Although formal European-style theatre was unknown to Arab and Ottoman audiences before the 19th century, folk performances were not.
Sufi and Shi’ite groups put on performances during religious festivities that involved religious dances accompanied by songs and music, and folk theatre (shadow and puppet theatre) side-shows provided entertainment for younger participants of the festivities. When drama and opera theatres began to appear in Arab and Ottoman lands in the second half of the 19th century, they were built by the elite for the elite. The first attempts to stage classical European dramas were commenced by Jurji Abyad (Lebanon) and his troupe. His theatre opened in 1912 with Oedipus
, translated into Arabic by Lebanese colleagues Farah Antun and Khalil Mutran respectively. Palatial theatres in the Ottoman context were inaugurated in Yıldız (1859) and Dolmabahçe (1889). The Azbakiyya Theatre was founded in 1867, followed shortly after by the Cairo Opera House in 1868.