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ON GOOD LIFE, JUSTICE AND CHANGE: MERT FIRAT

Mert Fırat, who believes in collective success and unity in all the institutions he works for and in the works he has signed, from DasDas, of which he is one of the founders, to the Needs Map, evaluates his acting not only as an individual success, but also with its contribution to the social benefit that he thinks theater should provide. There is always more work on his agenda, from his active aid activities in the earthquake zone to his profession, from family life to his hobbies; not for themselves, but for future generations, tomorrow and a better future. She owes her endless energy to her curiosity, excitement and love of learning. She believes in change and dreams of days when everyone can live together, side by side, with all their colors but without being identical.

Considering the country’s agenda, we are currently going through intense, complex and hopeful days. What’s on your agenda? How are your feelings?

We live in a circular world order. Just like human life, everything in nature is subject to a duration. Therefore, it is best to live by blessing change and being aware of the uniqueness of every moment. This is how I look at life.

Unfortunately, we experienced a great change with the earthquake. Almost thousands of people have left our lives. Cities, memories and childhood have slipped away from us. This change, which affected 10 million people and caused the migration of three to four million people, actually offers people a completely different life. It is us who will bring back what we have lost, our efforts for change and the responsibilities we take.

Change alone is not enough. What responsibilities do we have in this difficult process?

Yes, I’m talking about the need to sustain and nurture change. If we go back a little further with the earthquake and think about the pandemic, we understand how important responsible citizenship is. We should think about our neighbors’ lives as well as our own and our children’s lives, and we should protect our own labor and the labor of others. We all need each other.

We have gone through and are passing through difficult times of information pollution, discrimination and injustice. Let this summer be a time when we can live together according to our colors without becoming the same with change. We need to listen, to hear the young, the old, the child, the woman, the disadvantaged group, the adult and the anxious; without any discrimination. We have to hear and change.

Whatever the outcome, change has come, knocking on our door and demanding a journey as I described above.

If we rewind your life a little bit, you came to Istanbul from Ankara, you joined Haluk Bilginer’s Play Workshop, then Moda Sahnesi and DasDas came. When you say acting, art, theater, you started a goodness movement and established the Needs Map. What motivated you?

Actually, I started civil society studies at a very young age. When I was 13 years old, when I was a student in Ankara, I was rowing at METU, I was a national athlete in the national team. I got to know the Chamber of Architects and the community center in it, whose organizational structure I liked very much and taught me a lot. There was also the Mülkiyeliler tavern right across the Chamber of Architects; He supported those working for the society and provided scholarships. I remember when I was 15-16 years old when I started working for the Hearing Impaired Association. When I said Six Nokta Association for the Blind, community centers, I started to be one of the people who founded those associations or took part in the board of directors.

That’s how my childhood passed in such a world. While understanding the meaning of the culture of giving back and the value of doing useful things for the society, I saw and learned that helping each other is not based on a certain origin, but only because of being human. I discovered that affiliations can be built on common love, respect and values, not on ethnic origin or class differences, and that serious collaborations can be made with time and effort, not the money we give each other.

You fed your acting education and acting with your work in non-governmental organizations.

The reason I’m acting and on stage is because what I do and say has an impact on society. I care very much about providing social benefit, I chose this profession because I believe that theater and art provide benefits.

Could you briefly describe the process of setting up the Needs Map?

Needs Map was not created by me alone, of course. There was a large group of friends in the founding team, attracted by names such as Ali Ercan Özgür, Güler Altınsoy, İlksen Basarir, Hazal Dut.

Our team expanded over time, we thought and worked for a long time about how we could establish a structure. In fact, our aim was to create a meeting point, a field of attraction, where all non-governmental organizations could be present. We wanted to create a space, a space, a platform where different organizations working on the same theme would come together. Needs Map is not an association or foundation; cooperative structure. In this sense, we can say that it is the first cooperative structure established in the field of civil society in Turkey.

The intensive and active work of the Needs Map since the first day of the earthquake still continues. You have established container cities in Hatay, Kahramanmaraş and Adıyaman. Can you talk about current studies in earthquake zones, the situation in the region and the most critical problems?

Our friends were in the area three to four hours after the earthquake. We already have offices in Antep and Adana, and it was not difficult to get to the earthquake zone from there. The needs of the area were quickly reported and communicated to us and the rest of the team arrived at the disaster area the same day. Over the past three months, Needs Map has been active mainly in Hatay, Maraş and Adıyaman. We have created a container city in Hatay where more than a thousand people and 230 families will live. Hatay is a very challenging area.

Well, if we talk about people and daily life, what kind of picture is there in the earthquake zone right now?

I am in Hatay every 10 days, once a week. We move forward on the reports with my colleagues on the Needs Map and follow the region very closely. People went through a process where they were very lonely and felt helpless. They are trying to hold on to life, and they are building an infrastructure for themselves with the help of the public, local government and civil society in order to continue their commercial life, education, daily and social life. Although the wishes and needs are met to a minimum, life continues in container areas, not in houses.

The contribution of civil society has created a serious change and transformation in this region. While the public is slowly starting to recover, it continues its work. Container areas are managed in a planned manner with the support of AFAD.

But of course, people’s psychology is not normal at all. The anger is so strong and people still don’t feel safe because the earthquake is not over. For example, when I was in Hatay on Sunday last week, there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.7. The swelling in the soil and the effect on the earth’s crust continue in parallel with the psychology it creates in humans. Of course, we are talking about a process that will take a long time to be resolved. While 80 percent of Hatay disappeared, 120-140 thousand people remained from the population of two million.

You personally witness life in earthquake zones. There is a completely different reality in Istanbul. How did all this change and transform your perspective on life?

This isn’t the first earthquake I’ve experienced. I saw the Gölcük earthquake and then witnessed the change and transformation there. The Needs Map was on the field during the Elazig and Izmir earthquakes.

Now it’s a little different; It is so important to go there constantly, to work for the good conditions of those cities and the people there, to support the communities in the region, to give morale to people… Therefore, I would like to stay longer when I go, but of course, there is not much time left because of the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

When it comes to support, we should not forget the tradesmen in Hatay. From kebab shops to butchers, from nut shops to pastry shops, the places that open in the form of containers both boost people’s morale and contribute to the economy. These types of containers lined up along the street create a sense of togetherness and solidarity, and keep active the rich eating and drinking culture that has been very strong in Hatay and has been attracting tourists for years.

You were deemed worthy of the INGEV ActHuman Human Development Award for your contributions in the field as the Needs Map. Can you briefly talk about the award?

This award is the award of all our volunteers who are still active in the earthquake zone and who go there with the Needs Map. This is a reward given to the strong stance and reflex that we all show in the face of this earthquake. I am only the visible face of the Needs Map. And on behalf of all of us, I am very happy to receive this award. We also received a social economy award. It is a great source of pride for the Needs Map to receive this award, for which only the member states of the European Union are nominated, even though we are not a member state. The fact that the Needs Map is a cooperative has a great contribution to this. It has a groundbreaking story, not only as a non-governmental organization, but also in terms of the value it adds to social economies.

The Needs Map is also an act of kindness, a reflection of goodness. What can you say about good and evil?

There is not good and evil, but good and bad like Yin and Yang. A balance comes into play inevitably, and in fact, the good is from you, and the bad is from you. In that sense, the two of them are inseparable from each other, in short, whatever you feed grows and expands. If we prioritize behaving, living and developing in a humane way, it will grow. If we choose the other way and prioritize things like lies and injustice, it will grow. Therefore, it is actually good and bad about what we prioritize, what we prefer, what we choose.

And evil is not something to choose, unfortunately. I think kindness is to treat everyone equally and to look at everyone from the same point of view, without leaving anyone behind. Goodness is to think of another in spite of oneself.

The being we call human is always hungry and constantly demands more for itself. We can also define kindness as acting for and with the society by prioritizing justice and transparency.

You said to be able to think of someone else, to act with society. Isn’t this philosophy at the heart of all non-governmental organizations?

This is what we call looking at the other. There is this philosophy in all kinds of beliefs and perspectives. In our culture, this is called imece. Think about it, in the lands we live on today, there used to be barter trade, and the Jerusalem-Hatay road was once one of the most important trade routes in the world. Therefore, helping each other, treating everyone equally and leaving no one behind are the values ​​found in our past and cultural heritage. Today, whatever our opinion, we need to glorify living together. That should be our main motivation.

Let’s talk a little bit about theater studies and acting. Currently, Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Ahmet Sami Özbudak and starring Bülent Emin Yarar, is being staged in DasDas. Can you briefly explain the details about the game?

Actually, for a long time, I wanted to stage this play with our master Bülent Emin Yarar. Years later, our paths crossed and we aimed to bring the play to March 27, World Theater Day, but we were a little late because there was an earthquake in between. In short, we managed to stage Cyrano de Bergerac before the season ended. With the text editing inspired by Sabri Esat Siyavuşgil’s translation, under the direction of Ahmet Sami Özbudak and with a very nice team, we produced a wonderful play.

What is the relevance of this work, which took place in the 17th century, and what is its message?

I think Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the most beautiful poems ever written. Just like the Shakespeare texts, this is a contemporary work. Because, in a very universal language, it touches on a very universal and timeless issue, a naive love that cannot be said and hidden.

This is the story of a man who has the courage to defeat an army of a hundred men without blinking an eye, and cannot find the courage to open up to the woman he is in love with. This naive approach, this grace is rare at a time when people are walking to each other on social media, and therefore it is very important. And these values ​​make the game even more watchable.

Letters to the lover also have an important place in the story. Today, however, neither the grace you speak of nor the letters remain.

The letter theme has an important place in the game. There is a woman in the story who fell in love with those letters and language. We are faced with the love story in the Roxane triangle brought to life by Cyrano, Christian and Ece Çeşmioğlu, played by me.

The game is, “Do we fall in love with the body or the soul?” It also adapts and questions its subject to today, “Is it the filtered photos on Instagram or the real person”. Do we fall in love with letters, words or a real person? Because there is a love that we have never heard of but read in letters. We are talking about letters that create a strong motivation to take Roxane after her lover to the front. It is very nice to remember all these values, and one of the duties of art is to share the forgotten values ​​with the audience.

I would like to send my greetings to Harun Tekin, who composed the music for the game. He made beautiful songs that we all talk about and it is very meaningful to see the audience leave the theater by humming these songs at the end of the play.

Your way is clear, and your applause is high. Apart from Cyrano de Bergerac, many plays are exhibited at DasDas. How would you describe DasDas’ contributions to the Turkish culture and art scene today?

Our biggest goal is to make the cultural and artistic life sustainable and to strengthen this sustainability through partnerships and collaborations that can be created in the international arena. For example, we signed the IO International Theater Festival.

We want to create a space open to everyone, where different disciplines can come together and where people can sit for a long time and contribute. In this sense, we support young directors, make positive discrimination and take care to work with women from writers to directors. We try to make a novel adaptation every year. Our female sensitivity in our writers and directors is also valid in our management team. So much so that 80 percent of our management consists of women.

Topics such as rights-based struggle, insurance models, taxation of artists’ wages, and professionalization of the industry are always among our priorities. In this direction, I can say that we, as DasDas, pioneered the establishment of structures such as theater cooperatives. We care that culture and art life should be nourished with music besides theatre, and in this context, we develop projects with artists such as Harun Tekin and Didem Balçın.

DasDas also has an Academy, right?

Yes, we are entering the fourth period of DasDas Academy. A separate building with its own building 70 meters from DasDas. Those who study and graduate here sometimes play in DasDas, sometimes take the stage in different theaters. Acting graduates from abroad also come and understand the cuisine of the business at the Academy and continue their culture-art life in different media.

Indeed, DasDas is a versatile and rich cultural and artistic platform. What can be watched right now?

Rich Kitchen, starring our master Şener Şen, is entering its sixth year. You can watch Romeo Juliet, which I staged and edited the text. Young actors Naz Çağla Irmak and Deniz Can Aktaş are very successful.

What kind of mission do you think theater should have today?

In general, theater is a genre that has a message concern, creates awareness, brings a critical perspective to the society and keeps questioning at the forefront. We can define theater, which is located in a completely different place than cinema, TV series and all performance arts, as a socialist art.

As DasDas, we try to stage texts that have a problem in line with this mission of the theatre. For example; Vasıf Öngören’s political text, Zengin Mutfağı, is a socialist and realistic play about the workers’ movement in 71. Narrating The Madmen and Kafka’s Trial, Joseph K. also contains political elements. Adapted from Şebnem İşigüzel’s novel of the same name, The Girl in the Tree is a work that underlines the increasing pressure of Turkish society on women in the last 10 years. We believe that A Very Special Service for Lonely People also has a social content. In short, all the texts we stage have a reason, a message. At DasDas, we show the socialist side of the theater through the relationship we establish with the audience from the ground up. We play in the square, on a stage that is level with the audience, that we do not raise, and we make the audience a part of the play. In Cyrano de Bergerac, the players get up and enter the game from the audience, or we can say that for example, The World Moves and Now is an interactive game played with the audience, where questions are asked to the audience. In short, theater is an art that establishes a one-to-one relationship with its audience, touches it very closely, and affects the masses with its universal problems that it carries and reflects.

You have been in this world for years, you have been acting in different channels from theater to cinema and TV series. What excites you most about acting?

The process of working and preparing excites me the most, but of course, being in front of the audience and sharing something with them is another excitement. Because a story that develops and grows with the audience is theater, and people learn a lot while on stage. There is no such flexibility in TV series and movies. Even though the theater is a written text and based on fiction, the dynamism of its relationship with the audience and its ability to say something again every time makes it exciting.

Who is a good actor and what is the secret of good acting?

We understand who a good player is when the game can explain the problem well to the other side and fulfill its mission. This looks like a well-cooked dish where you can feel a different flavor in every bite. There is also something like this; The actor should not get in the way of the text’s message when he says he will perform well. Such a situation may lead to the loss of the values ​​produced by the text, which is not something we want very much. Therefore, I think a good actor is a person who exists on the stage with a performance that will serve the mission and story of the text by purging himself of his egos and aesthetic preferences.

How would you describe success, do you consider yourself successful?

I find myself curious, enthusiastic and excited. I try to live my life without getting tired and bored. I don’t think I can afford to get tired and bored in a world order where so many disadvantaged groups live.

I believe that success is not achieved alone, it is gained collectively. This also applies to DasDas and Needs Map. I counted many names in the interview, with the contribution of all these names, we all achieve success together.

Success, like mistakes, is something done together, collective. Partnership is very important in success and failure. Success is being able to stand together without breaking anyone’s rights, without breaking anyone’s rights. Other than that, fame comes and goes.

You have a busy agenda. So what do you do to relax and clear your head?

To clear my mind, I watch the movies I watched before, take a look at the books I have read before, or spend time in the library by browsing through the books and brochures of the exhibitions I have visited before. It can be beneficial from time to time to look back and refresh by following the traces in yourself and in your mind; something rehabilitating. I also do kickboxing and run marathons. Running a marathon is not easy, it is necessary to prepare beforehand, so running has an important place in my life. I also love horseback riding and rowing.

Where do you find this energy?

My energy comes from the goals I set, my desire to learn, my hunger and curiosity.

So how do you spend time with your daughter, what do you do?

My daughter is two and a half years old. We usually wake up at the same time in the morning, or when he wakes up, I’m just back from the gym. We have breakfast and play session in the morning. If I find a chance to come back home during lunch break, we go to the park in the middle of the day. I try to be with you before I go to bed. Her mother often brings our daughter to DasDas, Seyhan Mia grows up at DasDas watching rehearsals and plays.

Has being a father, especially the father of a daughter, changed you, your perspective on life?

My childhood was spent among women, and it added a lot to me. The fact that I am one of the feminist men and that I do not discriminate is always due to this. But of course, when a girl becomes a father, one thinks more deeply and in more detail. I dream of a country where all women can walk freely on the streets and lead their lives as they wish. I always put women in the place of my sisters and mother in femicide and all kinds of violence. Now that I have a daughter, my sensitivity has increased, of course.

So what are your dreams and plans for the future?

I dream of a more sustainable art. I dream that not only DasDas, but all theaters, all performing arts can be more independent and have an infrastructure that will enable them to be supported more accurately.

Now is the time to work hard and build these infrastructures for the next generations. For this, I care about the existence of structures such as the Needs Map, theaters, cinemas, publishers’ cooperatives and work with them.

Do you follow fashion, what style do you have?

I try to follow as much as I can. I use fashion a lot in theatre. The traces of fashion make itself felt in the decor, costume and stage. Let me give an example: I thought of the stage design of Romeo Juliet, which tells about the conflict of two hostile families, Capulets and Montagues, as the location of two fashion designer families in a shopping mall, and while reflecting the contrast of the colors and styles of these two brands, I was inspired by the conflict in the story. When it comes to my own wardrobe, I dress very functionally. I like black because it is simple and comfortable, but I also like to carry contrasting colors together. I usually prefer slim fit cuts.

Report: Selin Milosyan Photos: Jiyan Redbull
Fashion Director:Asli Asil Fashion Editor:Mystery Fine

Taken from ELLE Türkiye June 2023 issue.

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