Week 3

Write about the difference between how the reporter (in voice over) narrates the Ta’ziyeh and how the participants (whose faces are seen) explain what we see.  Also, at the very end one of the actors tells the viewers  “this is not entertainment.”  Why does he make that distinction? If it is not entertainment, then what is it?

The reporter and the participants of the ta’ziyeh performance profiled in the news clip look at ta’ziyeh in very different ways. While the performers feel a deep emotional connection to the work and their role in it, going so far as to call the entire experience transformational, the reporter treats the production as just that–a production. This points to a greater disconnect between the Iranian performers and spectators and Western onlookers about the nature of ta’ziyeh: while outsiders attempt to compare it to a nonexistent Western analogue, those immersed in the action see it for what it truly is–a performance-based religious experience that unifies the Shiite people in sorrow and healing.

The Western reporter in the news clip describes the ta’ziyeh performance in question in Western terms, comparing it to an opera. They note that it is an annual tradition, that various plotlines are performed on different days, that different productions can have varying degrees of production value, and that it is a well-loved and popular tradition in Iran. But unlike many of the scholarly articles we read on ta’ziyeh, the reporter chooses to focus only on the optics–they take the production at “face value,” so to say, instead of taking a deeper look at the impact ta’ziyeh has had on the Shiite people, and Iranians in particular. They made no mention of the evolution of ta’ziyeh over time, or how modern events can influence acting, costumes, or other components. This is not inherently something hard to do, even in a short time span.

Thankfully, the report lets the Iranian actors and spectators share some of this side of the story. The most poignant moment of the video lies in one actor saying that when he puts on his costume, he feels completely transformed, like his mortality has dissipated. Actor transformations are nothing new to the world of theatre (one has to have only the most basic of knowledge about Method and Stanislavsky to know that), but the part about losing mortality is different. Ta’ziyeh is meant to be a transcendental experience for both actor and audience, and the bond they both feel to each other and to the story goes beyond anything in Western theatre or performance. One actor noted that ta’ziyeh was “not entertainment,” which speaks to this idea. “Entertainment” conjures up images of fun, vacuous enjoyment, occasional emotional movement, and temporary experience. Ta’ziyeh is much more than that: it is wholly engrossing, transcendental, and remains permanent in the memory of actors and spectators alike. There is nothing truly like it.

One thought on “Week 3

  1. Hi Allie,
    This is an excellent response that hinges on the reporter’s inability to engage with what transpires in front of her and mark its contextual difference and indeed, as you point out, how it circulates in a different economy. The performance is meant to manifest a ritual, a coming together of community who is obligated to commemorate and mourn a historical event like it was happening in the here and now. There is no real “audience” for Ta’ziyeh. Instead those who gather to watch could have contributed in some way to the event, and they also come because their expressive lamentations complete the event – they are what performance studies scholar Dwight Conquergood called “co-performative witnesses.” The event is not “authored” by a single composer as it is in opera — and it while it is engaging, it is designed to pass time as an amusement (as you note the way in which the term entertainment operates in everyday discourse). The narrator attempts to put this “exotic” discovery into the category of theater – but theater as the West knows it, and performance that can be consumed by outsiders as an exotic specimen, referenced in their own terms which don’t give space to significant difference. For Ta’ziyeh isn’t theater as it operates in the west. It has many theatrical and immersive elements, but it is a coperformative ritual that depends on many theatrical conventions. This category is not recognized as ‘theater’ by Western standards. But N’gugi Wa Thiong’o also wrote that western frameworks of theater allow it to become a commodity, detached from communal beliefs and the geography from which it emerges in order to extract monetary value from the work. Those terms don’t get challenged in the narration. And so your observation that the narrator doesn’t understand the stakes of mortal transcendence here makes sense. Because that has been evacuated from representational commercial theater.


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