"I stole my mom's jewelry to start my own theater"
On March 27th, to celebrate World Theatre Day, we interviewed, Poyrazoğlu.
Ali Poyrazoğlu, a veteran of Turkish theatre, began his film career in the 1970s and set up his own theatre company in 1972, performing in a host of plays including a starring role in the off-Broadway play, “Pera Palas”, named after an iconic Istanbul hotel.
Poyrazoğlu spoke to us about his career, his recent projects, and his views on the role of art and theatre in society.
On establishing his first theatre, with his mother’s help:
“Aziz Nesin (one of the most famous Turkish writers of the 20th century) would pull me aside after my performances and advise me, ‘these theatres are taking advantage of you. You are the brightest young actor and the audiences are all coming to see you. Son, you should establish your own theatre, answer your own calling, discover your inner artist’. Every time he built me up like this I would get carried away and quit my job. (He laughs) On one of these occasions I had quit my job again, and jobless, penniless, I was trying to find my inner artist as I scavenged for food. With a spark of innovation, I decided to pilfer my mother’s gold dowry. I told my mother that I planned to steal her gold, and she told me to go ahead and steal it, but to not let my dad find out.
“I cashed out my mother’s gold, sold off antique carpets and valuable paintings from our house, and established the theatre. Then I pushed Aziz Nesin to write our first play, and he produced “Give Us Our Rights Hakkı”. It was very popular. My first order of business was to buy back the gold that I had pilfered from my mother, and I bought her plenty of gold. So much so that my mother stopped me, saying that she had forgiven me, and that she had believed in me all along. So that’s the story of how I created the theatre with my mother’s dowry.”
On his current project:
“I wrote a new play called “May Love Complete Us”. It’s become a hit. It’s a psychodrama, a comedy, and an interactive game all at once. We like to play with the audience. This is the first of its kind, and we are already selling tickets for the end of May.
“We titled the play, ‘May Love Complete Us, Love is the Way, Do Not Wander Astray’. Underneath, we wrote, ‘Whether you are married, single, engaged, widowed, divorced, getting divorced, or getting married, do not make any final decisions until you have seen “May Love Complete Us”.
“ This play is an entertaining look at interpersonal relationships, but it is also very enlightening. I relied on many scientific studies when writing it. I began working with the writings of Jacob Levy Moreno, an American professor who founded psychodrama and pioneered psychodrama couples therapy. I worked with doctors and psychodrama specialists. I also two published books, “May Love Complete Us” and “When Loneliness Came, You Remained”. I used these books as a starting point, and wrote many, many drafts. I am satisfied with it now. The play is being translated into French and Greek, and there are more languages to come.
“Married couples have given especially positive feedback. Some say we saved their marriage, others say they were both entertained and educated. Doctors have thanked us for drumming up new clients for them by educating the public about psychodrama counselling, thereby creating space for people to feel more open and comfortable about going to therapy. People have a lot of preconceived notions about this subject. A lot of people knew nothing, and many simply feared it. This play has torn down those walls and democratised psychodrama.”
On developing distinction in theatre:
“Acting is a serious profession. You must be a witness to your era. You must read and research what is going on around the world, and always be learning. You must have a good command of literature and theatre history, and you must read the canon. You must study various acting methods. It is serious work. Although we are part of the entertainment sector, people who join the entertainment industry should not become a public laughing stock. Succeeding in this line of work without embarrassing yourself requires hard work.
“I am the kind of person who always works on self-improvement. I read, I research. I write books, I teach at universities, I produce radio broadcasts, I direct movies. I go on television and participate in talk shows. I share my views on art, culture, and theatre with the broader public. I see this as my duty.”
On state censorship, and art as opposition:
“We rely on our own resources and stick to our own path without getting entangled in political issues. We do not have any business with the state, on any matter. We look after ourselves. Our support comes from our audiences. We are just trying to do our jobs, but we are put under pressure, denied performance venues, forbidden from presenting our plays.
“In every period, in every country in the world, there is overt or covert pressure on art and culture. Art is intrinsically critical of power. Art creates critical ideas, and those in power do not appreciate these critical thoughts.
“As a free, independent artist who believes in our republic, I have written extensively on how people should carry themselves, and how they should relate both to art and to the world around them.”