Azerbaijani theatre found one of its earliest expressions in the classic Navruz comedic act consisting of two characters, Kos-Kosa and Kechel. The banter features a consistent storyline and dramatic overtones, exaggerated all the more by the costumes and masks worn by the actors.
Modern Azerbaijani theatre began to take shape in the latter half of the 19th century. The first professional performance in the Azerbaijani language - Vizier of Lankaran Khanate, written by Mirza Fatali Akhundovas – was staged in Baku in March 1873. The show was so popular that it was followed a month later by a second play, written by the same playwright and entitled Haji Gara. Following the success of these early performances, many aspiring playwrights began to present their works not only in the capital, but in provincial towns such as Nukha, Ganja, Shamakhi and Nakhchivan.
The Azerbaijani theatrical repertoire consisted of local plays as well as Russian and Western classics. Azerbaijani theatre became the staging ground for new ideas and was used as a platform to speak against religious fanaticism and injustice. Under Russian governance, it also reflected many of the revolutionary ideas reaching Azerbaijan from the north.
While the nation was under Soviet rule, all Azerbaijani theatres were nationalized and their plays put under strict censorship. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, local theatre took a more open stance to new ideas. In 1989, Vagif Ibrahimoglu created YUĞ Theatre as a space for experimenting with revolutionary approaches, including deconstruction of the script, psychoanalytical styles of acting, the denial of Aristotelian drama and formal logic, and the use of anesthetics drawn from Sufism. Other experimental groups soon followed a similar course.
At present, there are 27 state theatres in Azerbaijan, including 11 drama theatres, State Puppet Theatre, State Pantomime Theatre and Marionette Theatre. There is also a growing private theatre industry that is not financed by the government which continues to seek new means of expression while remaining financially independent. Every year, Azerbaijani theatre is celebrated nationwide on March 10th, known as the Day of Theatre.