Interest towards theatre is pretty increased in Turkey over the recent years. The transformation in this area is observable in many ways. One by one, new theatre halls are opening in different neighborhoods of Istanbul. Theatre companies which are brave enough to perform various plays are coming together. There is a significant demand to play tickets from the audience. For most of the plays tickets are sold-out even couple of weeks before. Individuals who are dealing with the off stage elements are also delighted. Nisan Ceren Göknel is one of them. She is the producer of many big productions that reaches the masses like; Alice Müzikali, Dünyada Karşılaşmış Gibi, Kürk Mantolu Madonna, Arzu Tramvayı. The plays she did involve in the last 15 years had almost sold 300 thousand tickets. This young producer, born in 1981, worked in advertising, cinema and documentary sectors after she moved to Istanbul from Ankara. But she leaned into theatrical production right after she met with Berkun Oya. While she was working for Krek to make Berkun’s dreams come true, she also involved in different plays and productions. Today, she is dealing with many different aspects of the plays she involves. The idea phase, casting, stage design, financing are just to name a few. “I’m working on the things that excite me” says Nisan. Then she explains that it can be a director, an actor, a writer or the play itself. We did have a talk about the theatre industry in Turkey with Nisan Ceren Göknel.
İlgi arttıkça üretim artıyor. Üretim arttıkça ilgi artıyor. İç içe geçmiş bir durum söz konusu.
The theatre industry in Turkey changed in the last few years. Several new theatre companies formed. New stages have opened their doors. And the reaction from the audience seems to be very positive. What is the reason behind this attention?
Though it seems like there is a shortage of interests for concerts, the attention for theatre and books is really exploded. Individuals and organizations that wouldn’t be interested in theatre in the past are now involved in this area. I think this is very positive. Good productions are made. There is a financial investment on this area. Production starts to increase as the interest does. The interest starts to increase as the production does. There is a corelation.
What is the reason behind this expansion, especially in this period?
I don’t want to sound cocky. Theatre was seen as a more untouchable art field. People tend to think it was not a field for everyone. This approach is not entirely wrong. But yet not entirely right. It seemed like theatre belongs to certain individuals. Of course some of the performers we experienced back then, were much better than the ones on the stage today. They were acting with an utmost care for the art itself. But I don’t think certain things should be just in the hands of certain individuals. Theatre has become more free . And now people are more courageous to do it. This might also sound cocky but it was like there was a dust on theatre and it just cleaned up. People started to experience and create it without feeling ashamed or scared.
Established and new generation performers are also coming together in various plays. How do you evaluate this relationship and communication?
Isn’t it great to watch those kind of plays? It is perfect to watch the combination of the energy in between a young performer and a performer who has a serious background and experience. This makes theatre more free. Theatre is a space that is uncensored and has freedom.
What do you refer by ‘freedom? Isn’t there many things to hold you back from saying some specific words on a stage in Turkey?
I put that ‘freedom’ in a wider space. There is a concept called as political plays, they were much more played in the past. If you’d like to do something like that today, of course you’ll face with more difficulties. But there are plays which are political without being visibly political. You may tell a political story without saying right or left. Or you may tell deep stuff about women, men and LGBT individuals without using sexuality. The story that you’d like to tell can be more universal, free and uncensored.
Is there a form or a criteria for a good play? What do you think is the most important thing in plays?
I don’t think there are such things like a form or criteria in theatre. ‘Impact’ is the most important thing. People saying “Why did they even made this play?” for my production, would be the most scariest thing for me. It would be an impact even if they hate it. There must be a goal to create a play. Theatres are still working by the grapevine. You can’t hide a play that is bad, even if you made the best publicity. But if it’s good, people have their eyes only for the show, and remember the impact even after three days later. They share the experience with others, and it grows like an avalanche.
Nowadays, audience can have different and powerful cultural experiences by the effect of technology. How is the communication with audience is changing towards these novelty?
Stories catch the spirit of the time. I believe it has changed in this way. In theatre, you sit and watch something. Even if the play is interactive or immersive, that is not the thing that will change the theatre. Of course the stage design is improved a lot. As we’ve talked, the play which was performed in Istanbul Theatre Festival, Robert Lepage’s Hamlet is a good example of it. You don’t move from your seat for like three hours. This is what matters. ‘Dünyada Karşılaşmış Gibi’ targets the same impact. It was the technical issues that made us lean on to screen design though, but it still helped to present a new audience experience.
You did big productions in the last couple of years. How do you feel about these plays? What was your motivation?
Yes, I did big productions in the last years. Arzu Tramvayı, Alice Müzikali, Dünyada Karşılaşmış Gibi and Kürk Mantolu Madonna are some of the plays which were also successful at the box office. Eventually I produce all plays for them to be appreciated. But each time motivation can be different. For instance, In Kürk Mantolu Madonna it made me so excited
to be able to spend time with all those words and sentences, it was my first big production. There were critiques as well. Whenever we start a new play, we always think “What could we do better?” It was really huge for me to work with Zerrin Tekindor and write a script of Tenessee Williams in Arzu Tramvayı. My motivation changes all the time.
What are the difficulties of these kind of big productions?
Financials of course. Performers in theatre sector are now being satisfied professionaly as well. This is something really good. But the budget is large as much as the production. Combining the right project with the right finance is really important. If you try to produce a precious work with the wrong finance, it might change the body of the work. Audience is more sensitive and wise now. There is an opportunity for comparison. They see why you did what you have done. Even if it’s a popular work like Alice Müzikali, the prior thing for us is to perform a robust story. If it is good, you may enlarge and decorate the play as much as you want.
What is the magnitude of theatre industry in Turkey?
I’m not sure if there is a numeric study, but I know from ticket sales that plays are doing very well. If we take Alice Müzikal in hand, it sold more than 40 thousand tickets before its premiere. This is awesome. It means that, there is a potential. There are small and medium sized theatres as well. But I don’t know if all the plays are as full. I’m not sure about that.
In terms of actual venues and the plays that are staged in Turkey, how do you see the industry?
It is really in a good position in terms numbers. There are really good productions and I enjoy to watch some of them. There are many more compared to past that are involved with theatre. Stages are not in good conditions, but there are some organizations which supports the industry. Zorlu PSM is one them. Uniq Istanbul and Das Das are also important. Yet, rehearsal place is an issue. There are some historical venues for certain plays in foreign countries. And they also use modernized stages, like hangars out of town. You may watch different plays in both. There is no such thing in Turkey. I wish there were more investment in venues. We are thinking about this too. But running a place is very hard thing to do. And it is unlikely for a place to survive just with plays.
Since the plays that you produced are tricky in terms production, it would not be possible to perform them in Anatolia. But what do you think about the theatre environment for the rest of Turkey?
Being in Anatolia shapes you up about the thing that you do. There is a quite different potential in there. There is an incredible love and longing. But it is really hard to take big productions over there because of the reasons that you said. We’ve been in some specific cities like Ankara, Eskişehir, Bursa, İzmir. But to be honest, I don’t know much about Anatolia either. A different theatre school travelled Anatolia for years.
Which play influenced you the most?
I may say, Sleep No More in New York. It is really impressive. This is what “experience” is about. I like Şeylerin Şekli, the one that Bartu Küçükçağlayan performed. And I like Bayrak, the one we did as Krek. It is one of the most special plays for me.
Sleep No More presents you a really impressive experience with its communication with audience, setting and decoration. Do you think of producing something like that locally?
We sometimes dream this with Berkun Oya. It would be great if he writes a certain script. But it is necessary to work on these kind of projects for couple of years. And you need ‘that’ investment, and ‘that’ place. But it is still possible. I think for these kinds of plays, the effect is more impressive when the production is bigger.
What is your schedule for this and upcoming season?
Arzu Tramvayı is keep being performed this season. Dünyada Karşılamış Gibi, Alice Müzikali and Terk had just started. For
the next season we have two big projects, one of them will be a musical. We are talking on another play with Berkun Oya, and we will produce a solo play with Zerrin Tekindor.
Terk made a premiere in February. What can you say about it?
I like to watch Öykü Karayel and Reha Özcan on stage so much. This play is written by one of my favorite young authors, Milay Ezengin. It takes place in a therapy room. Terk is a performer- oriented play, which is a genre that I really like.