from Istanbul
Original post 17th January 2011

Last week to look at some small theatre spaces to perform our new show Istanbul in in May. Our friend Eren offered to show us around some places he knew and in a day of walking from venue to venue we met some truly inspiring people who were ‘doing it for themselves’. Defying the lack of support here and making something great nonetheless.

Kumbaracı 50, a small and wonderfully adaptable space on a side street off İstiklal is run by the Altıdan Sonra Tiyatro (after six theatre) collective who formed in 1999 at İstanbul Teknik University.

“There is no support for the arts here in Turkey” says Onur, one of the theatre’s directors. “we all have proper jobs too – that’s why we’re the after six theatre”.

Until last year the group was focussed of creating their own performances and events. “We’d been making work for ten years at that point, but there were no spaces that were designed to show this kind of theatre – nothing flexible, nothing different. Mainly just the municipality theatres. So we decided it was about time we made our own space – and not just for us, but for everyone in this situation”.

And so Kumbaracı 50 was born. Everything about the space is moveable and changeable according to the needs of each individual performance that comes there – and there are a lot, they have a performance every day in January. The average capacity of the space is 70 (though it can fit up to 120 in some configurations), which is probably about the right size given the still incredibly ‘underground’ nature of contemporary theatre here.

“They’ve had to really fight to be here”, Eren tells me after we leave. “Last year the municipality shut them down because they staged a show that some people perceived to be anti-Islamic. It wasn’t – the woman in it just wasn’t doing what she should. Of course this wasn’t the official reason: officially they got closed because they didn’t have proper fire escapes.” He goes on, “so they had to spend loads of money sorting out their fire escapes before they could open again… I mean, they should have fire escapes! But it’s not really the point.”

It’s a reminder, yet again, that this is not a western country however much it can appear to be, and that these things do make an impact here. Kumbaracı 50 is, after all, just up the road from the Tophane art galleries that were attacked in September after residents were outraged by drinking in the street.

“So… you have friends here?” Onur asks us before we leave. “You have an audience, right?”

“Yes!” we say, “Of course!”………