by Ray Sikorski
ISTANBUL, TURKEY – “In live theater you can see the eyes of the audience, you can feel the excitement, ” says Turkish actor/writer/director Fikret Seditoglu. “When I first walk on the stage, my body is shaking. But after a couple of minutes, I feel comfortable. The audience becomes my family, and I feel at home.”
Seditoglu emits a warmth that gives the sense that he’s at home or part of the family anywhere, even if his name isn’t known in many homes here in Istanbul. Despite having produced eight plays in this cosmopolitan metropolis, he isn’t expecting audiences to start lining up anytime soon.
“There are lots of plays, but no audience,” he says. “Turkish theater is almost dying. Especially if there are no famous actors in a performance, there is almost no audience in the theater.”
To the 27-year-old Seditoglu, the problem is as simple and as difficult as the conundrum that is modern Turkey: the few who frequent theater are the Europhile elite – educated, secular, and, according to Seditoglu, disdainful of Turkishness. The Turkish masses, on the other hand, can’t relate to plays by Europeans.
“The plays about Turkish and Islamic culture, and the plays written by Turkish writers, have been ignored,” he says. “Always the people want to see Shakespeare or European plays – Moliere, Anton Chekov, Cervantes. They don’t prefer Turkish writers’ plays because they see those plays as basic, simple theater. Naturally, the audience wants to see people who are like themselves, but you cannot see the people who are like yourself, so you don’t want to see the play. So you’ve been separated from the theater.”
Considering that he’s describing his fate as that of perpetual obscurity, Seditoglu displays a disarming nonchalance. His one positive take on the Turkish theater scene is that new plays by Turkish writers do manage to make it to the stage.
“They are creative.” he says of the diligent crop of young writers and directors, “Although they don’t have big audiences, it’s not always the same old, same old. They can produce new things.”
While live theater is his first love — he studied at Istanbul University’s arts conservatory and teaches acting on the side – Seditoglu has been dabbling in television and film with the hopes of making enough money to finance more plays. His latest film project, still in the idea stages, is a divergence from his usual comedies – a historical epic about the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Naturally, a movie requiring a cast of thousands will require some serious funding, but Seditoglu isn’t interested in kowtowing to get it made.
“Everything except Islam and the country is not important for me. So don’t ask me to leave my principles.” he says. “If you can be successful on your own, good for you. But this is hard, without serving anyone.”
In fact, rather than succumb to the elite to gain a little fame, some of his work criticizes that system.
“When things are going on and you’re just watching, not doing anything to correct the wrong things in life, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I have to correct some wrong things.”
(This interview was conducted with the help of translators Osman Gokce and Tugrul Ozsahin.)
Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana, and is currently traveling in Turkey, wondering if he can find someplace where they sell peanut butter.