German theater slow to discover minorities, says Turkish director | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 30.04.2012
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German theater slow to discover minorities, says Turkish director

Nurkan Erpulat is one of the most successful young directors in German theater. The trained actor has garnered acclaim for his plays about young Turks in Berlin. DW talked to him about his work.

Theater director Nurkan Erpulat at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus

Theater director Nurkan Erpulat at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus

DW: Nurkan Erpulat, your first term as an in-house director at the Düsseldorf Schauspeilhaus is soon coming to an end. Will you continue to work as a director or would you like to return to acting and writing?

Nurkan Erpulat: My work as an actor is over. I didn't really want to give it up, but because of my directing work over the last few years I just haven't found time. Acting is like a muscle. If you don't train, you become weaker. But I want to work as an author again. There are stories which I would like to tell. My piece "Verrücktes Blut" (Crazy Blood) is still being performed, but there are others that are rather short-winded. But I'm not an author in the classical sense. I write a text; then I develop it together with actors. Then I rewrite the stage and stage it again. That is my method.

You began your career with works about Turkish youth in Berlin. Would you like to move away from the issue of immigration in future?

I don't want to move away from the issue at all. It's important. I'm also a "Turk" and that's fully ok. I find it problematic that I'm not trusted to deal with other issues, or rather, for a long time I wasn't trusted. I'm a director producing theater in the German-speaking theater landscape using tax-payers' money. I consider my work to be cultural and political. But at a certain point I became irritated, because I was only offered plays dealing with the issue of immigration.

Ethnic minority actors are nopt welcome in civic theaters, says Nurkan Erpulat

Ethnic minority actors are nopt welcome in civic theaters, says Nurkan Erpulat

What other topics interest you?

Immigration is not really one of the topics that interest me, because I see ethnicity as merely a trait. I'm interested in love, hate, betrayal. I'm also interested in doing pieces concerning morality or power. I don't even see my own works which have been categorized under "immigration" as actually belong in that category. My piece "Heimat im Kopf" (Homeland of the Mind) is about appearances and reality. "Jenseits - Bist du schwul oder bist du Türke?" (On the Other Side: Are you gay or are you Turkish?) is more about double standards.

Are you surprised by the fact that you were one of the first Turks to study directing at the Ernst Busch Theater School and that you are the first truly successful Turkish theater director in Germany?

Five or six years ago, German theater had no interest in ethnic minority actors. The ice was broken in film. Because of that, ethnic minority actors started attended acting schools and a few made it in film. But the majority of ethnic minority theater students have been stonewalled; there are no roles for them in theater. It's the same with directing, where there are even fewer ethnic minorities.

Why do you think there are so few actors, directors and playwrights with ethnic minority backgrounds in German theater?

People from ethnic minorities who are trained in theater were not welcome in civic theaters - that is explicitly clear. There are very few people with ethnic minority backgrounds on the German theater scene because German theater has no interest in these people or their history. We always assume that theater reflects society. And what have the artistic directors, playwrights and sponsors done for the last 50 years? Politics and art have utterly failed to deal with this issue.

How are things today?

Things are slowly changing. But there is still a clear reluctance to give certain roles to actors with ethnic minority backgrounds. I could tell you hundreds of stories about the experiences of ethnic minority actors. But also from directors who say: "We don't have roles for Turks at the moment," as if Turks can only play Turkish roles. That's what people say who have worked in theater for over 30 years and all that time had no problem with the fact hat a German actor played the role of the Danish Prince Hamlet. Or that black Othello is played by a white actor. But apparently Turkish actors aren't able to do that. That makes me really angry. There is a wealth of ethnic minority actors, including those trained at state academies. More than can be placed.

When will things change in German theater?

I think viewing habits will change. In theater we often laugh at opera people because they're still a bit old-fashioned. They are still reluctant to cut scenes or change the music. In theater we take three sentences and build the rest of the play ourselves. But in terms of protagonists, opera is way more advanced than theater. For 20 years, the role of Konstanze in Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" has been played by an Asian-looking actor. Nobody questions that. That will also be the case in theater - in 30 to 50 years [laughs].

Nurkan Erpulat (born in Ankara, 1974) is a Turkish actor, director and author. He moved to Berlin in 1998 at the age of 24 following his degree in theater studies in Izmir. He was accepted into the famous Ernst Busch Theater Academy in the field of directing. His most successful plays to date are: "On the Other Side: Are you gay or are you Turkish?" "Homeland of the Mind" and "Family History." "Crazy Blood," in which a teacher uses weapons in order to earn the respect of her ethnic minority students, was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen in 2011 and won German-Language Work of the Year 2011. The highly esteemed Theater heute newspaper named Erpulat Young Director of the Year 2011. He has also directed Franz Kafka's "The Castle" and Maxim Gorki's "Children of the Sun." Since the theater season of 2011/2012, Erpulat is one of two in-house directors at the Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus. His play "Crazy Blood" is due to be staged in English in Washington and New York.

Interview: Klaudia Prevezanos / hw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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