Founder of Be Aware Productions and performer in Enough Is Enough, Pinar Öğün talks us through the experience of being exiled from Turkey and how it led to starting a Welsh tour of their latest production.
It was a sunny afternoon, sometime during the end of July 2013. Some of you may remember, Bruce Springsteen was in Cardiff. I remember the feeling of pain as if every beat of my heart was hurting my body. Leaving my life behind taking fear and desperation with me, arriving at Cardiff Train Station on a sunny summer day.
When we left the country, I didn’t know what to expect, what my life would turn out to be. We didn’t have time to arrange a place to stay. It was a very quick decision to leave home so we only had our bags and a heavy weight of anxiety of the experience we were going through.
Those days were so dark that I never would have imagined we would feel safe and strong enough to rebuilt our lives again. We were being accused because of a play we had put on stage. The accusations were so absurd, obscure and wrong in so many ways. It was so traumatising that I still find it hard to resurrect those memories even though it has been almost four years. We were just people in the entertainment business and our play Mi Minor was constantly being targeted, especially by politicians, claiming that we were responsible for the largest environmental protest in Turkish history in Istanbul Gezi Park. These accusations were followed by death threats from hundreds of people, even pro government journalists were involved. The hostility was so much that we had to flee the country overnight.
Since then Wales has become our new habitat, the place we call home. The first two years were hard but there is something really special about this place and its people. We began to heal our wounds with the support and compassion we received. We told our story to people who have now become our friends, friends of friends wanted to hear it as well and we told the story so many times that it started to hurt less and made us all laugh. Our experience is now a story to tell. Yet it isn’t over, it is still ongoing. Our lives are still at risk because the hostility hasn’t calmed down back in Turkey, on the contrary; it has escalated.
“all this happened because of a play? So are you a company?”
I guess this was the question that triggered and encouraged me to found Be Aware Productions. Meltem was writing all the time, Memet Ali was craving to put on a show, I was yearning to act again, Melin wanted to design our posters, websites. I thought; actually, we are a company. Let’s do this and make it official! It was 2015 when I founded my company. Meltem handed me a script of a short play she wrote, she was like a writing machine, writing all the time. I read it and suddenly felt like drawing. I began to draw the entire script and I said I have to film this. I was desperate to do something on a personal level. I just wanted to express how I was feeling in this world. And our short film Exhibit has become the first production of our company.
In 2007 Meltem wrote a play called I’m Breaking the Game premiered in Zurich theatre festival. It was about violence against women. At the time I was studying at LAMDA in London and was so jealous of the play, it became my obsession. I was purely inspired by it and wanted it to be re-staged. So we applied to Arts Council of Wales to work on it. We were granted an R&D fund. We began our journey in Newport met with amazing women, ran workshops, had meetings with experts working in the field.
I always thought that violence, abuse stories vary from culture to culture. But during the R&D what struck me the most was realising that violence hurt the same everywhere. We may speak different languages, have different backgrounds, be born and raised in different countries but when someone slaps us in the face it hurts the same. The fear that we feel is the same, after an abuse the anxiety we are doomed to live with is the same. When we want to escape from these emotions we may run in different directions but we get lost in the same void.
Meltem was truly inspired by the stories we heard. She started writing a new text and created a completely different world. She first wrote lyrics. When Memet Ali read the new text he said this should be a band of four women and we should be watching a gig, This is how Enough is Enough began to form. We worked with Rhii Williams, Alba Alan Torisset and Caitlin Callahan and had a presentation to fellow artists, friends and activists. We rehearsed in 10 Feet Tall in central Cardiff which became one of our favourite venues.
We weren’t successful enough in our first application to ACW, however the feedback was very positive and helpful. We got in the car with Memet Ali and drove to more than ten towns across Wales within a week. Knocking on the doors of the venues – actual theatre spaces but also pubs, rugby clubs, function rooms – introducing ourselves and our project to them. Asked for more contacts, possible connections, that’s how we put together a large tour programme. ACW awarded us with the large grand in our second application. It was so incredible! After that traumatic experience, we were going to work together again!
During that time we heard about Chapter Arts Centre’s new scheme Peilot. It seemed to be a perfect match. They were looking for artists to support especially for touring, partnership working and UK and international collaboration. They were “particularly interested in helping artists whose work is difficult to categorise and may need extra support in identifying audiences and venues.” This last sentence was almost defining us. We applied but we didn’t think they would be interested. We were wrong! When they announced that Be Aware Productions has been selected to be a part of their scheme, I must admit we got pretty emotional about it. The support we receive from Chapter with Peilot transformed the whole production! The most important thing is to know there is an organisation and a great team you can call whenever you need. You don’t feel alone and when doing a new production, this is really a blessing.
With the support from Arts Council of Wales and the Peilot scheme we are now ready to embark on a journey with amazing musicians Maddie Jones, Francesca Dimesch and Emma Daman Thomas. We are touring across Wales to 21 different venues with Enough is Enough and have “Shout it all out sessions” after each performance where the audience will have a chance to respond to the play’s themes and questioned raised, and discuss how to take action themselves. We aim to start a national conversation about sexual violence and the issues raised in the production.
Enough Is Enough opens on 24 January at Barnabas Arts House in Newport and then tours Wales for the next month. For full tour details and more information visit http://www.enoughisenough-theplay.com