By Heidi Trautmann
On December 11 the Lefkosa Belediye Tiyatrosu /Municipality Theatre opened their doors for a special event for the first time. A play spoken in Turkish with English subtitles on a screen next to the stage. The timing was not in favour for such an undertaking, shortly before Christmas, when many go home to their families and the notice was too short for me to get enough people together. We were about 12, but the theatre was nearly full anyway with Turkish audience.
I am very grateful to the theatre company, especially Aliye Ummanel the dramaturg of the theatre, to have accepted us although we have not reached the required number of 100.
Already after the first act my friends gave me a thumb up and an affirmative nod, a sign of respect. They were fully convinced and they said: ”I have never expected that there is such theatre in North Cyprus…” the other: “I did not even know that we had theatre to speak of here…” After the final curtain, we stayed on to wait for the actors and to talk to them. In the end we all stood in the entrance while the rain came down heavily.
It was in my eyes a full success, the goal to attract the attention of the non-Turkish-speaking community was reached and I sincerely hope that we will continue from here. Some of my friends said: “In future I will go to the plays even without subtitles, I will inform myself about the play beforehand and I am looking forward to the next play.”
Two years ago I have led an interview with Yaşar Ersoy the director of the theatre company and I would like to include an excerpt for you to learn a little more about the coming into existence of the theatre.
....In June 1975, I graduated and came back to Cyprus but no longer to Limassol – my family had had to move to the North – and I was offered the post as director, writer and actor, the man of all skills, of the newly forming Cyprus Turkish State Theatre originating from “Ilk Sahne” (First Stage), but the working contract was a temporary one only because of my known left-wing tendency. I worked six years for this theatre under a temporary contract, without any kind of social security!”
Were there other professional theatre people present at that time, I ask.
“Oh yes, there were: Aile Hasmet, Hilmi Özen, Perihan Toygan, Erol Refikoğlu, Osman Alkaş, Işın Cem, Doğan Erçağ, Nevzat Şehitcan. The situation at the theatre became unbearable sometimes because of two opposing groups forming, one wanting to give in to government dictates, the other as usual rebelling. A climax was reached in 1980 when we performed the play “Citizens” and laid open all the tricks and abnormalities a government could play on its citizens. We were accused of treachery, of undermining the state and broadcasting communist propaganda. The play brought us a lawsuit. Almost all of us were fired. All these events, the investigation and the notice we were given are documented in my book on the theatre. At that most crucial moment came our saviour, Mustafa Akıncı, who, on the decision of the Council of Nicosia Municipality, hired us on the spot to form a new theatre for them. We established this new theatre on 3 November 1980.” Under such very difficult conditions, I exclaimed.
“Yes, there was no stage, nothing but a storage room and we had to borrow the chairs from the nearby Sporting Club. Five whole years under such conditions, but we were acting under our own steam and were ready to meet our audience with devotion and persistence. Even then, the harassment continued, and people were warned in newspapers to not go to our plays. Again, there was a big turning point, when we requested to put on a play by Filiz Naldöven, Standing at the Corner at the Atatürk Cultural Centre. Our request was denied with the words that “theatre against the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot establishment would not be permitted”. But our audience supported us and was not to be deterred. They went demonstrating in the streets and finally collected money for an adequate but old building for us, this very same building where we are still today. Nicosia Municipality Theatre was not only present in the building as such, it was in the hearts of the public in the streets and squares and so it is until the present day. But even then, all our plays were attacked by our opponents in their open air demonstrations, with threats that they would demolish our newly rebuilt theatre building. We all fought them, with Mustafa Akıncı, together with the audience. Later in 1986, he said: “Anyone who touches our theatre building, I'll break his hands!”
What a proud moment, not only for the theatre but also for the people. I mentioned that I had been to one very special theatre play “Bariş” or the “Unpreventable Comedy of Peace” after the comedy Peace by Aristophanes in March 2007, which I commented on in Cyprus Today. An excellent performance in a charming atmosphere. I think you put this play on the stage once before?
“We had already performed this play in 1987 – the script a little closer to the actual Aristophanes piece. When we brought it out in the South, in the Satirigo Theatre, the Greek audience gave us standing ovations, many with tears in their eyes. Many positive reviews were published in the Greek Cypriot and Athenian press. This event was the first bi-communal event in the history of divided Cyprus.....”