Karagkiozis Shadow Theatre

Shadow theatre is a theatrical performance (either comic or dramatic) enacted by a master puppeteer (karagkiozopaichtis) and his assistants, who manipulate flat articulated cut-out figures (shadow puppets) and scenographic effects aided by the interplay of light and shadow, dialogues, dances and songs.
A performance of Greek shadow theatre constitutes an exceptionally artful combination of many expressive means. The scenarios draw their inspiration from a wide range of sources: stories form everyday life, narratives influenced by mythology, fairy tales, legends or traditions, historical or heroic works, but also works that have been motivated by world art (theatre, cinema, literature etc.). These scenarios (approximately 600 have been documented, not including their variations) are anchored in a core idea leaving plenty of room for improvisation.
The main character, Karagkiozis, is a shabby and famished man, ugly, illiterate and penniless, but at the same time good-natured, cunning and defiant. Other characters are Hadjiavatis (cajoler and compromising, who always maintains good relations with authority and often tries to help his friend Karagkiozis), Kollitiris, Kopritis or Svouras or Scorpios and Mpirikokos or Mirikogkos or Pitsikokos (Karagkiozis’ three sons who imitate their father’s trickery and knavery), Aglaia or Karagkiozaina (Karagkiozis’ wife, his life partner in poverty, but not in mischief), Sior-Dionysios or Nionios (a courteous, downfallen aristocrat from Zakynthos), Barbayorgos (Karagkiozis’ uncle, who represents the noble and brave Greek man who does not mince words even when it comes to his own nephew), Stavrakas (who pretends to be a spiv – mangkas, but deep down is a coward), Solomon (a wealthy Jewish merchant), Morphonios (a conceited and love-struck wimp), Pashopoula, Vezyropoula or Beopoula (daughter of the Pasha, the Vizier or the Bey respectively), Pasha or Vizier (who represents authority) and Veligkekas or Dervenagas or Peponias (a person who enforces obedience to authority).
There are many other characters that appear or parade behind the white screen (berdès), depending on the needs of each play, which are associated either with a specific performance or mythical and historical figures. Moreover, various animals, a large number of scenographic devices as well as a range of scenery sets are involved. Normally a skilful Karagkiozis puppeteer is in possession of more than 1.000 puppets. The diversity of the characters and their ethno-local dimension endow the spectacle with a multicultural dimension. The music, either live or recorded, also plays a pivotal role.
The person who contributed above all others to the integration of shadow theatre into the local tradition in Greece was the cantor from Patras, Dimitrios Sardounis, alias Mimaros, who imparted to Karagkiozis some of his main attributes. With these changes the spectacle acquired not only a Greek character, since it was associated with the Greek history and tradition, but was transformed into a popular theatre intended for families.
Until the advent of cinema and television the art of shadow theatre had a very large audience that participated actively in the performances and had a say in the way the stories were developed, thus turning shadow theatre into a popular creation. Later, it was associated with very young people, was introduced into schools and, through television mainly, changed into a show for children. However, over the last years adult audience is gradually attracted to Karagkiozis.
The growing interest of the scientific community in Karagkiozis has contributed to the growing popularity of shadow theatre, since during the past years its study has been intensified. The influence of shadow theatre is manifest in various ways not only in neo-Hellenic comedy, but generally in modern cultural creation.