Cultural politics and theatre: Tabriz and the Nezam-nameh of 1306/1928

Not long after the festive inauguration of the Red Lion and Sun the need for clear regulations concerning theatrical activities led to the formation of a local commission, reportedly on the direct order of Reza Shah. This commission was composed of members from the police and the army (nezamiyan) and of representatives of the performing arts. Their officially stated aim was to strengthen and support local culture, but they were also in charge of supervising performances based on the set of regulations, the Nezam-nameh-ye namayeshha-ye ‘omumi, issued in February 1928 by Hoseyn Sami‘i, minister of the interior and printed in Tabriz at the Matba‘eh-ye Omid.28 While the Nezam-nameh was not restricted to Tabriz, it appears probable - given the proximity to the inauguration of Tabriz’s new theatre and the personal involvement of Reza Shah - that the Red Lion and Sun was both the direct cause of these regulations and presented a test case for the Pahlavi administration.

This Nezam-nameh, one of the many administrative regulations we encounter in the Pahlavi period, dealt with all kinds of popular entertainment. Theatre was treated in the same way as cinema, concerts, public evening receptions, or even conferences (konferansha) and sport events. We realize that the understanding of namayesh as theatre alone is not valid at all; in many instances it simply means public performance. It is also obvious that we are not dealing primarily with a theatre that aims at a small circle of intellectuals, but at a wide “bourgeois” public. All of these public forms of entertainment were defined first on whether they were charging entrance fees or raised money for charities. All of them needed prior permission from the police, the nazmiyeh. The program of the event had to be approved and the text of all plays to be performed on stage had to be submitted beforehand, but there were also minute details and regulations to be found. No visitor was allowed to enter armed or even with a walking stick, actors had to take off their costumes and masks before leaving the venue, the stage permit did not include the license to sell alcoholic drinks, plays had to be terminated before twelve o’clock at night, and overbooking was strongly forbidden. The audience had to be quiet: all obnoxious noise, be it whistling, stamping your feet, clapping hands out of place or any other movements that might be considered disturbing were not permitted. As such regulations do not simply prohibit undesired behaviour, but also reflect already existing or expected misdemeanours, the Nezam-nameh can be read also as a description of common practices and habits. The success of these rules must have been limited: two years later, in one of the more elaborate posters, announcing the play Bara-ye sharaf (“For the Honour”), the need to educate the prospective visitors is still very pronounced: “Since all words and sentences of this play are of full importance and well worth to be listened to, the visitors are kindly asked to take their places after the second bell, so that they are not the cause of disturbance inside the hall and do not deprive others of their enjoyment.”29 Still in the 1930s it was necessary to remind the “honourable gentlemen” to observe the rules inside the hall, to refrain from smoking, from shouting and clapping, and from anything else that would be against the statutes (nezam-nameh) issued by the police office.30 At the same time, the “honourable ladies” were asked not to bring their infants (atfal-e shirkhvar) along.31

No play was to be performed without an official permit. These were issued by the Ministry of the Interior through the local Tabriz branch of the General Office of the Police (Edareh-ye Koll-e Tashkilat-e Nazmiyeh-ye Mamlekati). In one such ejazeh-nameh from 1310/1932 we see that printed forms were already in use which the police simply had to fill out. The permit was issued for the Te’atr-e Jadugar; the applicant and person responsible was the director of the play, Buyuk Khan Nakhjavani, whom we already encountered before. The venue (salon) was the Red Lion and Sun and the piece in the present example was The Dance of the Devil (Raqs-e sheytan) written by Hoseyn Omid. The permit was standardized, other options that could be marked included “Concerts”, “Radio Concerts” and “Balls”.32

For all these permits a complete dossier had to be prepared, including the texts of the plays, if necessary in translation and in several copies.33 Censorship remained ambiguous and worked on various levels. The authorities, mainly the General Office for Publications (Edareh-ye Koll-e Enteba ‘at) at the Ministry of Culture, checked four categories: the artistic (fanni) side, moral (akhlaqi) aspects, general circumstances (moqtaziyat) and, finally, whether there was any offense to religion.34 Sometimes single words were corrected - ahmaq (stupid) to tambal (lazy) - only rarely plays were rejected outright, and then for reasons of quality: “Has no artistic or literary quality, can be neither improved, nor performed.”35 In Tehran, and probably as well in Tabriz, troupes had to sign declarations that - among other conditions - not a single word would be changed during the actual performance and that a loge with three seats would be reserved for the censors. Even if a play had been performed already several times in Tabriz, as was the case with the highly popular Namus, ya dar rah-e ‘eshq, the text of the play had to be submitted once again in Tehran. Mme Tashchiyan, who together with her husband had been among the pioneers of the Armenian theatre in Tabriz, active in the troupe Azariyan, had to go through lengthy discussions with the authorities in Tehran in 1940.36 Censorship was, however, an acknowledged fact and it seems that most directors knew how to deal with it: in 1938 of 51 plays submitted in Tehran, 51 were approved and received the necessary permits. In Eastern

Azerbaijan, three out of a total of sixteen plays were rejected. As we will see later on, this might have less to do with the contents of plays than with the always present language question.37

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