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Workshops in Turkey promoting European Solidarity Corps

Peter Hussey, Artistic Director Crooked House

Every year as part of our European Solidarity Corps programme we invite applicants to apply for one of 10 places on our programme. The volunteering programme seeks to support young actors aged 21 to 30 in training to use drama as a tool for working with young people. Volunteers assist us in Crooked House by working to provide free drama workshops to secondary schools, youth projects and youth clubs in Newbridge and the surrounding region.

Each year we receive hundreds of interested applicants, usually over 1,500. Most of these come from Turkey, and most are from people who are not actors. It takes a long time to go through the applications and select those who are eligible.

This year, along with two of our Turkish volunteers (Oğuzhan Şahin and Özer Gökmen), I travelled to Turkey from 8th to 15th May 2022 to give workshops to acting students in two of the country’s universities. The workshops were to present the European Union’s Solidarity programme and the Erasmus+ Student Internship programme to interested young people and staff in the universities. Around the presentation we included a full day’s acting workshop that explored with the students various methods of making theatre with young people used by Crooked House Theatre Company.

We started in Istanbul, spending a day meeting people in the largest city on Europe. It struck me how similar it was to Athens, especially in its style of building, organisation of streets and cafes, and mix of people and cultures. It proved challenging to find a variety of vegetarian food in the larger restaurants that was not pasta or salad, but once we focused on the smaller, home-cooked local cafés we found that most basic dishes were in fact vegetarian. And delicious.

It was a pleasure to see the Serpentine Pillar in the middle of the Hippodrome, next to the Egyptian obelisk, and Roman pillar. The Serpentine Pillar once stood at the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Delphi in ancient Greece. It was one of the most important sites in ancient Greece, visited by thousands of pilgrims, kings, warriors and ordinary people to consult the Sybil and her priests who resided in Delphi and operated out of the temple of the god of prophecy.

Our first trip was by train for 4 hours to Eskişehir, to the Acting Department in the School of Music and Drama in Anadolu University. There we were to spend a day with the graduating acting students. This was Özer’s university, a stylish modern campus with leafy sycamore and plantain trees with purpose-built studios and an entire building for theatre, music and performing arts students. He had introduced me beforehand online to Dr Ebru Gődağ from the department when we planned this visit.

It was late in the year, and we had 11 students engage with us as the rest had just completed a final year performance and were now focusing on end-of-year exams. With Özer ably translating we explored methods of theatre-making that included Theatre-of-the-Oppressed exercises and other techniques to explore power politics and dynamics. The students were interested in the European Solidarity Corps programme with 3 of the older ones asking most questions during the presentation. The university accommodated us in a guest hotel on campus, where we stayed after the workshop. We had lunch with Simten Demirkol from the department whose interest is in the area of Korean pop culture and performance and who has worked and studied expensively outside of Turkey. The rest of the staff were unfortunately not available to meet us, as their schedules at this time of year are full.

The next day we took a long bus journey south, to the city of Isparta. The landscape is green and fruitful, with large basins of farmland nestling between mountains that rise up to encircle the valleys we drove through. It rained as we drove, reminding me that here, as in Ireland, green comes at a price.

The second university is the Süleyman Demirel University and is on the outskirts of the city, nestling in the foothills of the mountains. The city feels remote, close to an airport, and is characterised by high rise residentials and some unfinished public buildings. There is the shell of a huge train station on the outskirts that has lain unfinished for at least 4 years because of some dispute over payment.

Established in 1992, the university, with around 70,000 students, is the one of the largest academic institutions in Turkey. Someone told me that there are at least 100,000 students in other universities. We forget how vast Turkey is, and how populous. Most of these universities are colossal by Irish standards, where the population of many of our cities would fit into one of the campuses here.

Süleyman Demirel University is Oğuzhan’s alma mater and it is a very special place. We were met straight off the bus by Mustafa Kayabasi (the students call him Mustafa hoca – teacher), who dove us in his trusty old Peugeot to a hotel in the middle of the city where we each had a palatial room and an en suite. He took us to dinner, and was easy to chat with, full of questions about our theatre and students. He had spent some years in the UK on a scholarship in Bristol University, and now he is an acting teacher in the Performing Arts department in the Faculty of Fine Arts in Isparta.

The next morning Mustafa collected us and drove us to the campus where all of the staff of the department were gathered outside in the morning sunshine to greet and welcome us. There were few students here yet, as it was only 9.00am. We met lovely people and were brought to the departments’ theatre for the workshop. There we met 24 students from 1st to 3rd years. They threw themselves into the activities, laughed, moved with ease and openness, were curious and talkative, and wanted to learn as much as they could. Lunch was hosted by the staff again, all eager to meet us and to chat. By now the campus was full, the outdoor seating areas resembling a small festival, cafes bustling, sunshine and laughter all round.

Afterwards we made a presentation to a larger audience of staff and students about the European Union’s ESC programme and how we use it to support young people with fewer opportunities, especially young artists from migrant, LGBTQI+ and ethnic groups who might experience difficulty pursuing their acting professions in their home countries. There were many questions, lots of interest, and Oğuzhan was kept busy translating for a full auditorium. Then, much to our surprise and delight, the staff presented us with lovely gifts and certificates of appreciation.

When the staff left, Mustafa and the students remained for a further three hours where we made fascinating theatre pieces about power and colonisation. The students were really open, natural and engaged in the methods we used. That night they came out with us and with Mustafa.

On both campuses there were campus dogs, ‘owned’ by no-one, and lounging around the greens, lolling in the sun, hanging out with the young people. They are large dogs – labradors, collies and setters – calm and easy going, and completely loved by the hundreds of students around them. I was very taken with this. They were looked after collectively. I asked what happens in the winter where there might be -20 at night. People told me that the dogs come in at night into the corridors and rooms and wander back out around the vast campuses at day.

After our work we flew back to Istanbul where we spent two pleasant days visiting the Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar, catching up with friends, and planning future visits and projects. The week was finished off watching Ukraine win the Eurovision Song Contest, and hearing Turkish people lament that they are no longer part of it!

There is much to admire here, especially among the young people and the artists, the quality of acting training, the buildings and the countryside. Thank you to all the staff and students who made this visit memorable, and to our wonderful European Solidarity Corps volunteers Oğuzhan Şahin and Özer Gökmen for their attention to the organisation of every last detail.

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About Us

Crooked House is supported by Kildare County Council.