After selling his possessions and using his savings accumulated over his 22-year career, Turkish actor Şevket Çoruh built a new theater from scratch. Named Baba Sahne (Father Stage), this theater is fittingly located in the creative district of Kadıköy.

After the arts and culture scene on the European side of Istanbul lost some of its luster, it began to arise in different forms 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 drama behind the scene

Çoruh always dreamed of having his own theater. In 2015, he stumbled across a special building 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 to 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 1980s and was used as an arcade in the 1990s. The building slowly deteriorated over the years, having losing its prominence as a space for actors and audiences to gather and enjoy theater together.

Çoruh was passionate about bringing this theater back to life, despite the financial challenges creating a new establishment would present. Upon discovering the building in its ruined state, he sold his house, his 1966 model Mustang, and his Thunderbird to purchase the building and begin major repairs. He finalized the deal on March 27, 2015, a symbolic gesture in recognition of World Theater Day; however, even after this decisive move, his work had barely begun.

Though Çoruh searched for sponsors to fund the construction work to refurbish the building, he could not find many willing to help, as spending money on arts and culture is not common 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 had this exact statement carved onto a plate that is hanging on the wall of the theater’s foyer, emphasizing his appreciation for the support received from his friends and colleagues.

Although some news outlets reported the overall cost to build Baba Sahne was 17 million Turkish lira, Çoruh said those numbers were exaggerated. He declined to specify the total investment used to open the theater, 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.” Learning about the struggles to transform a ruined building into a vibrant center, we come to understand the pricelessness of such an accomplishment.

Şevket Çoruh

A sneak peek 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 the past and present. Walking through this corridor is like entering into a Turkish cinematic history time machine. 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 1, 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.” On the opening night of Baba Sahne, Çoruh’s peers showed their appreciation for his work by gifting him the fez of Ismail Dümbüllü, who was a renowned actor of traditional Turkish theater. The fez is considered an important and prestigious symbol only given to actors that made significant contributions to theater. It can be likened to a heritage that can only be passed down through generations. Upon receiving the gift, Çoruh humbly said, “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.”

Çoruh was not the first person to undertake such a project in the theater business. Yıldız Kenter, the patriarch 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 said.

Present-day productions

Baba Sahne started its repertoire in April 2017 with its first play entitled Aşk Ölsün (Let Love Die), written by Murat İpek and directed by Barış Dinçel. Later, it released Bir Baba Hamlet (A Father Hamlet), a production in which Çoruh himself starred.

In addition to these, Baba Sahne 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 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. Like most other theaters in Istanbul, they took a break during the summer. They will pick back up in the fall season, and their showings will include the continued performances of 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.

Bahariye Caddesi, Sakız Gülü Sokak No.31/37, Kadıköy; T: (0216) 700 11 11; www.babasahne.com