The arts and culture scene on the European side of Istanbul has lost some of its luster with the closing of the Atatürk Cultural Center in 2008; this has led to the rise of arts and culture, theater in particular, on the Asian side of the city. The district of Kadıköy became the new theater hub, and it is now the home of a newly opened theater, Şevket Çoruh’s Baba Sahne. The story of Baba Sahne is one of passion, drama, and hope for a bright and successful future.
A priceless passion
Şevket Çoruh always dreamed of having his own theater. He stumbled across a special building two years ago in central Kadıköy. Despite its dilapidated state, he knew right away that he had found the perfect place to start his theater. The history of this building was appealing for him, and it inspired him to continue the theater tradition it once represented. It was originally constructed as a theater by actor Yıldırım Önal in 1967. In later years, it continued to be used by other famous actors such as Abdurrahman Palay, Nezih Tuncay, Ani and Çetin Ipekkaya, and Zafer Diper. However, it was transformed into a cinema in the 80s, and it was used as an arcade in the 90s. Thus, the building slowly deteriorated over the years, having lost its spotlight as a space for actors and audiences to gather and enjoy theater together.
Çoruh was passionate about bringing this theater back to life; however, he was met with financial difficulties. Upon discovering the building in its ruined state, Çoruh did not hesitate to sell his house, his 1966 model Mustang, and his Thunderbird to purchase the building and begin major repairs. As a memorable gesture of celebration, he finalized the deal on March 27, 2015, which is also known as World Theater Day. However even after finalizing the deal, his work had barely begun. Though Çoruh searched for sponsors to fund the construction work to refurbish the building, he could not find many people willing to help, as spending money on arts and culture is not a common practice in Turkey. In the end, he received a bank loan and sought help from his friends. “This theater was built without getting funding from any corporation or organization, instead, only with the support and contributions made by friends, relatives, and colleagues,” Çoruh told The Guide Istanbul. He has this exact statement carved onto a plate that is hanging on the wall of the theater’s foyer, emphasizing his appreciation for receiving support from friends and colleagues who supported his pursuits. Although some news websites claim that the overall amount to build Baba Sahne cost 17 million TL, Çoruh states those numbers are exaggerated and are not true. When asked the actual price of the theater, Çoruh refuses to share this information, instead explaining, “This is an art house, not a trade firm. You cannot put a price on the sweat and effort that we have devoted to building this place in just two years from scratch. The only thing the public should be aware of is how much love and effort has gone into founding this theater.” Knowing that he sold his belongings, cleared out his savings, and took out a bank loan for the purpose of transforming a ruined building into a vibrant center is enough to understand just how much he sacrificed to create his dream theater.
A sneak peak inside Baba Sahne
Upon entering the theater, you walk through a passage where the walls are decorated with photos of legendary Turkish actors and actresses from past and present. Walking through this corridor is like entering into a Turkish cinematic history time tunnel. There is one headshot hanging on the wall that is more eye-catching than the others. It is a photo of Savaş Dinçel, the acclaimed actor who passed away ten years ago, who Çoruh refers to as his mentor. In dedicating this theater to Dinçel, Çoruh set the date of the grand opening as April 1st, which would have been Dinçel’s 75th birthday. The theater was named Baba Sahne, or “Father Stage,” and Çoruh intends for it to be used as a safe space for all actors. “We named our theater Baba Sahne in order not to feel orphaned,” Çoruh stated. He further defined the Turkish word baba (father) as someone who cares, who provokes, who intervenes, who protects, who is missed when he is not around. “A stage is like a father for all the actors. If an actor doesn’t have a stage to perform on, he is like a child without a father,” Çoruh explained. Therefore we named our stage Baba Sahne, so we have a father to protect us at all times.”
Passing down the theater legacy
On the opening night of Baba Sahne, Çoruh’s predecessors showed their appreciation for his work by rewarding him with the fez of Ismail Dümbüllü, who was a renowned actor of traditional Turkish theater. The fez is considered an important and prestigious symbol that is only given to actors that have made great contributions to theater. It can be likened to a heritage that can only be passed down through generations. Upon receiving the gift, Çoruh humbly stated, “It was a big surprise for me to receive the fez on opening night. I am very thankful. But I don’t consider this as a present which is given only to me personally. It is dedicated to Baba Sahne and to all my actor friends here.” When speaking about the completion of the theater, Çoruh humbly says, “I am not the first person to accomplish this.” Yıldız Kenter, the prima donna of Turkish theater, built a theater from scratch in 1968; Ferhan Şensoy renovated a historical stage dating back to 1885; Müjdat Gezen bought an old pavilion in Ziverbey, had it renovated, and turned it into an art school. “I am just following in the footsteps of my predecessors and role models. We must show the same courage and continue the legacy,” Çoruh stated.
Baba Sahne started its repertoire in April with its first play entitled Aşk Ölsün (Let Love Die), which was written by Murat Ipek and directed by Barış Dinçel. Later, it released Bir Baba Hamlet (A Father Hamlet), a production that Çoruh himself starred in. In addition to these productions, Baba Sahne has hosted other events, such as concerts for famous Turkish singers Nükhet Duru, Leman Sam and Bülent Ortaçgil. A number of Çoruh’s mentors, such as Müjdat Gezen, Ferhan Şensoy, Genco Erkal and Demet Akbağ, have also produced their plays at Baba Sahne to show their support for the new theater. Baba Sahne had a successful start in the first three months following its opening. In recent weeks, Baba Sahne has reopened its doors for the fall and winter season with productions Aşk Ölsün and Bir Baba Hamlet, along with new plays and events added to the calendar. With Çoruh’s passion motivating the continued success of Baba Sahne, theater in Istanbul continues to live on.