Puppet theater isn’t just for comedy. When written in a dramatic way, it becomes an artistic paradigm that raises awareness.
In Turkey, when someone says puppet theatre, “Karagöz and Hacivat” is the first thing that comes to mind. The latter are the characters of a shadow play.
According to a general opinion, the Turkish shadow play technique can be traced back from 16th century Egypt. In the 17th century, “Karagoz and Hacivat” appeared.
Karagöz is an uneducated, yet very intelligent, character and Hacivat is educated and gentle. These characters always argue with each other in the play. The comedy factor develops as a result of Karagöz misunderstanding Hacivat. This shadow play takes on topics from real life situations, like neighborhood relationships, marriage rules, social and political criticism etc.
The Karagoz Hacivat play is played as a shadow play on a white screen. The play needs to be enacted in a dark environment in order to work as a shadow game.
Karagoz Hacivat figures are made on a specially crafted translucent leather. The puppets used to be made by mixing camel leather with other natural materials, using various chemical enzymes allowed by the advancement of the technology.
As camel leather is, nowadays, difficult to find, cow leather is usually used instead. The figures are then drawn on the material and painted over the leather. After painting, the contours are drawn with black paint on the edges. When the painting process is finished, the puppet parts are connected to each other with strings and ready to play.
Karagöz and Hacivat are played by a single master who is called the “Hayali”. The Hayali manages all the scenes, in addition to performing imitations and songs. The “Yardak” is Hayali’s assistant. He plays tambourine and gives the puppets to the Hayali.
There are also two important characters in the traditional turkish puppet theater, which are known as İbiş and ihtiyar. Ibis is a cunning, intelligent, talkative character and his speech and movements entertain the audience at the play. İhtiyar represents rich people, and is the boss of İbiş in the play. Other than İbis and İhtiyar, there are characters who have specific personalities in the play.
The subjects are usually improvised in old Turkish puppet theater. Like in regular theater, costumes and decors can also be used for the puppet performance, which can also be exhibited with music.
Enacting puppet plays requires talent. Puppeteers are experts of mimics and movements. They developed new techniques over time, such as Marionette, hand puppet, wearable puppet etc.
In a Marionette, every piece of the puppet is movable. Puppets are connected to the playing table with strings. Hand puppet’s body are worn and controlled by the hand of the puppeteer, whereas its arms are manipulated by the latter’s fingers. The other kind is a wearable puppet. This technique allows puppeteers to wear the puppets and move it from the inside. Wearable puppets can also be bigger than human size.
Puppet theater isn’t just for comedy. When written in a dramatic way it becomes an artistic paradigm that raises awareness. With the advancement of technology, techniques such as “stop motion” have come a long way to become an art form, which is often seen in cinema and television. In Turkey, in terms of education, Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University has a main branch for Puppet and Shadow Play Design. The aim of the branch is to train successful puppet designers.
Nowadays, the puppet art in Turkey is maintained by various puppet and shadow play festivals, theatres and movie screenings.