Kind of dream time
Due to this worldwide health crisis the performing arts have come to a standstill almost everywhere. This affects not only the work of the artists, but also that of the art critics. However, change creates opportunities. Suppose you could use this time of contemplation to think up a number of things: What changes in the role of art criticism (in relation to the performing arts) would be desirable? Could the international performing arts festivals play a role in this? And what do you hope to get more time and publishing opportunities for in the future as a critic?
It was a kind of dream time: in recent years, Turkey has had a livelier theatre scene than ever before. As a critic who writes weekly theatre reviews, I went to at least one show every week. Then the coronavirus entered the country. The next day, theatres closed their doors. I was feeling empty.
A few days later, an announcement popped up on Instagram. One of the most creative playwrights of recent years was reporting a series of plays called 'At Home' that would be performed live on Instagram. He wrote eight plays, rehearsed with actors remotely, and we watched the plays on screen.
On opening night, as one of the solo audience members of the show, I was watching the 10-minute play with a different kind of excitement in my heart, on my balcony with my phone in my hand. This play was the subject of my column post, that week… And quickly, different theatre companies continued the trend with similar works.
This is the short story of suddenly being a digital play critic … I've been in another kind of dream ever since. Obviously, it was a dark dream that started with surreal effects for me, as it did for the whole world. And then, quickly and in a way that I never expected, this dream turned into a strange and promising beauty.
In Turkey, hundreds of independent theatre companies produce various works, mainly in Istanbul. The only income they earn is from the box office. They do not have state support or local funding. In other words, digital theatre initiatives are the works they carry out free of charge. Perhaps the most important point to be discussed after the theoretical phase of digital theatre discussions is income modelling. With the start of the outbreak, theatre companies, audiences and critics like me found themselves on a path they had never walked before. The tenth day of the pandemic in Turkey was March 27, World Theatre Day.
I finished the short video they wanted me to shoot for the celebration with this sentence: 'Theatre actors found their way even in the most difficult conditions; I have no doubt that by getting stronger, they will come out of this disaster with brand new forms, and creative ideas.'
It is gratifying to see that I was not mistaken in the intervening time. These days, I find myself in the audience of a new digital play every week. At first, I was watching the local and international plays, which opened their archive of recordings, from the screen with pleasure, even though the number of plays in Turkey that have been professionally archived is very limited. And then companies really opened up new ways.
For example; we met 20 audience members through the Zoom application in a play called Map to Utopia, a co-production of Platform Theater from Istanbul and Fringe Ensemble from Bonn. Accompanied by an application on our mobile phones designed for plays, we found ourselves becoming storytellers by having meetings with audiences/participants in Zoom's rooms. As an audience in another play, I took on the task of reading the subtitles on the screen and reading the lines out loud!
Thanks to these local companies putting me into a new digital play experience every time, I felt that my criticism process was enriched during the pandemic period.
Do I need to talk about the luxury of watching old or new plays by significant companies from all over the world, from the Globe (to which I’ve never been able to go) to the Berliner Ensemble, in my own home? I’ve gone from a routine of running from play to play, to the comfort of watching them on my sofa.
So what does this mean for a critic?
I know myself that I get most of the pleasure from a play by following the crew rushing to prepare offstage before the next act.
The feeling of witnessing the live and the only once and being there, of course, is not possible on the screen. Besides, theatre itself is a totality of sensations. The feeling growing inside you after leaving the venue is one you will not find in any other activity. Festivals are completely different… One of the losses of this summer…
So how will it be after this? I follow the discussions about the connection of theatre with digital media. Even though many of the articles I have read state that it will never be as it was before, I’m holding on to my belief that this art, which has brought people together for thousands of years, will resist and that I will watch the plays I will review live.
Still, there is a lot to learn and create together. This can be a variety of outdoor shows or plays to watch from cars or balconies. Or digital experiments that will surprise us…
Peter Brook has a saying I like: 'Like the fish in the ocean, we need one another's devouring talents to perpetuate the sea bed's existence. However, this devouring is not nearly enough: we need to share the endeavour to rise to the surface.’ I realize once again that Brook is right. The existence of the theatre is as vital for the critics as the existence of critics is for the theatre.
I see this disaster as an imperative opportunity to think and produce together. This time, we really need each other if we are to surface. On the other hand, I consider the time I saved in a concrete way as an opportunity to read more theoretically and to watch many plays I missed, on the screen.
I think that as festivals, which make a lively contribution to the development of the theatre, you can add new stones to the structure even if they are online.
Festivals can bring together different production ideas from all over the world by acting as platforms, and can strengthen the relationship between critics and actors.
With the pandemic, more internet conversations, live broadcasts, interviews, workshops and plays have been held on the topic of theatre than ever before. Both independent companies and institutional theatres are organising online meetings and talks. All this provides the opportunity to evaluate today, so as to have more knowledge and to better prepare for the future.
This is a quiet period for theatres, quieter than during wartime, for all of us. But fortunately, there are those who strive to dispel silence.
I wish to wake up from this strange dream to a morning where we feel more vigorous than before.
If you could choose any production or artist from the initial Holland Festival 2020 programming to write about, or meet the artist, who/what would that be and why?
I chose two productions from your line-up. The first one is a play I would like to write about: Drei Schwestern, produced by Münchner Kammerspiele and directed by Susanne Kennedy. I would like to think about the director’s innovative interpretation of this cult play by Chekhov.
I wondered how the director was playing with the settings of our perception of fate, in pursuit of Chekhov's three famous sisters in a desire for change, and under the guidance of Nietzsche.
It is seen that the play promises a different experience visually and aurally. Masha, Olga and Irina are three characters stuck in their time and space. In this play, we will witness the characters that have met people on stage for a century and are stuck this once in a recurring period of time. It looks like a striking work, both in terms of mental exercise and the director’s ideas. I would also like to see how Chekhov's unique irony works in this new interpretation.
Secondly, I would like to have a brief interview with Ben Frost, the creator of a work called The Murder of Halit Yozgat. The murder of Yozgat, a Turkish-German, by Neo-Nazis 14 years ago in Germany, is a story reminiscent of the novel Red Monday by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
This is a moment when someone is shot in a tiny internet café with five people inside, one of them being an intelligence agent, but no one hears and sees the crime.
Ben Frost is an artist who brings music and performance art together. In this work, he also invites the audience to investigate the incident by taking advantage of the architecture.
I would like to talk to him about racism and this work, which I see as a clever political act as well as being creative in a theatrical sense.
Bahar Çuhadar was born in 1980 in Eskişehir, Turkey. She has lived in various cities in Turkey throughout her childhood and youth due to her parents' official duty. She received her BA from the Department of International Relations at Istanbul University. She pursued her childhood dream of being a journalist after her graduation and started working as a correspondent at the Turkish daily Dünya. She has worked as a correspondent and editor for the arts and culture section of Radikal for 10 years. Currently, she is the editor of the daily Hürriyet's arts and culture supplement (Hürriyet Kitap Sanat) and contributes regularly to the weekend supplement with her column on theatre. She has written theatre criticism since 2011.
She has collected her interviews with Turkish expats living abroad in a book titled Yeni Ülke Yeni Hayat ('New Country New Life'), published in June 2019.
She is a member of the International Association of Theater Critics. She works and lives in Istanbul and has two children. She is also a feminist.