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Stage Mothers 24 décembre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, Turkey / Turquie.
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The New Yorker, December 24-31, 2012, p. 72-85 (Abstract)

Elif Batuman, Our Far-Flung Correspondents

A women’s theatre in rural Turkey.

Letter from Arslanköy about the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group, an all-female theatre group, based in rural Turkey, which is writing and performing plays. Ümmiye Koçak, who is now in her mid-fifties, was a forty-four-year-old farmworker with a primary-school education when she caught the theatre bug from a school play that a local school principal, Hüseyin Arslanköylü, had staged the previous year. Ümmiye had never seen a play before, and it seeped into her thoughts. For a long time, she had been puzzling over the situation of village women and the many roles they had to play. In the fields, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers. In 2000, with other women from her village, Arslanköy, she formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. The group met every night at the school, after the women had worked ten- or twelve-hour days on farms. Their first production, a contemporary Turkish play called “Stone Almonds,” sold out a theatre in the provincial capital of Mersin, and was written up in the national press. They were invited to Istanbul, to be on TV; none of the women had ever been on an intercity bus before. In 2003, the women collaborated on a play called “Woman’s Outcry,” based on their own difficult life experiences, which included kidnapping, forced marriage, and domestic abuse. They performed the play in Arslanköy, in front of their husbands and village officials. A documentary about “Woman’s Outcry” became an international success, winning prizes at the Trieste and Tribeca festivals; Ümmiye travelled abroad for the first time, attending galas in Spain. In 2009, she played the title role in her own adaptation of “Hamlet.” This spring, she finished shooting her first screenplay, about a downtrodden mother and daughter who herd goats in the Taurus Mountains. It can be difficult to grasp just how remarkable these achievements are. In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, Atatürk’s secularizing reforms put Turkey at the vanguard of feminism. Turkish women got the vote in 1934, before women in Italy and France. Atatürk’s daughter was a combat pilot. But in rural Turkey the new secular constitution had little effect on the old patriarchal culture, and women’s lives continued much as they always had. Today, some Turkish women are C.E.O.s, best-selling novelists, Olympic gold medalists, and Constitutional Court judges. Other Turkish women—hundreds of thousands of them—are rape victims or child brides. An estimated thirty per cent of rural Turkish women haven’t completed elementary school, and forty-seven per cent have been beaten or raped by their husbands. Writer meets with Ümmiye Koçak and women who act in her new theatre group, and travels with them while they stage productions in rural Turkey. Describes Koçak’s life, and her development as a writer; recounts the history of the theatre group, describing many of the plays they have staged. Describes a women’s outreach program in a remote village, at which Koçak’s group stages a play, and the backstage atmosphere at one of their performances. Describes in detail the arduous process of filming “Wool Doll,” Koçak’s first film, which began in the winter, when Arslanköy is buried under ten feet of snow. Mentions the various positions which Turkey’s conservative Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has taken against abortion rights.

Elif Batuman, Our Far-Flung Correspondents, “Stage Mothers,” The New Yorker, December 24, 2012, p. 72


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