Zeynep Miraç

Journalist-Writer miraczeynep@gmail.com

New Art Director of Istanbul’s City Theatre, Mehmet Ergen is seen with a group of woman directors and writers who for the first time dominate the number of staged plays in 2020.

This year’s Oscars was one of the most discussed topics. There wasn’t a single woman among the best director nominees. Only one woman got nominated in this category in the last decade. To highlight this issue, Natalie Portman came to the ceremony in a dress that had female directors’ names embroidered on its collar. And, of course, that triggered a whole other debate on whether Portman was genuine. But that’s another story.
As usual, people forgot about this issue not more than a couple of days after the ceremony, even though it was on everyone’s lips for the day. But let’s not be unfair. We, now more than ever, talk about where women are present and where they’re not, especially after the #MeToo movement started. More people are pushing against the glass ceilings in an atmosphere of growing solidarity.
Institutions too are beginning to take action, albeit slowly.
Among the institutions currently taking the biggest steps in this issue is the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality City Theatre (IBŞT), launching its 2020 seasons just before March 8 International Women’s Day, with women’s plays.

For the first time in 106 years

One of the notable actions that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul Metropolitan candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu took after he became Mayor following the repeat elections on June 23 was to change the IBST administration. İmamoğlu appointed a new name, Mehmet Ergen as the new art director fort he City Theatre, last October. Seeing a director who spent most of his career in London and who also made valuable contributions to the Turkish theatre in recent years appointed in this position was very exciting. As we were wondering what the future held for the IBST, Mehmet Ergen’s appointment made for a refreshing start.
In the press conference following his appoinment Ergen said that “the Metropolitan Theater is making a breakthrough in terms of equal opportunity in theatre worldwide”. In the history of this 106-year-old institution, this is the first season where more than half of the creative crew of the productions, including playwrights and directors were women. This ratio is a first not only in Turkey’s subsidized theaters but also in the world.”
In 2020, the IBTS will stage six plays both written and directed by women.
Bilgesu Erenus’s “Yaftalı Tabut” (Labelled Coffin), Leyla Nazlı’s “Kısraklı Kadın (The Woman With Mares), Şirin Gürbüz’s “Kimse Artık Öyle Şeyler Konuşmuyor” (Nobody Talks of Stuff Like That Anymore, Sarah Delappe’s “Kurtlar” (The Wolves), Deniz Altun’s “Güle Ağıt” (Lament for the Rose), and Mine Söğüt’s “Beşamelli Tavuk” (Chicken Bechamel) will be put to stage by Lerzan Pamir, Emre Koyuncuoğlu and Özgür Kaymak.
Speaking to Asu Maro in the March issue of renowned cultural magazine Milliyet Sanat, Mehmet Ergen said, “when I looked at the past 40 years, I saw that only 25-30 out of 250 plays were by women writers and directors. Female writers and directors were very much excluded.” Mehmet Ergen also highlighted that, though “This is the case in Turkey in every field, rapid progress has been made in Europe on this issue, especially after the #MeToo movement.”

Dismissed artists are back

The “writer issue” in Turkish theater has long been discussed. I’ve lost count of how many articles I’ve read and panels I’ve listened to, about the Turkish theater’s reliance on translated texts. There have been many initiatives to remedy this over the years: workshops, competitions, incentives. Now, the IBST is invested in this effort. According to Mehmet Ergen, there are currently 200 applicants for “The City Searches for Its Writers” project workshop.
Our deficit of writers is not down to a single reason. Workshops definitely give some tools to work with. But a writer also needs an environment to flourish in. An environment where they can feel free in their thinking, story-building, and writing.
It looks like the IBST has taken an important step in this direction. We’ve recently received the news that artists that had been expelled from the institution by the former Municipality administration will now return to their posts.
Actor Levent Üzümcü tweeted the news: “Believers in Democracy are now directing the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and therefor the IBST. They’ve asked me to take part in a play, and I accepted. My lawsuit regarding my unlawful dismissal, however, is still standing. I believe that I’ll go home one day having taken back my stolen rights”.
Equal opportunity for women, a democratic understanding of management, and an opportunity for new writers… The City Theaters made a new beginning that re-kindled some hope. Let’s, then, hope that this trend continues increasingly. Let’s hope that one day, Turkish feminist writer Duygu Asena’s famous phrase “woman has no name” will be replaced by “women are everywhere”. And that we will no longer need to precise “woman writer” or “woman playwright” anymore.