We had a quick conversation with the creator of the upcoming Numbers Increase As We Count… Ülfet Sevdi! We talked about her research and the Theatre of the Oppressed!
Quebec Drama Federation: The production, Numbers Increase As We Count… includes testimonies and documentation from subjects who experienced displacement and forced-sex work. What was the process of research and collecting narratives?
Ülfet Sevdi: The production includes research and documentation about women who have been displaced and forced into sex-work, but it does not include direct testimonies from victims. Some of the team members have experienced first-hand the effects of the Iraq and, more recently, Syrian wars. I am also a witness of the effects of war, having volunteered in centres for refugee kids in Turkey. The performance does however include one testimony in the form of an interview, from Yanar Mohammed (President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq), who is in charge of women shelters in Iraq and talks about the situation there. The process of collecting and understanding the situation started more than five years ago, while I was still in Turkey. And it continues until now.
The project focuses on our testimonies, on what we feel, on what we should do when we know things like these happen, on how we can respond as artists. It is an outcry directed at the powers everywhere who benefit from the chaos and divisions they create, and who forget those who suffer the most. Iraq is the focus here because it is the perfect example of a new type of war, an experiment—also because we saw the consequences everywhere in the streets of Turkey. But the project is more general: it is about women in war zones, those who do not become ‘heroes’. The project is not about a country, it is about a situation that is global.
For all theses reasons, there is no narrative. We cannot talk about a narrative structure. What we have instead is a protest.
QDF: Can you talk about the Theatre of the Oppressed influences on this production?
ÜS: There are many ways in which the Theatre of the Oppressed influences how this production was made.
The first one has to do with the way we worked: I did not build a piece for the performers to then perform what I wrote. Instead, I created the framework and asked them to search inside themselves for what they could bring on stage. In that sense, I was a facilitator. My function is to empower the performers, not to request them to do something; as a director, I am merely facilitating the process by creating a structure for them to discover for themselves.
The second one has to do with the dramaturgy. My goal is not to bring a cathartic experience to the audience. My goal is to create change.
Which brings me to the third point, that has to do with the interactive component of the piece. I offer an active role to the audience members. I do not want them simply to sit; I want them to participate, to be part of the performance. Only in this way can they begin to join the protest.
The fourth one is quite obvious: I am here exploring oppression in many of its forms.
These are all somehow related to my practice of the Theatre of the Oppressed. I am probably not aware of all the aspects of this method that find a place in the way I constructed this performance – there are probably many others. But these are the ones I used here intentionally.
The production is co-developed with Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal.
Originally from Turkey, Ülfet Sevdi is a writer, theatre director, dramaturge, teacher and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner now based in Montreal. In 2016, with Nicolas Royer-Artuso, she co-founded Thought Experiment Productions, to produce works with political content that integrate extensive research from the social sciences.