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Shakespeare in Turkey: Festival and Conference 2018

Dr. İlker Özçelik from Süleyman Demirel University shares his impressions of the first Shakespeare Festival held in Turkey.

İlker Özçelık
Sonnet reading
Sonnet reading

The first Shakespeare Festival and the second International Conference on English Language, Literature, and Linguistics took place in Isparta and Antalya, Turkey between April 20th and 30th 2018. The festival and conference were a major event that brought together a wide range of live performances and lectures from national and international specialists and theatre groups. Organized by Suleyman Demirel University (SDÜ) English Language and Literature (ELL) Department, all the festival activities were a great success enjoyed by Shakespeare lovers in Isparta, Antalya and Burdur. The festival involved a total of twenty four activities over ten days in four different venues, ten live theatrical performances, eleven lectures, eight displays, with audiences in their thousands who were amused, amazed, and delighted by the Shakespeare showcase that was on display.

A performance of The taming of the shrew
The taming of the shrew

The live performances started off with a play performed by the ELL department’s own students, the ever popular Romeo and Juliet, directed by Yasemen Kiriş Yatağan and Yadigar Kılavuz. This modern English version enabled the students to display their melodramatic acting skills in language accessible to a wider university audience of friends and family. ELL Department students continued later in the week with dramatized readings from Shakespeare’s sonnets directed by Yeşim Akbay and Elif Aktürk. These two live performances presented by the students were an absolute delight to watch, bringing out skills and abilities that many of the students never knew they had.

A performance of Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet

The performance of Hamlet as a one man play by the talented actor Bülent Emin Yarar (State Theatres) was extremely popular, with clever and creative use of scenery, special effects, and thoughtful studies of the play’s dark, universal themes, and relationships. In Müsadenle Shakespeare (Excuse me, Shakespeare), Denizli State Theatre presented humorous sketches in an ironic tone with Shakespeare’s ‘permission’. The Performing Arts Department of SDU delighted audiences with The Taming of the Shrew. In Antalya the Municipal Theatre presented Tarla Kuşuydu Juliet (Oh, oh, Juliet), a hilarious imagined sequel where Romeo and Juliet have become an argumentative elderly couple. Also in Antalya there was a performance of Tchaikovsky’s ballet version Romeo and Juliet. Bursa’s Municipal Theatre came to perform Maskbet, a modern version of the Scottish play with four actors in masks playing all the roles. There was a tribute to the Bard Selam Sana Shakespeare (Hello to you, Shakespeare) from the Bosphorous Performing Arts Group. Twitter Fenomeni Romeo ve Instagirl Juliet (Twitter Phenomenon Romeo and Insta Girl Juliet) brought Romeo and Juliet into the digital age.

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet

The second International Conference on English Language and Literature provided opportunities to hear from a glittering range of eminent national and international scholars. The famous performer, director, translator, and critic, Özdemir Nutku, related his varied contributions involving Shakespeare, noting some important conundrums in the translation of the works as well as his varied experiences in the teaching of drama. He was accompanied by Hülya Nutku, who also related her experiences as a drama teacher and performer. They were followed by Gülşah Özdemir Koryürek and Korhan Koryürek, who introduced their unique Turkish television documentary Türkiye’de Şekspir Olmak, showing the array of different productions and representations of Shakespeare that can be found in film and on the stage in Turkey.

Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells in conversation about the sonnets
Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells in conversation

The wonders of a video link enabled a number of eminent international scholars to join the conference. From the UK one of the world’s foremost Shakespeareans, the scholar, writer and editor Sir Stanley Wells accompanied Dr. Paul Edmondson, Head of Learning and Research at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Honorary Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, provided insights into the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and an analysis of the sonnets. Another scholar of great international renown, Peter S. Donaldson from the world famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) delivered a talk entitled: Global Shakespeare, Linking Archives, and the ‘Living Variorum’, with a special focus on the educational work with a global reach which is carried out from MIT. Another participant by video link was the literary historian and author Stephen Greenblatt, who presented erudite reflections on tyranny in Richard II and freedom of speech in Shakespeare’s time. The department’s own Beture Memmedova gave a delightful lecture, ‘Thank you Shakespeare’, describing her gratitude for the contribution that Shakespeare has made to the modern English language. 

A ceramics exhibition
A ceramics exhibition

In addition to the live performances and academic lectures, there were also many other displays and activities that were enjoyed by festival audiences. One of the most impressive was a poster exhibition about every single one of Shakespeare’s plays prepared by students of the department. This display was accompanied by an exhibition from the SDU Ceramics Department of famous lines from Shakespeare and commemorative medallions. The Shakespresso cocktail provided a range of light-hearted entertainment. Başka Sinema presented a film version of Macbeth in English. Finally, participants in the festival were invited to write letters to Juliet, and these were sent to the Juliet Club in Verona that commemorates the play. One letter ended with the words “I believe that till the last breath is sighed on Earth, your sweet words will echo on the lips of humanity.”

The benefits and gains of the festival are enormous and manifest in terms of experience and confidence for all the participants, but most of all enjoyment. The festival brought alive the works of Shakespeare, enabling a wide and diverse audience to enjoy the universal and timeless themes that have fascinated Shakespeare lovers for four centuries.

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