THEATER RUNS IN THE FAMILY: BEHZAT UYGUR

“OURS IS ONE OF THE FOUR OR FIVE THEATERS THAT DIDN’T DRAW THE CURTAIN ON IT FOR ABOUT SEVENTY YEARS, INCLUDING OUR FATHER’S LEGACY.”

We got together with Behzat Uygur, one of the most significant actors of the Turkish theater, on the occasion of ‘March 27 World Theater Day’. We listened to the story of a theater that didn’t draw the curtain on it for seventy years and the Uygur Theater’s stage journey as the whole family from Behzat Uygur, who is one of the five children of theater player parents who raised them all to be on stage.

When was the Uygur Theater established and where?
It was established at the Kocamustafapaşa Çevre Theater in 1990. A play was on every day at the theater, except Mondays. Newspapers had started a new trend then and began to include extras. Süheyl and I told our father ‘Let us put on an extra play on Mondays so the stage won’t be empty’. We established our own theater under the name of Young Uygurs Theater. Ours is one of the four or five theaters that didn’t draw the curtain on it for seventy years, including our father’s legacy. Ours is the historical theater of Turkey.

Did you used to go on the tours with your father as he was taking his plays to many cities in Turkey?
Ours was beyond going on the tours with him. We are five siblings; all of us were born on tours: Adana, Samsun, Antakya… My mother had spent all her pregnancies on the stage.

When was the first time that you went on the stage? What was your part?
It was the end of the 1960s. My father asked me to play the boy who served tea in the play called Cibali Police Department. He said, ‘When you go on the stage I will ask you whose son are you and you will answer me as I am Nejat Uygur’s son’. I did what he told me to. He snapped at me yelling ‘Son of that man who thinks he is funny? Get out of here!’ and this was my first act.

Did your other siblings, except Süheyl Uygur, try to become players?
All children of Nejat Uygur, even his daughter-in-laws went on the stage at least for a few times; however, there was only Süheyl and I at the end. Süha works as the General Art Director of the City Theaters.    

Did you ever try another profession?
I was offered once the marketing job of a cooking pot company since I have a way with words. I was fired for talking back to an angry customer. I wanted to have something else other than theater but it never happened. The old-timers used to advice that, too.

Do you think it is necessary to do other jobs besides acting or is the demand for theater increased compared to the past?
Unfortunately, we cannot say that. The plays used to be performed every day; however, they are only played once or twice weekly now. The number of theaters that make well at the box office is not more than a few. When we begin to have busy programmes just as it is in Europe, then we can say that the demand is increased.

Did your theater also experience crisis? Did you ever consider that dropping the curtain would be better?
Of course, we too experience crisis; however, we find our way out somehow. We create new fields to us. For instance, we asked some municipalities why they didn’t include theater plays when they were organizing concerts for festivals. Ten thousand guests came to watch our first play! This is the best part of our art. Theater can be done anywhere. Anywhere, where there are people: on a train, on an airplane, on a street… Since theater was born on streets and squares; it can certainly return back to out of stage.

How do you think theater on a train would be? How do you imagine it?
Theater on a train would be wonderful. Train has a great ambience for theater, so as the terminals. Imagine that you are on a train or at a terminal and all of a sudden, players who are wearing periodic costumes surround you. An interactive play that would include the passengers could be performed. Making our voices heard is not a problem any longer thanks to clip mics. Adjusting the duration of the play is up to us. We could do great things even in 10-15 minutes.

Can we tell that you adapted this approach through the origins of the Uygur Theater? How did the audience react when Nejat Uygur carried barcovision to the stage?
The Western films were so popular in the 1970s. My father made an adaptation. He put on the Western comedy called ‘Hey Amigo Give Me A Cucumber’. He set up a Western town in Kilyos and spent so much money for a 5-minute film. There was a scene at a bar in the film. As he entered the bar by kicking the swing-doors in the film, my father too entered the stage and the play began. It grabbed great interest.

How was it to play all together as a family? Was your mother still acting as a mother behind the stage?
Of course… For instance, we were going to play at the İzmir Fair. We turned the backstage into a kitchen as usual. Adile Naşit, Necla Uygur, Çolpan İlhan, and Gönül Ülkü were cooking. The table was set at the stage. Sadri Alışık, Gazanfer Özcan, Nejat Uygur, Zeki Alasya, Metin Akpınar… Zeki-Metin were still so young then. They used to sing, read poems, and tell jokes until the morning.

Do you believe the next generation will be able to keep the curtain open?
I do, because our children too are dedicated to art. One of them is getting theater education in the USA, and the other one is opening an art school. My son, Nejat, is going to begin working for a TV series soon. He told me ‘Dad, I accepted this offer to make theater’. It was an emotional moment for me. Süheyl and I made Şahane Pazar (Great Sunday) for TV for years. Our goal was to transfer the profit and the popularity to theater. This was how we were able to remain standing.