By Nigar Orujova
President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree to mark the National Theater Day in Azerbaijan and the 140th anniversary of the Azerbaijani professional theater, which has a huge role to play in the revival of the Azerbaijani nation and profoundly reflects its life.
The National Theater Day will be annually celebrated on March 10.
Theater art development in the Azerbaijani culture has a long history which starts with theatrical elements of open-air folk performances, religious ceremonies, ashugs - Caucasian folk poets and singers - playing national instruments and narrating folk epics, traditional Islamic mystery plays, mythology and dervish dances.
Puppet performance traditions in Azerbaijan date back to the Middle Ages. However, professional theater appeared in the late 19th century, which may be linked to historical, social and political conditions.
The secular theater in Azerbaijan is based on comedies of famous Azerbaijani playwright Mirza Fatali Akhundov. This type of theater was established in 1848 in Shusha, in 1850 in Lankaran and 1857-1858 in Shamakhy.
The first Azerbaijani play "Vizier of Lankaran khanate" by Akhundov was staged upon the initiative of Azerbaijani print media founder Hassan-bey Zardabi and dramatist and public figure Najaf-bey Vezirov on March 10, 1873.
Thus, March 10 became the day of the Azerbaijani professional theater establishment.
Another comedy by Akhundov, "Haji Gara", was shown to the audience a month later, in April 1873.
Baku Theater School was opened in 1923 and its students played an important role in the development of the national theater.
The Children's Theater opened in 1929 in Baku. In 1937, the State Theaters were established in some regions of the republic.
However, all the theaters were closed in 1949 except Guba, Ganja and Nakhchivan state theaters. Those theatrical groups worked under the name of "circles of drama" for a long time. In 1958, they continued to work as the people's theaters.
The 1960s marked a new stage in the history of the Azerbaijani theater with staging William Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" play. The achievements of the Azerbaijani theater in that period included joining of new talented young playwrights.
Popular Azerbaijani poet Bakhtiyar Vahabzade's coming to the Academic Drama Theater in 1969 with "Second voice" further enriched the theater's repertoire.
Nabi Khazri, Anar and others' plays staged in the country's theaters brought success and popularity to their authors.
In the 1980s outstanding performances stepped on a new stage of development. During that period, the Azerbaijani theater experienced the process of dramatic improvement in terms of style and genre.
Since the 1990s, plays of modern and classic Azerbaijani writers, Russian and world dramatists were performed in the local theaters.