Acting in Istanbul - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Acting in Istanbul

It’s all Greek to me – er, rather Turkish.

If you told me three months ago that come April I’d be sitting in Istanbul and watching a play in Turkish, I would have laughed in your face and probably plagued it with my daily afternoon dose of dark chocolate (sorry for the mess).

The past ten days have been unreal.  If you can imagine the best parts of the best cities in one place, you get Istanbul – or rather paradise.  It is the pinnacle of culture, history, beauty, art, and life – after all any culture that’s any culture has passed through Istanbul.

How does a starving artist go to Istanbul, you ask?  Through The Tempest Ladies  – an all-female Shakespeare ensemble that founded in 2008 while studying at the Globe Theatre in London.  Since London, The Tempest Ladies have performed in Syracuse, NY, Off-Broadway and internationally in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – so you can imagine the delight we all took in traveling abroad to perform again.

The Sevgi Gonul Festival at Koch University funded the Tempest Ladies to come and perform as the first international company to appear in this festival.

A funded trip to Turkey?  You don’t have to ask me twice (where’s the baklava?!)


Jet-lagged and, admittedly, a little dazed by the sight of a new city (you’re telling me that’s Asia across the river??) we sat in the Turkish play completely astounded by what we saw.

The play was The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder.  It had been translated from English to Turkish and was set in Yonkers, NY.

While we didn’t know any of the language at this point except for maybe Merhaba (“hello”), we were still delighted to find we could follow the plot with ease thanks to the fantastic amounts of physical comedy and visual clarity used throughout the show.  And if watching a Turkish play and following the plot wasn’t incredible enough, I couldn’t get over how wonderfully this piece of art proved to transcend cultural barriers.

Here was a group of people who had been raised in a completely different culture with a different language and different background who could relate to characters in Yonkers, New York – essentially where we had just flown in from.  These Turkish students embodied these characters knowing less about Yonkers than we did, but they also still managed to tell the absolute truth on stage.

It goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what language you speak or who you are – you’re a human and all humans experience the same emotions and have the same needs.  So you can be in Turkey and play someone in New York because you can relate to what that foreign character is experiencing as one human to another.

It’s both humbling and daunting at the same time: humbling in the sense that no culture is superior and everyone can, in fact, relate to everyone in some capacity.  Daunting in that it’s that much more important to tell the clearest truth on stage because everyone from everywhere can relate to that truth.

About the author

Jana Stambaugh

Jana (it rhymes with “banana” or “anna”) is an artist from Clarksville, Maryland. Growing up her parents always told her to “be whatever you want to be.” Seeing as she has come from three generations of doctors, she obviously became an artist. As an actor, she has performed internationally Off-Broadway, and locally to the Baltimore/DC area. Favorite roles include Juliet, Ariel, and Caliban. Jana is the Founder of Red Connect Online, a social media marketing company that creates customized advertising campaigns for small businesses. You can listen to her podcast, Confessions of a Closet Christian, on the E-Squared Media Network. You can also follow her on Twitter (@Jana_Stambaugh) and friend her on Facebook. Contact the author.

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