Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Ayse Ulu: striving for a place in theater (or theatre) as a woman in a patriarchal society

In Artist Spotlight on November 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Submitted photo of Ayse Ulu

Submitted photo of Ayse Ulu

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – There is a soft-spoken intensity about Ayşe Ulu, a 19-year-old Turkish acting student. With only inches between us, her eyes seek out mine and never look away.

This has always been Ulu’s way. She was 13 in her home town of Izmit when she saw her first play. She sat in the front row, but it was as if she was in the play itself.

“I was trying to see their eyes – eye contact, always,” she says. “I was right in the scene – I feel it. When they smile, for example, it’s just as if they look at me and smile for me. I was feeling like one of them, on the stage. But I’m doing nothing, only watching.”

Afterwards, she told the actors how much she enjoyed their performance, and they invited her to watch them rehearse. This was the start of her love for theater – a passion that marked her so indelibly that the fabric between the stage and real life wore down to mere threads. At first, Ulu was more than pleased to become the souffleur, or prompter, because it meant playing every role in the performance.

“You have to know all the text, and you must be interested in all,” she says. “And I don’t want to take only one part of it. I was in all the play.”

Now a student of Guidance and Psychological Counseling at Istanbul’s Bosphorous University, Ulu hopes her training as actress will help her control the strong emotions that come naturally to her.

“I will be a counselor and some people will come to me with their problems, and I shouldn’t cry with them,” she says, laughing. “Maybe theater will educate me in this way.”

Since my own experience with acting classes in America was quite the opposite – I wanted to learn how to bring out emotions I naturally suppressed – I asked her if this was common in Turkey.

“It is common,” she says. “For all people interested in theater.”

The primary difference between theater in Turkey and America, she says, is the culture of theater-going. Whereas in America it’s not unusual for parents to take children to plays, in Turkey entertainment revolves squarely around the T.V. set. This, combined with low wages, results in a theater scene that has little support, even at a prestigious university such as Bosphorous.

“We can’t study on a real stage, we are studying in a classroom. You have to prepare posters, but you can’t have enough,” she says. “And people hear but can’t come – again, economic reasons.”

Added to that is the pressure a woman actress has in a patriarchal society. Ulu says that Turkey’s conservative culture often interferes with the intent of the play.

“On stage, you should kiss a man because it’s your role, but people think this is not good – ugly things, you can’t show these kind of things. And women should wear more clothes.”

Adding to her frustration is the lack of respect that women actresses and directors are often shown in comparison to men. She keeps her acting classes a secret even from her parents.

“I will have a good job, and I will have a husband, I will have a good life, get good money, have children, they want grandchildren,” she says of her parents’ expectations. She contrasts that with the intensity of performance.

“This is the best thing – trying to show people what you feel,” she says. “No other thing tests me. Only theater gives that feeling to me.”

Ray Sikorksi 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.

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Fikret Seditoglu: keeping Turkish theater (or theatre) alive

In Artist Spotlight on November 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Photograph of Fikret Seditoglu by Ray Sikorski

Photograph of Fikret Seditoglu 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.