Mapping Turkey: Theatre

Karagöz (meaning blackeye in Turkish) and Hacivat (shortened in time from "Hacı İvaz" meaning "İvaz the Pilgrim", and also sometimes written as Hacivad) are the lead characters of the traditional Turkish shadow play.


For the full theatre mapping please click here.


Although the history of traditional Turkish theatre dates back to the 14th century, the history of theatre in Turkey is relatively new. The reason for this is that traditional forms of theatrical activities in Turkey have been overlooked during the transition phase, when around the Tanzimat (Reformation) period, theatre in Turkey began to be institutionalised and professionalised according to Western norms.

In particular, Western norms regarding form have been taken as an example, while content-wise theatre has always aimed at holding up a mirror to its own culture and society. However, some forms – such as storytelling, whose roots can be traced back to more traditional theatrical forms – keep reappearing as younger generations struggle to find a unique voice and means of expression on the stage.

While there are a lot of texts in translation and companies adapting them to the stage, there is an increasing number of Turkish playwrights who tackle issues particular to the Turkish society. In recent years, there has been a rekindled interest in adapting literary texts other than dramatic ones to the stage and in more traditional forms such as storytelling.

Besides funding by the state for State and Municipal Theatres, there is not much fi-nancial support for independent and private theatre companies or venues. They either have to find solutions for the financial costs of their productions by seeking private sponsorship or by selling their tickets at higher prices. Also, in many cases, members of such companies keep their daytime jobs or seek jobs in the television/film sector to finance their theatre activities.

A text-based approach dominates the theatre scene, and this might pose a challenge in terms of international collaborations. However, independent companies that encou-rage artistic experimentation are open for international exchange. Many independent companies would benefit from experiences that focus on audience development, as well as working in contexts in which they could take more risks and experiment with unconventional forms.

Unless an independent theatre company has its own venue, finding a space for rehearsals and performances might also be a challenge since there are not enough venues. Additionally, many venues that function as theatres are not necessarily built for that purpose. Taking theatre into the public space is very challenging due to both the bureaucratic problems one might encounter and the current political environment.

Touring in Turkey might also be tricky, and without someone experienced in decoding different audience expectations and perceptions, it might be very challenging since audiences vary a lot nationwide.

Because independent theatre in particular is regarded as a less popular form of enter-tainment, there is no direct or systematic censorship imposed on theatre. However, there is some auto-censorship being done by theatre-makers. In recent years, there have been a number of productions that have dealt with topics of sexuality, gender and LGBT issues without any problems, but theatre-makers feel they have to be more cautious if there is any reference in their productions to the Gezi protests or any direct criticism of the government’s more conservative policies.

When it comes to international collaborations, theatre-makers are also cautious about their partners’ “orientalising” them. Although there are elements and topics that are unique to Turkish culture, there are also many similarities since we live in a highly glo-balised world and theatre-makers want to express how they deal with these common problems rather than just focus on their own specific problems.

State/municipal theatres have a regular audience, but the independent theatre audien-ce is more open to artistic experimentation both in form and content.

For the full theatre mapping please click here.