Seven women activists’ stories told on the stage

Seven women activists’ stories told on the stage

Actresses (from left, standing) Belçim Bilgin Erdoğan, Şevval Sam, Zeynep Eronat, (front row, seated) Lale Mansur and Füsun Demirel, lawyer Fethiye Çetin and journalist Ece Temelkuran are taking part in the Turkish production of the documentary play, “Seven.”

September 23, 2010, Thursday/ 16:15:00
A documentary play titled “Seven” claims to be able to change the world. However, it is not only the play that claims to change the world, it is merely the reflection of the changes realized by seven courageous women from seven different countries around the world.Based on interviews with seven female activists and depicting their stories, “Seven” has been performed all over the world since 2007 and garnered much interest. Whereas the American version of the play was presented by Hillary Clinton and the famous Hollywood actress Meryl Streep played the role of North Irish activist Inez McCormack, it has been performed on 40 different stages by the Swedish National Tour Theatre Riksteatern since 2009.

The characters have been brought to life by 200 different individuals, among which there are ministers, actresses, parliamentarians and other prominent figures. What is more striking about the influence of the play is that it has been performed by male parliamentarians in the Swedish parliament -- highlighting the importance and the urgency of addressing the violation of women’s rights.

The documentary play, presented with the subtitle “the power of changing the world,” has its Turkish premiere this week through a joint effort by the Sweden Institute, the İstanbul Swedish Consulate and Riksteatern at the Muammer Karaca Theatre in Beyoğlu.

Turkish artists, activists and writers taking part in tonight’s Turkish premiere of “Seven” are lawyer Fethiye Çetin, who plays Inez McCormack; journalist Ece Temelkuran as Hafsat Abiola; actresses Lale Mansur, Belçim Bilgin Erdoğan and Füsun Demirel as Annabella De Leon, Muhtar Mai and Mu Sochua, respectively. Another well-known actress, Zeynep Eronat, plays Marina Pisklakova-Parker, while singer Şevval Sam plays Farida Azizi.

“It’s a fact that the oppression of women is really present everywhere in any society,” says Hedda Krausz Sjögren, the producer of the play, in an interview with Today’s Zaman. “These women are coming from seven different countries, different cultures but in some ways, they are very similar. Even the Swedish audience was very affected because the problems are there, too, and it’s not just in other countries nobody else is concerned with.” So, for Sjögren this is where the message of the play lays. “The message is ‘Get engaged and start looking at your society and around yourself and change something’.”

“Wherever we shall be in this world, people are subjected to racist and discriminatory treatment,” says Çetin, a lawyer also known for her advocacy of human and minority rights and her support of the Hrant Dink trial. “I was deeply impressed because this is a crime committed in every place of the world and what women experience is the same.”

The seven female activists are connected through a network called “Vital Voices Global Partnership” where emerging female leaders that are in very difficult situations can find support. “It is through this network that these seven women were picked,” explains Sjögren about the process of how the play was formed. “I was with Marina Pisklakova, one of the women that were portrayed in the play -- she was coming along with the tour -- and she would always talk with the audience afterwards saying: ‘Yes, we were picked; we were picked because there are so many of us out there in the world. It’s not me in particular, but I’ve many sisters who are also doing the work that I’ve been doing.’ So, in many ways they’re the symbols for so many people who are doing this kind of work.”

Many lessons for Turkey

“This is the fact in terms of women, but it is not only the women who are oppressed, but all human beings,” says Çetin. “Especially in Turkey, minorities and people who are different in this country face the same pressures. There’s not only state discrimination against individuals, but also the discrimination of individuals against each other; so that’s why I saw an analogy between this play and Turkey. What we must do is to stand against all the racism, discrimination and violence.”

“It is very significant that it’s being performed in Turkey,” says Demirel, the actress and interpreter who has translated more than 25 plays by Dario Fo and Franca Rame into Turkish. “Women’s rights are still an issue that must be discussed a lot in Turkey. I wish the play could reach a broader audience. Because when we look at the newspapers everyday, we see those stories of women being abused, raped and killed. On the other hand, these issues are being presented in a very perverted way, especially by television series, and that hurts me a lot. Think about a society where infamous movie characters played by the likes of Nuri Alço or Coşkun Göğen [dubbed ‘Coşkun the rapist’ for his portrayals of rapists in several Turkish movies] can be considered heroes.”

“It is a fact that a similar play can be written for Turkey as well,” indicates Temelkuran. “I think we can do a play like this in Turkey with seven women. I’m sure there’ll be thousands of women who would like to be the voice of seven women contributing to the struggle in Turkey.”

When such cases in Turkey, and the way such cases are being presented, are taken into consideration, the critical question comes to mind: What should the method be to convey these cases to society, especially when it’s art?

“It should never be forgotten that people who have been subjected to such treatment are also human beings,” says Çetin. “We should approach them with a humanitarian perspective, and let those victims speak for themselves and create an available space for them to speak. And the critical point here is to understand through a humanitarian perspective and not to forget that they are human beings as well.”

“A work of art should foresee the problems of society,” says Demirel, “and an artist reflects those problems in his/her artwork and guides people in this respect. Art should make people ask real questions.”

“Honest language should be used, a language that is also used by women in their own lives,” says Temelkuran. “If you curve and bend that language, then a weird situation results. The stories should be told in the way these women experienced them in real life. And I think this makes it more powerful, since it is real.”

Sjögren’s explanation as to why the play has been so influential seems to confirm these suggestions. “I think it’s because it’s inspiring. The stories are very tough; these women go through tough things but they’ve all managed to change their situation. Why do they do that? There are different reasons but when you come out the play, you feel like it’s time to do something, not just stay depressed about the state of the world,” she says, and adds: “For me, it’s changing my life. And women here in İstanbul are already very engaged in these issues.”

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