Friday, May 24, 2013

Performing "Fiddler on the Roof" in Turkey

I love high school spring musical season so I was thrilled that I would be able to actually attend a play this spring. Today I watched many of my English students who are Turkish perform "Fiddler on the Roof" in English to a Turkish audience that understands some English. The all female cast, with the exception of a male English teacher, was fantastic! The more they practiced the more they understood their lines and the fine nuances of the language. The fact that this is not their native tongue impresses me even more.

While I was watching the play I couldn't help reflect on the courage  of the teachers who chose this play and edited it down to a manageable one and one-half hour length. Maybe I'm crazy but my experience living in Eastern Turkey and recent newspaper articles regarding Turkey and animosity with some of its Middle Eastern neighbors, made me view the play through a different lens. I was even watching for parent reaction during some of the scenes. Beginning with the matchmaker and scene and witnessing Tzeitel's horror and being matched with 62 year old Lazar Wolf, the butcher, and ending with Hodel and Perchik, a daughter and a man dancing together at Tzeitel's and Motel wedding,  I am reminded just how similar the more traditional Jewish culture is to the more conservative Muslim culture. Matchmaking, although  not called so directly, is still practiced in some areas in Turkey. Often the mother of sons or "aunts" even go so far as to visit schools and find "teachers" for matches for their sons. And weddings, especially in eastern Turkey are often segregated. I remember feeling very shy at first realizing only the women were dancing with each other.

But, as I'm currently living in Western Turkey, the theme of this play, being reliant on tradition and faith in times of change and turbulence, is especially relevant. Many of the students at my school tend to shun the old traditions and many claim they are atheists. I'm sure many can identify with the character of Perchik.  In addition the Turkish government is becoming more conservative and more tolerant of religious traditions - an example being of allowing head scarves at schools. So the choice of  performing "Fiddler on the Roof" makes good sense even though I can't imagine a similar choice in eastern Turkey.

In the meantime, I'm ksoftly singing the words to "Matchmaker", stomping my feet to "Tradition"and shedding tears to "Sunrise/Sunset". 

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