Modern-day Myanmar , a country once known as Burma, has a rich dramatic tradition. Burmese theater includes animistic performance, Buddhist theater, court dance drama, and popular theater. Dance and music are fundamental in traditional animistic performance, in which nat (spirits) of heroes and ancestors are invoked through trance manifestations during festivals or private séance sessions. Prescribed songs and dance numbers, with ancient, jerky movements, are used to summon thirty-seven specific nat.
Buddhist theater is primarily concerned with jataka, tales of Buddha and his prior lives. Court dance drama was greatly influenced by Siam (present-day Thailand) when Burmese King Hsinbyushin captured the Siam capital of Ayutthaya in 1767. Captured Thai dancers helped to refine the Burmese court theater. This fusion gave rise to a new literary art, with court dance drama performers accorded higher status than that of animistic nat performers.
Popular theater emerged when patronage of court dance drama diminished under British control in the 1800’s. Pya zat (new plays) are modern comedies and dramas with texts by individual authors. Pya zat are popular because they address contemporary issues of modernization and urbanization, topics more appealing to modern audiences.