The 23rd Istanbul Theater Festival: who is the actor?
Featuring exciting, interactive performances for the audience, the 23rd Istanbul Theater Festival seeks a broader definitions of plays, actors, and stages.

By Yao Hsiao

The never-ending relationship between fiction and reality is the ultimate subject of theater. At the 23rd Istanbul Theater Festival by Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), there are some uncanny performances that examine this question with contemporary approaches, challenging the traditional divisions of actors and audience, stage and real life.

In recent years, there are many theater productions that try to blur the lines between the stage and auditorium, actors and audience by inviting the spectator to be part of the performance. “Art of theater is always looking for new ways to interact with the audience,” Festival Director Leman Yılmaz told The Guide Istanbul. She explained that looking back in theater history, we can find examples of different theatrical approaches to build relationships with audiences, such as Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater and futurist theater. “Every period has its own way to create an interaction with its audience,” said Yılmaz.

Being Faust – Enter Mephisto

When the actions of seeing and being seem reversed, who is the actor and where is the stage? Echoing this year’s slogan “life upside down,” the festival presents some very specific and different performances seeking to answer these questions. Among all, Being Faust – Enter Mephisto surely stands out. Described as “between a game and a play” by Yılmaz, it is an innovative game designed by the Goethe-Institut Korea and Nolgong, adapted from Goethe’s classic play Faust. Each participant will play with a smartphone and become the character Faust, who can decide his or her values in life. In addition to examining the universal question of individuals’ values and existence, “the interactive structure of the performance is also the main focus of the play,” said Yılmaz.

Voicing Pieces

Other highlights include Voicing Pieces, a one person show by the Belgium-based Turkish artist Begüm Erciyas, which also emphasizes audience participation. By entering an intimate sound booth one by one, the audience will have the personal and unique experience of listening to their own voice. And in Clean City, directed by Anestis Azas and Prodromos Tsinikoris, five immigrant women who work as cleaning staff in their daily lives in Athens present their own stories in the theater, echoing the idea of “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Clean City

Global collaboration, local foundation

Istanbul Theater Festival continues to work with international organizations and brings acclaimed foreign shows to the city. In collaboration with The Golden Mask Performing Arts Festival, four Russian productions will be presented during the festival. Many Belgian groups will also be at the festival due to a collaboration with Platform 0090 and the Flemish Ministry of Culture. 

Eugene Onegin

As for local productions, Yılmaz said that the festival is always looking for new, creative, contemporary works, especially scripts written by playwrights from Turkey. This year’s program includes Şahika Tekand’s IO, Tuşba City Theatre’s Somewhere in the Middle of the World, Shacks and Palaces, directed by Yücel Erten, and many more.

Istanbul’s thriving theater scene can be seen in the growing number of new local productions and the increasing importance of independent theaters. Yılmaz pointed out that the main challenge is the lack of support from the government. Being an established performing arts event in the city, Istanbul Theater Festival has been encouraging youth to participate more in cultural activities. In addition to the price of only 15 TL for students over the years, the team is working on the new Youth Platform project that aims to bring young theater audiences from Anatolian cities to the festival.


November 13 – December 1; Tickets are available at