after Rezâ Shah’s abdication in 1941 was called, saw a revival of drama in Iran. Various political parties and groups used this medium as an instrument for furthering their cause. The most successful effort in this regard was that of ‘Abd-ol-Hosayn Nushin, who had graduated from the Conservatoire de Toulouse and was an active member of the communist Tudeh Party. In 1947, Nushin brought a number of professional actors together to stage modern dramas in Ferdowsi Theater in Tehran. In 1948, Nushin was arrested for his political activities and the Tudeh Party was outlawed. However, his colleagues opened Sa‘di Theater in 1951 and continued to stage Western plays translated into Persian. The 1953 coup d’etat against Mosaddeq resulted in the burning of the Sa‘di Theater and the imprisonment of some of its actors. But none of this could stop political-protest drama in Iran. Over the next decade, when Iranian authorities censored any serious drama with political overtones, the bulk of works translated, adapted, and staged from Western playwrights consisted of critical drama. The role of the Tudeh Party in the 1940s and Iranian leftist intellectuals in the 1950s and 1960s cannot be overstated. The German Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht was one of the strongest Western infl uences on Iranian dramatists prior to the revolution. The return of Mohammad-Rezâ Shah to Iran in 1953 resulted in stricter censorship, thus forcing Iranian dramatists to focus more on techniques than content. By the end of the decade, a number of theaters opened and numerous efforts were made for promoting drama. Yet, two major factors slowed those efforts: censorship and the emergence of Film Fârsi. As urbanization grew and people became more familiar with the modern communication medium, cinema was a much cheaper and more accessible venue for entertainment than theater. In the 1960s, Iranian drama had an experience similar to Iranian cinema: the arrival of a young generation of Iranian graduates from America and Europe with training in new cinema and theater. Under the infl uence of these young playwrights, Iranian drama developed a character of its own. Dramatists staged both foreign and native works. Works of major foreign playwrights, both modern and classical, were translated to Persian and staged. Given the political sensitivities of the authorities to plays with social themes, both classic and modern Western works were easier to stage and in fact many of them were staged by some of the most able Iranian directors. Numerous theater halls opened up in Tehran and other major cities. Even smaller towns lacking theater halls began staging drama in facilities adaptable to occasional performances. Aside from academic departments established for teaching drama in major universities, some high schools encouraged students to develop “drama clubs” for writing, performing, and staging. The decade of the 1970s was one of the most productive periods of drama during the Pahlavi period. Some of the most able and enduring names in Iranian drama performance and directorship started their career in this period. Many are still performing in Iran, even though some have retired and some others have passed away. It is important to note that as the artistic and political dramas increased, the older popular dramas receded to Lâlehzâr, the street in the middle of Tehran where both cinemas and theaters existed. Viewers and audiences at Lâlehzâr were mostly working class and peasant migrants who choose theater purely as an entertainment. Dramas produced in these theaters were often farcical comedies which contained a subtle social criticism or moral tone. Two of the most popular actors in the history of Iranian comedy, who started and continued their careers in this type of drama, were Nosratollâh Vahdat and Esmâ‘il Arhâm Sadr—both later drawn to cinema as well. Tapes of their comedies are still played in private homes, despite the government’s negative view of their works. “Lâlehzâri Drama” was a negative label used by New Wave critics and audiences to refer to these farcical dramas produced for pure entertainment. A major force in the development of drama in this period was the government. The Ministry of Culture and Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University, and the Iranian National Television all established special school, workshop, or festival for drama. Beginning in 1967 the government also sponsored an Arts Festival in the city of Shiraz in order to promote Iranian drama to world community. As the Festival gained more popularity, it attracted avant-garde artists and dramatists. Many Iranian dramatists also renewed traditional forms in newer styles. Nevertheless, all these developments were overshadowed by the continutation of censorship by government authorities and by the harsh treatment of politically motivated artists. Works of several playwrights were banned, and plays that were staged were closed if they generated unexpected stirs in society. Confronted with this ambivalent attitude, just as in cinema, Iranian dramatists developed a shared language, symbolism, and metaphors for themselves. As the language of these dramas become more symbolic and sophisticated, the Iranian theater lost its appeal to commoners and soon became an exclusive domain attended by an educated, and often politically motivated, elite. Exceptions to this were a few plays whose success encouraged their directors to seek a broader audience in cinema. Still, there were dramatists who followed the realist tradition and blended their new ideas and techniques with traditional forms and themes. For instance, ‘Ali Nasiriân’s Bongâh-e te‘âtrâl (“The Theatrical Agency,” 1978) was an adaptation of traditional ruhowzi. Bijan Mofi d’s Shahr-e qesseh (“City of Tales,” 1969), was a satirical portrait of a hypocritical religious cleric presented in a musical form. This was one of the most popular Iranian plays of all times, running for seven years in Tehran before the revolution, and for a while afterward it was broadcast by its admirers from the rooftops of their homes in Tehran in protest against religious leaders. In general, the decade of the 1970s was one of the most productive in the history of Iranian drama. Toward the end of the Pahlavi era, there was a short period of openness which preceded the revolution and lasted about a year afterward until the establishment of the Islamic Republic. During this period, dramatists became responsive to the mood of the time and staged a number of politically motivated plays with much more direct language. Two such dramas were Mahmud Rahbar’s Qânun (“The Law,” 1977) about the abusive and corrupt policies of the government and Farâmarz Tâlebi’s Pâdegân dar shâmgâh (“The Barracks in the Evening,” 1977) which questioned the government’s recruitment of young villagers for confronting political demonstrators. A more interesting and daring project was Sa‘id Soltânpur’s ‘Abbâs Âqâ, kârgar-e Irân Nâsiyonâl (“Abbâs Âqâ, a Worker for the National Iranian [Oil Company]), which was staged in the streets. This period was short lived. Before long, restrictions imposed by the new Islamic government led to a period of decline in drama, accompanied by imprisonment of some political dramatists, forceful retirement or exile of some others. Sa‘id Soltânpur was executed for his political activism, Gholâm- Hosayn Sâ‘edi, Parviz Sayyâd, Parviz Kardân, Bijan and Bahman Mofi d, as well as most actors and actresses, had to fl ee the country to avoid persecution for their allegedly “corrupt” past writings and performances. With the start of the war with Iraq, the country went into a mood of depression and established dramatists had to either quit or continue their work in an “Islamic” manner—something they had to learn. Ironically, the Islamic Republic found performing arts to be an important tool for propaganda. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance provided various forms of support for dramatists who were willing to work within the confi nes of new rules. Young and inexperienced dramatists with Islamic credentials took the stage, while the older and more experienced dramatists waited for a better working environment. As the decade proceeded and rules became clear, the older dramatists began producing works, albeit commensurate to new rules. The 1980s became a transitional period during which dramatists became more cautious, conventional storytelling techniques became more popular, and the experimentations of the previous decade came to an end. Ta‘ziyeh, which had been losing popularity, became important again as a useful means of promoting religious, moral, and national values. The tropes of the ta‘ziyeh were now employed in a variety of dramas and even cinema. This was not done just by Islamic-minded dramatists and filmmakers. The secular filmmaker and dramatist Bahram Bayzâi utilized this type of drama in his Cherikeh-ye Târâ (“Guerilla from Târâ,” 1978) and Mosâferân (“Travelers,” 1992). Recently ‘Abbâs Kiârostami staged a newly-styled ta‘ziyeh presentation in Europe as well. As was the case with cinema, the liberalization policies of the 1990s helped artists fi nd creative ways to express themselves while abiding by the rules. Works produced in the past 15 years can be classifi ed into two types, Islamic and secular. Works produced by Islamic dramatists use drama as a means of promoting religious and moral causes. For instance, Hamid-Rezâ A‘zam’s Shegerd-e âkhar (“The Last Technique,” 1989) utilizes the traditional naqqâli technique to recount the bravery of the youth who fought in the war against Iraq. The secular works are those whose concerns remain social criticism and have a veiled antiestablishment tone. These works are produced either by older dramatists who are still living in the country or the new generation of secular artists trained after the revolution. Some of these still follow the course of development established prior to the revolution. Bayzâi and Akbar Râdi are two of the earlier dramatists who are active and produce new works. Some of the older actors and actresses, like Mahin Oskui, ‘Ezzatollâh Entezâmi, ‘Ali Nasiriân, Pari Sâberi, and Jamshid Mashâyekhi, are still working and have adjusted themselves to the new restrictions. Iranian drama has thus become more varied in its styles of expression. Some dramatists continue to follow the traditional style, and others have remained loyal to the New Wave traditions of the 1960s and 1970s. Alongside urban modern drama, traditional folk drama continues to be performed in rural towns, village fairs, and various national holidays. Recently, the younger graduates of Iranian universities are experimenting with a variety of contemporary theatrical theories and forms. Many have tried using a less textoriented genre and rely on a combination of performing arts such as dance, music, and storytelling. Women now have been incorporated into new plays, albeit fully but creatively covered. Today, as in the past, the major force behind the established theater in Iran remains the government. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has commissioned the Dramatic Arts Center to represent the performing arts on the national and international levels by organizing annual festivals and tours for performances, developing guidelines for state financial and technical assistance to theater, supporting drama schools and groups in the country. The annual Fajr Festival , widely attended by both national and international artists, has become a major vehicle for promotion of drama in the country. Although government grants remain signifi cant for major productions, the majority of over 140 drama groups listed on the main webpage for Iranian theater ( are nonprofi t, and their members support themselves with jobs other than drama. To support dramatists, a new “House of Theatre” was established recently. There are now numerous journals, newsletters, and Web pages dedicated to information about Iranian drama and dramatists.