Theater Turkish theater dates back to the dramatic plays of the Turks before they settled in Anatolia. Shamanistic and nativistic ceremonies, rituals held in the name of Gods, the rites of spring and the celebration of harvest, and rituals associated with death and burial, held in the ancient Central Asian civilizations, had all undergone a long process of transformation before they turned into the entertaining plays. In the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, these plays flourished and were displayed in the festivities celebrating weddings, birthdays etc. Meddah (a public storyteller and mimic), Kukla (a type of puppet show), Karagoz-Hacivat (shadow theater) and Ortaoyunu (a kind of open air theater) are the leading styles of traditional Turkish folk theater. The Turkish puppet show, which has ancient Eastern origins, continued to develop until the end of the nineteenth century.

The Meddah emerged from the integration of the tradition of storytelling which existed in the Turkish cultures of Central Asia and certain elements of Islamic culture. It took its final form in the sixteenth century. The Ortaoyunu, the most developed type of traditional Turkish theater which has similarities with the Italian people's theater commedia dell'arte of the Renaissance period, had its golden age at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, the Ortaoyunu competed with the Western style theater which made its appearance following the Tanzimat period which started in 1839.

Whereas the Ortaoyunu had a story which spontaneously developed during the performance and had no written text, Western style theater introduced the written script. Original Turkish plays, adaptations and translations from foreign playwrights appeared only then. Theater buildings were built in many districts of Istanbul, in Ciragan, Yildiz and Dolmabahce palaces and in cities such as Izmir, Bursa and Adana and many private theater groups were formed. A conservatory (Darulbedayi-i Osmaniye), which was established in Istanbul in 1914, influenced the development of Turkish theater which was at the preparation stage. However, the first significant contribution to transform the legacy of the Ottoman theater into a truly contemporary one came during the early Republic Period from the director Muhsin Ertugrul, who was appointed as the head of the Darulbedayi in 1927. Muhsin Ertugrul laid the foundation stones of contemporary Turkish theater by staging the great classical plays of the West, his encouragement of Turkish playwrights, his outstanding abilities as a director and teacher and his theatrical genius. The Darulbedayi , which became attached to the Mayoral Office of Istanbul in 1931, was renamed as the Istanbul City Theater in 1934. Turkey's first children's theater was also established in the Istanbul City Theater with the initiatives of Muhsin Ertugrul in 1935.

Meanwhile, the Ankara State Conservatory was opened in 1936 and its first graduates started regular performances at the Tatbikat Sahnesi (the Application Stage) in 1941. The law for establishing the State Theater and Opera as a public corporate body was passed by the Grand National Assembly in 1949. The State Theater, which has been a General Directorate connected to the Ministry of Culture since 1970, increased the number of its provincial directorates in the 1980s and reached almost every theatergoer throughout Turkey. The twelve provincial centers, namely Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Adana, Trabzon, Diyarbakir, Antalya, Erzu-rum, Van, Sivas and Konya, organize regular tours in their regions every month. The State Theater, also organizes tours such as Children's Plays Festivals and Great Anatolian Tours, every year and performs in all 80 provinces, 62 counties and various villages. Since the mid-1990s the State Theater has been staging more than 125 plays per year in the 32 theaters it operates, 9 of which are in Ankara and 4 each are in Istanbul, Izmir and Bursa. Moreover, the foundation of another theater house, namely the 75th Year Theater Complex was laid in May 1998, due to 75th anniversary celebrations of the Republic. It is currently under construction in Ankara.

There are also the "City Theaters" which are supported by the municipalities in many provinces. The Istanbul City Theater, the oldest of the municipal theaters in Turkey, stages almost 20 different plays every year in five theaters in various districts of Istanbul and the Open Air Theater attracts large audiences during the summer months.

A total of 60 percent of the annual play repertoire of the state and municipal theaters, which had the leading role in developing theatrical arts in Turkey, consists of domestic plays; the rest are foreign classical and contemporary plays. Both the state and municipal theaters benefit from state funds which enable them to keep ticket prices low, so that the theaters can reach a larger audience.