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Citizen Theater on the Edge: A comparison between two interactive plays from offline to online within an ever politically transforming Turkey

As the political transition in Turkey manifests its ways into the theatre practices in Turkey, artists struggle in search for solid footings at the interface of the public, art scene and the state. Our paper thus looks at two interactive plays; Mi Minör (E Minor) that was produced in 2012 an immersive play which held its last performance in April 2013, just before the wake of Gezi protests (May 2013); and Map to Utopia produced amidst 2020 Covid-19 pandemic as the first immersive and interactive play centered around citizenship designed with the idea that the future of the planet will be determined in cities.

 

The first play Mi Minör is set in a dystopian country called Pinima, with a president-for-life, and follows a pianist who starts a revolt after being banned from playing in the musical key of E minor. It was the first interactive play in Turkey, with real-time social media posts, a digital voting mechanism and bodily participation within the script. The audience actively engaged with the actors and the story and shared it on social media. A physical and social media-oriented roleplaying game (RPG) was integrated into the performance. The three main figures of this production were put on trial with the accusation of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and of planning the Gezi Park protests, as they allegedly incited people to riot against the president of Pinima in the play and Erdoğan in real life. Through the turbulent developments in Turkey such as the coup d’etat attempt, state of emergency, increasing authoritarianism and censorship, the artists developed various strategies to circumvent these impediments to continue their artistic productions and political manifestations.

The second play Map to Utopia, aims to offer a virtual city experience to its participants through AR (augmented reality). It’s premiere was planned to be held in Germany, canceled due to the pandemic. The creative team has then redesigned it to be performed on Zoom (online video conferencing platform) as it’s first stage screening. The play was performed several times on Zoom, by asking the audience to download an application (especially designed for the theatre play) onto their mobile phones. The audience were then invited to participate as (the) citizens in four different virtual city landscapes named in colours as names; Red, Yellow, Blue and Green (Inspired from 4 neighbourhoods of Istanbul; Yeldeğirmeni, Balat, Nişantaşı, and Taksim). By analysing our observations as the participating citizens / audience within both plays our paper intends to decode the drastic changes experienced by the artists within an ever transforming Turkey within the past eight years. Including artists’ interviews, we explore how such transformations affected their creations in designing and enacting interactive plays set to vitalize the audience as citizens in fictional locations inspired by real life within a constant offline to online dialogue.

KEYWORDS: Immersive theatre, active citizenship, political performativity, authoritarianism,censorship

İrem Aydemir is a political scientist, filmmaker and visual activist from Turkey. She holds a BA degree in Political Science and International Relations from Bahçeşehir University. Currently, she is working on her Master’s thesis at Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University on cultural resistance through theatre based on an ethnographic fieldwork in a theatre located in the West Bank, Palestine. She produced works on cultural resistance, queer body, social memory, minorities, migration, Cyprus, Israel/Palestine, climate change, and cultural heritage. Her last published work is a book chapter titled Tightrope Walkers in Istanbul’s Theatre Scene: An overview of the drawbacks and responses.

Dr.Eda Elif Tibet is a postdoctoral researcher at the Critical Sustainability Unit, Institute of Geography, University of Bern (Switzerland) and a visual anthropologist with the Global Diversity Foundation (UK). She is the founder of Karma Motion, a film collective of academics, artists , movement and local community leaders in which to date they have produced seven award winning films circulated at film festivals around the world broadcast and made part of education curricula at Harvard, Cambridge and Stanford. She is an advisory member of the Enacting Global Transformation Initiative run by Dr. Rama Mani’s Theatre of Transformation Academy and a core faculty member of Global Environments Summer Academy, supporting

emerging environmental change makers, both taking place at the University of Oxford (UK).