A madrasa of theatre

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“This theatre is a special reality. It seems that every stone is an embroidery. Gentleness.”

This is how Roberta Quarta, actress and International Projects Coordinator of Astragali Teatro , defines the Madrasa Theatre (Tiyatro Medresesi). Madrasa Theatre in Şirince, Turkey, is special both physically and “spiritually”. Madrasa , is a unique “communal” cultural institute in Turkey, focusing on intercultural research and workshop activities. One of the very few facilities created by self-management and public donations, Madrasa could be the inspiration to change the perception of cultural institutions.

The founders describe it as such: “Theatre Madrasa is designed as an international centre for research, creation and performance in Şirince, a village of Selçuk, İzmir, Turkey. Madrasa aims to be an alternative venue to host those artists, who have an ambition to not only answer current questions on theatre and performing arts but also raise the new ones.”

Built among olive trees in the idyllic village of Şirince, Madrasa Theatre hosts artists and researchers from all fields of arts. The guests participating in the workshops and research camps here have the opportunity to go out of the everyday routine, isolate themselves from the “real world” and focus on the artistic interaction. The communal experience is intensified by the organization of the everyday tasks, like cooking and cleaning, done by the participants of the workshops. After an intense day of training and discussions, the participants sleep in the dormitories composed of up to 10 beds inside the Madrasa.

Madrasa Theatre, is designed as a typical madrasa, with a courtyard, arcades, domes, dormitories, study rooms etc. The main closed hall is of 200 square meters, and the courtyard 600 m2 including an amphitheatre.

The idea to build the facility started as a continuation of the summer theatre camps. Celal Mordeniz, director of “Seyyar Sahne” (Stage on the Go) the leading force behind the Madrasa Theatre, came up with the idea to set up a permanent study, research, practise and demonstration location. Ilgaz Ulusoy, one of the founding members, says that at the beginning they were dreaming of having a little studio, but the project grew in scope by time and they ended up with a grand facility unique in Turkey.

The renowned architect, linguist and author Sevan Nişanyan agreed to build the Tiyatro Medresesi. Erdem Şenocak, one of the founders of Madrasa recounts how they decided on the architecture and their encounter with Nişanyan:

“We were sitting at a “han” (historical, typical roadhouse) in Diyarbakır with Celal Mordeniz. It had an amazing courtyard. And we said “Our place should look like this”, and started drawing on napkins the first architectural sketches. There were also some architects with us and they said it would cost around 300.000 TL (111.000 euro). And we thought “Well, we can find that money!”. But now, even though it’s not finished yet, it has already costed more than 1.1 million (408.000 euro)… After deciding that we want the theatre to look like that “han” in Diyarbakır we started looking for a name befitting the place. After a brainstorming of names we came up with “Madrasa”.

Then I saw Sevan Nişanyan at an event and went up to talk to him about our project. I told him “We want to make a madrasa of theatre”. He just looked at me for an instance and said “You need to find 1 million TL” and went back to eating. And I said “Do you say it just to get rid of me or do we really need 1 million?” and he said “You really need to find 1 million!”After one month I again visited him and showed our sketches. Then he understood that we were serious. He said it was also one of his dreams to build a madrasa, and started dreaming how the courtyard should look like etc. And he said we should build it in Şirince and agreed to be the constructor himself.”

And with public donations the Madrasa Theatre came to life in July 2012. “Seyyar Sahne” (“Stage on the Go”) was the main force behind the donations. They created a “pool” of funding and also staged theatre plays with all the benefits going to the construction of Madrasa. Seyyar Sahne by itself has raised almost 250.000 TL for Madrasa. The rest of the funding came from relatives of the founders, private donations, and aid in kind. Some reknowned artists agreed to make free shows for the Madrasa.

The founders say they immagine a total cost of around 1.5 million TL after all the construction work is finished. Erdem Şenocak, Ilgaz Ulusoy and Doğu Can, three of the founders, say that they still need donations to continue with the project and ask supporters to visit their website to see how they can help. They also underline that the funders are honoured with plaques with their names on it put on the stones of the Madrasa.

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Name controversy

The name of the theatre is suggestive too. Madrasas were the places of study where students were provided with lodgings, prayer halls, lecture halls, a library etc before the foundation of the Turkish Republic. As the founders of the modern Turkey aimed at severing all the connections with the Ottoman Empire, madrasas were banned in 1924. And after that point even the name became controversial.

The founders of the Madrasa Theatre acknowledge this controversy they had to deal with because of the name they chose. They say the Madrasa Theatre is a connection between the deep rooted tradition of the madrasa and the theatre which is one of the symbols of modernization of Turkey.

Erdem Şenocak, one of the founders, says that some people thought the name suggested a longing for the Ottoman Empire and refused to make donations just because of it. And then there are the more conservative, religious ones who think that madrasas are institutions of religion and shouldn’t be involved in any way with theatre.


New identity wall

Madrasa Theatre hosted the first phase of the “WALLS-Separate worlds” project, the international theatre residency subtitled “Drama at the crossroads –new identity wall”. The theatre residency project, although lasted just around one week, left a long lasting impression on the participants. As one of the actors that took part in the Walls project in Şirince said, “Here in one week we had a special experience, not measurable by time”.

Şenocak, Ulusoy and Can say that their involvement in the “WALLS-Separate Worlds” project was thanks to Astragali Teatro, with which they came to contact last year in another project in Istanbul. They say their aim is to first “face and break down the walls inside ourselves”.

Ilgaz Ulusoy says on the blog of the project “Besides working together for 10 hours in a day, we spent every moment together; eating, cleaning, sleeping, hanging around… That’s why the number of the places like Madrasa must be increased. It becomes an absolute experience to share a communal life. To be able to live collectively is not something different from doing theatre collectively. There are many common points. ‘To watch’ the other, as Fabio (Tolledi) stressed a lot today, is one dimension. Let’s see how everything will proceed.”

On their website, the founders say “Madrasa will be the place of true encounter as the audience and artists stay together and find the opportunity to meet and talk in the courtyard. We believe that new relationships will emerge in the courtyard of the Madrasa that will be open to artists and researchers from different disciplines all the year round.” This declaration manifests perfectly how the Madrasa can help break down the WALLS.


Tiyatro Medresesi: http://www.pam.org.tr/WPEng/



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