What a coincidence On June 10th, 2013, Yeni Şafak, a…

What a coincidence 

On June 10th, 2013, Yeni Şafak, a pro-government Turkish newspaper came out with the main headline ‘WHAT A COINCIDENCE’. Under the headline it said ‘New information has come to light that the Gezi Park Protests which have been turned into a civil coup attempt, were plotted: With the support of a UK based agency, the protests were rehearsed for months, in the play called ‘Mi Minör’ which was staged in Istanbul.’ The sub-headline was ‘First on stage then in Taksim’ and under that, there was a photo from the play and below was the poster of the play which had my picture on it.

Mi Minör was a theatre play, written by Meltem Arikan in which a Role Playing Game that could be played by both online and in-house audiences, was integrated into the live performance. The show was live streamed and online audiences could influence the action as much as the in-house audience. I was the director and the co-lead of the play. The female lead was Pinar Ogun. (We are married by the way.)

The play was set in a country called Pinima that had been ruled by The President for god knows how many years. The action of the play took place when The Pianist suddenly became aware of the oppression in her country after the police banned her piano. The audience could choose to play the ‘President’s Freedom in a Box deMOCKracy game‘ or support the Pianist’s rebellion against the system.

48 days after the last performance, on June 1st, 2013, the protests that had started in Gezi Park became a nationwide uprising in Turkey. The Turkish Government claimed the protests weren’t about protecting trees, but evidence of an international conspiracy of secret powers planning a coup.

During and after the Gezi Park protests the distinction between art and reality broke down as the political situation in Turkey began to resemble the absurdist world of Pinima. We, the creative team, were accused by government officials and pro-government media of being the ‘architects’ of the uprising as part of an international conspiracy to launch a coup against the government, and the play ‘a rehearsal’ for the events that started in Gezi. The subsequent hate campaign forced us to fear for our lives and to leave the country.

When I was asked to contribute with a blog that ‘explores freedom of expression and power of theatre’ I remembered the press conference I had to make after the aforementioned newspaper came out with the headline about our play. After categorically refuting all the absurd allegations about myself, the creative team and the play, I thanked the newspaper for taking theatre so seriously and for believing that a theatre play can be a driving force for such a large scale social phenomenon. Whether theatre still has that ‘power’ to ‘affect change in the social and political landscape’ or not is a question most theatre-makers ask themselves or discuss with one another. We give examples from Shakespeare and how he affected change, we talk about 1920s Berlin and then most of the time we come to the conclusion that our time is not the same and affecting change in the social and political landscape is very limited, if possible at all. Nevertheless, we never stop trying, we start working on a new project hoping to affect change. When I thanked the newspaper it was, of course, an irony, but now I think that their headline was perhaps a reminder, that we must revive our faith in our art form which is still being seen as a threat by the ones who don’t want change.

Director and actor in Mi Minor, Memet Ali Alabora will be on the panel of Shakespeare Under the Radar in which we celebrate daring artists who stage Shakespeare expressly to challenge political authority.