TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Section VS 1 The multitude of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques: From Theory to Practice
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair:
Birgit Fritz (University of Vienna), Matthias Thonhauser (Art in Progress/Austria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

English | Русский

The Significance of The Theatre of The Oppressed
Practiced with the Youth in Turkey

Jale Karabekir (Istanbul, Turkey) [BIO]


This presentation consists of my own experience: my own experience on the theatre of the oppressed (TO) applications in regard to the youth studies in Turkey. I am a feminist, a dramaturg, a theatre of the oppressed practitioner and the artistic director of the feminist theatre group, Theatre Painted Bird, in Istanbul. Frankly speaking, I am not an expert in the youth studies. My specialization in theatre, and specifically in the TO, is related to gender issues. I have still been conducting the theatre of the oppressed with different women’s groups such as housewives, earthquake survivors, young women, students from various art schools, etc. I have also been producing feminist plays. Today, in this presentation of my personal experience of the TO with young people in Turkey, I would like to re-think and consider, altogether, how we can work and in what ways we can improve our work with young people.

This presentation has three parts. In the first part, I will tell you the history of the TO practice in Turkey. In the second part, I will give you a brief summary of my experience of TO with young people. Finally, I will try to make some suggestions on the case of theatre of the oppressed practice with the youth, which will be a re-consideration of the previous studies as well as the perspectives of future ones. I hope this presentation will help us all for using the TO in working with the youth, everywhere, and with all kinds of people.


The Short History of the Theatre of the Oppressed Practice in Turkey

The TO, both in practical and theoretical perspective, is a new concept and technique in Turkey. The primary books of Augusto Boal, the theatre of the oppressed & Games for Actors and non-Actors, were published in the 2000s. Before that, only the English-speaking theatre people or related professionals were the ones who had the access in reading them and/or working with these techniques. In general, we can say that the history of the TO in Turkey has started in the mid 1990s when the foreign theatre people introduced the TO into the Turkish audience with their forum plays and forum theatre workshops.

After that introductory step, gradually, it has started to flourish as an alternative in education and social/cultural studies. There are still very few practitioners and academics in Turkey, who study the TO. However, the TO opens a new understanding in theatres, in theatre-in-education, and in the community-based research and studies.


Theatre of the Oppressed conducted with Youth

Although I have been mainly practicing the theatre of the oppressed with women’s groups, I facilitated some workshops and activities with young people in regard of gender based or issue-oriented studies. Here, I select three different types of the activities I have conducted for/with young groups in Istanbul.

The first one is a forum play we performed at the Barisarock rock festival in Istanbul. This is an alternative festival and its name is the combination of two words: Baris (meaning peace) and Rock by showing a word game in its combination. The combination of these two words contains two different meanings; first meaning is “with peace” and the other is “rock for peace”. The starting point five years ago was a resistance action  against one of the popular rock festivals which was organized in Istanbul by an international soft drink company which is well-known as supporting the war in the world. Today, Barisarock festival is organized in professional level with the genuine endeavor of volunteers. In 2006, our theatre group and the political movement, Turkish Greens, made a collaborative effort to offer a forum piece within this festival. Our goal was to draw the young people’s attention to the nuclear energy threat in Turkey. Intensively working for three days, we made a play for young audience attracting their attention to nuclear energy problem that we have been facing in Turkey for years already. The play was not about how nuclear energy is a hot spot in political and ecological arenas; instead, we tried to draw the attention to the ways of how the youth is exploited by the employment policies of the government in their arguments for building nuclear plants.

The rock festival took place in one of the countrysides of Istanbul, in an old forest, and it had three-day program providing accommodation in the tents. We performed the forum play on a low platform under trees, to the audience of more than 300 young people. The interventions in the audience didn’t take place (although the interventions were possible with “so called rational, intellectual and scientific arguments that the nuclear lobbies created for Turkey”). In contrast, we figured out that the festival participants were not ignorant of the nuclear energy problem; they thought that it is a “bad” technology and they had fight against this policy, but, unfortunately, they did not know why and what they are opposing to. The interventions created a double lock at the employment problems of young people, and showed their desperation and anxiety about their future. This analysis of how this performance is perceived by young participants and also of how the interventions are created, does not affect the fact that young people has a power to change the situation. However the employment problem is one of the core problems in Turkey, so that the interventions show how much the young people are eager to change the situation in various ways, whether they succeed or not.

Besides, this forum piece and interventions provided a general idea of the young people’s approach towards the nuclear energy threat and the employment problems. Although as performing a forum play for them on this theme, we meant to take their attention to these problems, on the other hand we derived some information about their knowledge on these subjects, which might improve our future studies that we plan to conduct in terms of their approach, their possible knowledge and their perceptions.

The second performance also took place in Gepgenç Festival, organized by Bilgi University in Istanbul. Its primary aim was to organize a four-day festival for the youth from all over the country. Thousands of young people came to Istanbul from different universities, departments, youth centers, community centers and more importantly, from different regions of country. The significance of this festival laid into the meetings of different ‘young people’ coming from different cultures. And in my opinion, what makes this festival precious is not the activities, workshops, seminars, concerts, plays, etc. that they offered to the young people, but the opportunity to meet with other youngsters and to exchange the ideas of young people from different perspectives. In this festival, I facilitated an intensive forum workshop with young people who came from different regions, which has reasonably distinct facilities from each other.

In short, I would like to present some results of this workshop. Firstly, the workshop participants from different cities and cultures decided to continue their friendship in the future. This friendship and exchange can offer a diversity of activities, actions and experiences they will create. Moreover, it provides to examine, to identify, and to create an empathy with the ‘other’, which in this case indicates the dichotomies of rural-urban, female-male, traditional-modern, and so on. Secondly, some participants who are working for the youth (there are some volunteer organizations in Turkey, in which the youth work for the youth) were to apply this new ‘understanding’ to their work, namely the technique of the TO. And thirdly, some participants who are members of the group, decided to convey this new knowledge to other members and to apply the TO in their work.

Now, I would like to read two emails I received from the participants of this workshop after we had finished:

A young girl from Ankara, the Capital of Turkey, says:
“It has been the best thing I have done in Istanbul, that workshop! Afterwards, we used the exercise, hypnosis, with my friends in Ankara. Now, we are doing the hypnosis exercise before we start studying, which needs intensive concentration. I am using the technique which I learned in this workshop, I mean to apply some alternative perspectives in my life, in every layer of my life, in my relation to my mother, my sister, my friend, my aunt. I am telling it out in every talk in order to train (or to repeat) how we can look at the facts towards different perspectives. Because people can forget even though she knows it!”

A young boy from Mardin, in Southeast part of Turkey, says:
“Theatre is always indispensable for me. In this theatre work, an incredible improvement was accomplished; the participants felt like they knew each other for years. Also, this work creates new friendships. I think, in this workshop we were not performing a play, we lived the reality in which the theme is the oppressed and the oppressor. But in this workshop, we became a family.”

The last example I would like to say about is the forum workshop and performance experience that was held for the Congress of Environmental Engineering Students in Istanbul. The aim of this congress was to assemble all the environmental engineering students from different universities in Istanbul as well as other cities. Because the congress was for environmental engineering students and the themes that were to be discussed were the environmental issues, at first we focused on some environmental topics in the workshop, but this action produced additional anxiety and fear in the participants in the process of improvising the play. Not surprisingly, but interestingly, they improvised various themes, which did not function, in short, we were not satisfied with the result. It was not because they were not sufficient enough, but because they wanted to express something different, something that they really feel. Naturally, when we figured out this situation, the forum play flourished all of a sudden without any fear or any anxiety.

The forum play was about the problems and troubles of environmental engineering students, about the students’ situation, the oppressive security policies of the campus, about living in a city with traffic jams, about the education system, the lack of communication between students and lecturers, the conditions of newly graduate environmental engineers such as unemployment and the newly registered law that restricts the status of young engineers.

The forum play was performed in the auditorium of Yildiz Technical University with an audience consisting of approximately 250 students. The spectators stated to make various interventions in regard to the conflicts and oppressions that were presented at the stage. As it was performed within the university, the students of environmental engineering paid a lot of attention to the issues concerning their own life in order to solve problems or create some strategies together.



These three different examples show a diversity of results in the TO applications in the work with the youth in Turkey. Before I finish my presentation, I would like to give a conclusion and emphasize some points in order to appreciate the youth as well as to conceptualize how and in what ways the  TO is important and significant in youth studies.

  1. The TO provides a space for the youth in which they can express their own oppression, problem, conflict and contradictions.
  2. The TO provides a collective space for the youth in which they can see that oppression is systematic. That particular oppression is not personal; instead, it is a common issue for the young people. This is a very important point, because, especially in their transition to adulthood, young people have a higher potential of having the feelings of loneliness and despair.
  3. The TO provides a tool for the youth, the opportunity of changing some oppressive situations. This is another important point, because countries like Turkey, where the power is exercised through and between state, Government, military, and state-with-in-a-state relations, the young people mostly see and consider as difficult or impossible to make any changes in the society. This situation constitutes an unconditional defeatism against the systematic oppression. This is also because of the oppressive and repressive actions and policies of those mechanisms I mentioned above - that restrict individuals and communities to express their own ideas or to formulate their demands and wishes.
  4. The TO is an educational process for the young people, in which they learn about different perspectives and alternatives that at the end will create their “critical thinking”. The critical thinking is significant in terms of education as well as everyday life, but it improves the point of views towards the imposed knowledge and the imposed social norms.
  5. The TO provides a liberating atmosphere for the young people, where they become the actors of their desires, instead of that what is expected from them. Again, in the case of the youth, the highly expectations from the youth is also an oppressive situation more than the other groups.
  6. The TO with its exercises and games offers a kind self-development to young people and also creates a collective power in changing their lives. Subsequently, in the application of this technique and the exercises, it is not important what you are doing, I mean which exercise you are using, the important thing is how and for what reason you are using that particular exercise and what you aim to propose and change. If we, as facilitators, want to create some change in the youth, it is not important what exercise we choose, but it is important why we are using it. In other words, we should not focus on details; we should see this study as a process, as a process of changing the attitudes and outlooks of young people. I would like to tell you of another interesting event that I encountered in the work with a heterogeneous female group. That group involved young female dancers and also old practitioners of ‘creative drama’. At the end of the workshop, both sub-groups achieved different results, but the interesting result came from the practitioners – although they knew those exercises and games as well as I do - their admiration for the TO. The answer they gave me is that they knew those exercises but not in this form. But I realize that the thing they are telling is not about the form, but it is about the aim and how those exercises constitute a process, a process of forum theatre, a process of new understanding.
  7. And the last but not the least, I see the TO not only as a fieldwork, a fieldwork that we activate the spectator or we improve our understanding, but also as a process from which we can derive some data, knowledge about that particular community. In the case of the youth, while our aim is to train the young people, we also can learn from them - how they perceive the world, what problems they are struggling with and facing with, and, more importantly, how they create strategies against the oppression. This is also valuable.

VS 1 The multitude of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques: From Theory to Practice

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For quotation purposes:
Jale Karabekir: The Significance of The Theatre of The Oppressed Practiced with the Youth in Turkey - In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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