Farcical indictment shows how far Turkey has fallen

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Index on Censorship condemns a criminal indictment sent to a Turkish court against 16 civil society leaders including artist Meltem Arikan, actors Memet Ali Alabora and Pinar Ogun, and journalist Can Dündar.

“This farcical indictment shows how far Turkey’s government is willing to go to silence dissent and should show the world how much freedom of expression has degraded for all of the country’s citizens,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship.

The criminal court has 15 days to examine the indictment charging the 16 with attempting to overthrow the government for their part in the 2013 Gezi protests, the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government came to power in 2002. Almost six years after the protests during which tens of thousands people across Turkey took the streets, the 16 named in the indictment now faced a possible lifetime behind bars without the possibility of parole, according to a report in Ahval.

Arikan was nominated for a 2014 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award in the arts category.

The other 12 individuals named in the indictment are: Osman Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Tayfun Kahraman, Hakan Altınay, Gökçe Yılmaz, Can Atalay, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Hanzade Hikmet Germiyanoğlu, İnanç Ekmekçi, Mine Özerden, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1550765322731-f7944837-909a-0″ taxonomies=”55″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkey’s thought-provoking playwrights, actors and directors have little choice but to become exiles

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Enough Is Enough cast members

Enough is Enough is a play formed as a gig, tells the stories of real people about sexual violence, through song and dark humour. It is written by Meltem Arikan, directed by Memet Ali Alabora, with music by Maddie Jones, and includes four female cast members who act as members of a band.

For Turkish director and actor Memet Ali Alabora, theatre is about creating an environment in which the audience is encouraged to think, react and reflect. His goal is to leave the audience thinking about and questioning issues, whether it be democracy, free speech, women’s rights or the concept of belonging.

Alabora has always been fascinated by the notion of play and games, even as a child. “I was in a group of friends that imitated each other, told jokes, made fun of things and situations,” he says. The son of actors Mustafa Alabora and Betül Arım, he was exposed early on to the theatre. In high school, Alabora took on roles in plays by Shakespeare and Orhan Veli. He was one of the founders of Garajistanbul, a contemporary performing arts institution in Istanbul.

For Alabora, ludology — the studying of gaming — is not merely about creating different theatrical personalities and presenting them to the audience each time. Rather, it is about creating an alternative to ordinary life — an environment in which actors and members of the audience could meet, intermingle and interact. For those two hours or so, participants are encouraged to think deeply about and reflect upon their own personal stories and the consequences of their actions.

“I think I’m obsessed with the audience. I always think about what is going to happen to the audience at the end of the play: What will they say? What situation do I want to put them in?” the Turkish actor says “It’s not about what messages I want to convey. I want them to put themselves in the middle of everything shown and spoken about, and think about their own responsibility, their own journey and history.”

“It’s not easy to do that for every audience you touch. If I can do that with some of the people in the audience, I think I will be happy,” Alabora adds.

It is this desire to create an environment in which the audience is encouraged to take part, to reflect, to think that Alabora brought to Mi Minör, a Turkish play that premiered in 2012. Written by Turkish playwright Meltem Arıkan, it is set in the fictional country of “Pinima”, where despite being a democracy, everything is decided by the president”. In opposition to the president is the pianist, who cannot play high notes, such as the Mi note, on her piano because they have been banned. The play encouraged the audience to use their smartphones to interact with each other and influence the outcome.

Alabora explained the production team’s motivation behind the play: “At the time when we were creating Mi Minör, our main motive was to make each and every audience if possible to question themselves. This is very important. The question we asked ourselves was: if we could create a situation in which people could face in one and a half hour, about autocracy, oppression, how would people react?”

The goal wasn’t to “preach the choir” or convey a certain message about the world. It was to encourage the audience not be complacent. “Would the audience stand with the pianist, who advocates free speech and freedom of expression, or would they side with the autocratic president?” Alabora asks.

Alabora considered was how people would react when faced with the same situation in real life. “They were reacting, but was it a sort of reaction where they react, get complacent with it and go back to their ordinary lives, or would they react if they see the same situation in real life?”

On 27 May 2013, a wave of unrest and demonstrations broke out in Gezi Park, Istanbul to protest the urban development plans being carried out there. Over the next few days, violence quickly escalated, with the police using tear gas to suppress peaceful demonstrations. By July 2013, over 8,000 people were injured and five dead.

In the aftermath, Turkish authorities accused Mi Minör of being a rehearsal for the protests. Faced with threats against their lives, Arikan, Alabora and Pinar Ogun, the lead actress, had little choice but to leave the country.

But how could a play that was on for merely five months be a rehearsal for a series of protests that involved more than 7.5 million people in Istanbul alone? “You can’t teach people how to revolt,” Alabora says. “Yes, theatre can change things, be a motive for change, but we’re not living in the beginning of the 20th century or ancient Greece where you can influence day-to-day politics with theatre.”

The three artists relocated to Cardiff, but their experience did not prevent them from continuing with the work they love. They founded Be Aware Productions in January 2015 and their first production, Enough is Enough, written by Arikan, told the stories of women who were victims of domestic violence, rape, incest and sexual abuse. The team organised a month-long tour of more than 20 different locations in Wales.

“In west Wales, we performed in a bar where there was a rugby game right before – there was already an audience watching the game on TV and drinking beer,” Alabora says. “The bar owner gave the tickets to the audience in front and kept the customers who had just seen the rugby game behind.”

“After the play, we had a discussion session and it was as if you were listening to the stories of these four women in a very intimate environment,” he adds. “When you go through something like that, it becomes an experience, which is more than seeing a show.”

After each performance, the team organised a “shout it all out” session, in which members of the audience could discuss the play and share their personal stories with each other. One person said: “Can I say something? Don’t stop what you are doing. You have just reached out one person tonight. That’s a good thing because it strengthened my resolve. Please keep doing that. Because you have given somebody somewhere some hope. You have given me that. You really have.”

Be Aware Productions is now in the process of developing a new project that documents how the production team ended up in Wales and why they chose it as their destination.

“What we did differently with this project was that we did touring rehearsals. We had three weeks of rehearsal in six different parts of Wales. The rehearsals were open to the public, and we had incredible insight from people about the show, about their own stories and about the theme of belonging,” Alabora shares.

Just like Mi Minor and Enough is Enough, the motivation behind this new project is to encourage the audience to think, to reflect on their own personal stories and experiences: “With this new project, I want them to really think personally about what they think or believe and where this sense of belonging is coming from, have they thought about it, and just share their experiences.” [/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner content_placement=”top”][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

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Index encourages an environment in which artists and arts organisations can challenge the status quo, speak out on sensitive issues and tackle taboos.

Index currently runs workshops in the UK, publishes case studies about artistic censorship, and has produced guidance for artists on laws related to artistic freedom in England and Wales.

Learn more about our work defending artistic freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536657340830-d3ce1ff1-7600-4″ taxonomies=”15469″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Challenging authority: Shakespeare and radical theatre today

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Additional reporting by Shreya Parjan and Sandra Oseifri.

Challenging authority- Shakespeare and radical theatre today

“When you hold the mirror up to […] a totalitarian regime, it recognises it and attempts to stamp it out,” said Tony Howard, a Warwick University professor, discussing how Shakespeare can be used to slip controversial ideas into public spaces under the eyes of the censors.

Howard was part of a discussion held at London’s Globe theatre looking at how censorship is used against theatres and how playwrights can sometimes get around it.

The Shakespeare Under The Radar debate was held as part of a series marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the UK Theatres’ Act in 1968. Until then the Lord Chamberlain had the power to stop plays going on stage, or mark sections of the script to be taken out.

The panel also featured Index on Censorship magazine editor Rachael Jolley, Memet Ali Alabora, the exiled Turkish actor, and Zoe Lafferty, theatre director and producer. It was chaired by Samira Ahmed, the award-winning journalist and broadcaster.

“Turkey is one of the rarest countries where the persecution of artists has never ended,” Alabora told the audience in the Sam Wanamaker theatre, named after an actor who was blacklisted in the USA during McCarthyism. “When you’ve got a state of emergency the law gives you the right to ban material because it is unsafe,” added Alabora.

Alabora talked about his personal experience as director and actor in the 2012 play Mi Minör. The play was set in Pinima, a fictional country where the president decides anything. Amid the wave of demonstrations and civil unrest during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, the play was condemned by governmental and pro-governmental agencies, as an attempt to “rehearse” the protests. The threats against Alabora and his creative team forced them to leave the country because of fears for their safety.

Jolley said theatre can be a medium for social change, even in the face of censorship. “Theatre can do things in a way that is more radical or challenging because censors are more attuned to film and TV,” she said.  She talked about how memes are used in China to get around censorship: “Everybody can use that form of communication to talk about things that are not allowed.”

Lafferty’s work, which includes Queens of Syria, the story of female Syrian refugees, focuses on conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon and Haiti. Her plays are dedicated to giving life to stories that might otherwise be inaccessible due to conflict, military occupation or censorship. “In the nine or ten years I’ve been involved with Palestine, the censorship, in lots of different ways, has been very brutal, including imprisonment and death,” she says.

However, it could be difficult to pinpoint exactly who does the censoring, she said. “It’s hard to get into all of the layers. There is the military occupation, the Palestinian authorities, the taboos of society, etc.” As Lafferty’s experience illustrates, there are also more insidious ways to silence: “There is a huge visa process which is a massive form of censorship.”

Despite the obstacles put in their way, Alabora and Lafferty have no intention of backing down from their theatrical work. Alabora directed Meltem Arikan’s play Enough is Enough, which highlights issues around incest, child abuse and violence against women. Meanwhile, Lafferty directed the play And Here I Am, which is based on the life story of Ahmed Tobasi, who went from being a member of Palestine’s Islamic Jihad to an actor.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1531488724804-26d39abd-64f9-5″ taxonomies=”8146, 8175″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Shakespeare under the radar

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”100419″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Celebrate daring artists who stage Shakespeare expressly to challenge political authority.

Shakespeare’s texts have been used time and again to bypass censorship and challenge authority. This panel discussion celebrates the daring of radical theatre makers across the world, who have performed Shakespeare and created work expressly for the purpose of holding ‘the mirror up to nature’ and challenging political landscapes.

There will also be the opportunity to put your questions to the panel on the night #JoinTheDebate

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”100423″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Director and actor in Mi Minor – This experimental theatre production accused by government officials and pro-government media of being the ‘rehearsal’ for the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. The resulting campaign forced him and the creative team to leave the country[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”100421″ img_size=”152×115″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]The University of Warwick academic is writer of three drama-documentaries on the history of multicultural Shakespearean acting in Britain and America. Howard’s Ira Aldridge documentary was given a reading in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2017[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”90098″ img_size=”152×114″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Journalist and editor of the Index on Censorship Magazine – Edited Staging Shakespearean Dissent edition[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”100422″ img_size=”152×114″ add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Theatre director and creative producer whose work focuses on uncovering stories from within situations that are hard to access due to conflict, occupation and censorship. She has worked in countries including Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Lebanon, Haiti, Syria and the UK.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image image=”80231″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]The chair of the panel is the award-winning journalist and broadcaster – Visiting professor of journalism at Kingston University, and presenter of Front Row on Radio 4 and Newswatch on BBC1[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When: Thursday 5 July, 7.00pm
Where: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT (Directions)
Tickets: £15 (£12 Members / Students) via Shakespeare’s Globe

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ISSUE: VOLUME 45.01 SPRING 2016

Staging Shakespearean dissent

Plays that protest, provoke and slip by the censors

Index on Censorship marked the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death in 2016 by creating a special issue of our award-winning magazine, looking at how his plays have been used around the world to sneak past censors or take on the authorities – often without them realising. Our special report explores how different countries use different plays to tackle difficult themes.

Browse the issue

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Reading list: Theatre and censorship

Index on Censorship magazine has compiled a reading list of articles from the magazine archives covering the censorship of theatre.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]