In Turkey, as in many parts of the world, the world of culture does not offer a variety of events tailored for audiences with hearing impairments, failing to warmly embrace all members of society.
However, in spite of the financial drawbacks and the hardships experienced during the production of cultural events for such individuals, several theater ensemble groups and professionals from Turkey have taken on the challenging task of presenting plays in sign language.
One of them is the İzmir-based theater group Keyf-i Tiyatro, which uses both sign and spoken language in its plays with the aim of reaching out to everyone, including audience members with hearing impairments. Having performed a children's play titled “Masallar Ülkesine Yolculuk” (A journey into the land of stories) and another piece called “Ev-leniyorum” (I will have a home) for adults on June 27 at İzmir's İsmet İnönü Cultural Center, the ensemble has been diligently working to produce more such plays.
The actors of Keyf-i Tiyatro received a three-month intensive course in sign language, which normally takes six months to complete. After rehearsing for a minimum of four days a week, the actors and the theater crew were able to present the plays after eight months.
Speaking to Sunday's Zaman, Şükrü Deşik, one of the co-partners of the group's founder, Çiçek Koç, spoke of the challenges of producing a play with sign language. “The production process of a ‘normal' play takes nearly three months. The mistakes made while presenting such plays can be thought of as something extemporaneous; when you need to replace one actor with another, you do not have difficulties. … You can add diversity to any [regular] play by using music. All of these are big dangers and problems for plays in sign language,” Deşik said.
Producing plays in sign language requires patience
Translating a play script into sign language is among the other demanding difficulties, sometimes resulting in dramatic changes in the text or the exclusion of some parts, Deşik noted, adding that performing plays in sign language is another factor that exhausts actors and crew members. As producing and preparing a play for those with hearing impairments requires patience, some of the actors and crew members left the ensemble midway during the education and production process, Deşik said.
Representatives from another theater ensemble which produces children's plays with sign language, the Ankara-based Sahnede İşaret Var (A sign is onstage) -- a group formed by organizater Aksiyon Organizasyon -- said an actor cannot even scratch his head while he is performing a play for people with hearing impairments since the audience might interpret things differently. Moreover, every sign and movement must be clear in such plays.
Sahnede İşaret Var was founded after actors from Aksiyon Organizasyon realized the presence of children with hearing impairments among other audience members in one of the entertainment events the firm organized. “We could not have a conversation with these children; we wanted them to enjoy and participate in these events. This made us sad because our aim was to simultaneously entertain and teach children. We asked ourselves what we could do for children with hearing impairment and decided to perform the same activities for them by learning sign language,” the representatives noted.
Theater director Servet Aybar from the Turkish State Theaters (DT) also emphasized the difficulties of producing plays that include sign language while recounting the production process of the play “Horoz Adam ve Korsan” (The rooster man and the pirate) -- a theatrical adaptation of writer Sevim Ak's novel of the same name that tells about how the life of a poor boy with some degree of hearing impairment changes after he meets a man who teaches him sign language.
Aybar has conducted research on the behavioral psychology of children with hearing impairments, sign language and acoustics in addition to conducting meetings with experts on this issues for the play, which was commissioned by the directorate of the Ankara State Theater and is set to be performed at international children's theater festivals in Turkey and abroad.
“Horoz Adam ve Korsan” also features dance performances, body language, music and some spoken language and aims to introduce the world of a child with hearing impairment to a “normal” audience. The main plot of the play can be understood by everyone, even foreigners, says Aybar.
Things did not go smoothly at first, manager says
The Vehbi Koç Foundation Ford Otosan Culture and Social Life Center in the Gölcük district in the northwestern province of Kocaeli has also been producing plays in sign language as well. The center has a theater club that consists of employees of the center with hearing impairments. The club was founded two years ago with the aim of helping these workers take part in art events and making them feel more content with their lives. However, things did not go smoothly at first for the officials from the center.
Pınar Çimen, the manager of the center, said when the club started rehearsals they realized the difficulties of communicating with those with hearing impairments. In addition, these workers also had a hard time interacting with the audience who came to see the club's performances. However, in time, the former idea has turned into a project to popularize the use of sign language among other people, Çimen commented.
After their performance, the club members deliver speeches on developing social responsibility regarding people with hearing impairments, the significance of sign language in communicating with these individuals and ways of treating these members of the society in an appropriate manner. Furthermore, the club teaches the audience the most frequently used words in sign language. All of these events are conducted by 22 club members, 17 of whom can neither speak nor hear.
These plays in sign language have received positive feedback from audiences that also includes those who do not have hearing impairments, according to the ensembles and professionals. Keyf-i Tiyatro has played to nearly 700 people, while the theater performances of the Vehbi Koç Foundation's club have been watched by 1,575 people from six shows staged in four different cities.
All of these groups underline that what they are doing is voluntary without financial benefits. Deşik cited this as among the reasons why people have difficulties in taking part in such projects, adding that even one of the nongovernmental organizations that supported Keyf-i Tiyatro in staging their plays came with financial expectations after the shows were performed, and some of their admission-free plays were cancelled by the members and managers of that organization. Nevertheless, the insufficient number of such ensembles and professionals is a big problem that still remains unsolved.