Theatre Cooperative (Tiyatro Kooperatifi) is receiving a grant from our Culture & Arts Fund, to make private theatre venues and activities more accessible and to ensure the active participation of disabled individuals in culture and arts activities. Accessibility, awareness and communication training will be provided to the management teams and field staff of nine theatres that are partners of the Cooperative. Field visits to six theatre venues will be organised to encourage the transformation of these venues, and a status report will be prepared about the physical accessibility of these venues. Also, an accessibility checklist for all theatres will be published and shared with 119 private theatres.
Read below our interview:
Today, as the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to have an impact, culture and arts institutions and theatres must cope with the effects of the economic crisis. Can you tell us about the current situation of the sector and how the private theatres that are members of the Theatre Cooperative are affected?
Culture and arts is a field that is generally vulnerable to economic and social crises. The fact that private theatres, which barely survived before the pandemic, had the legal status of merchants according to the legislation posed a major problem in terms of sustainability. However, the pandemic made the existing problems much more vital and caused great economic and psychological damage to the theatres. Meanwhile, the theatres, whose financial obligations continued despite their closure and inability to operate, faced huge debts. There was some public financial support, but most private theatres could not even apply since you had to be free of any tax debt to apply. While many of our partners had to close their stages, offices and workshops, many theatre professionals turned to other professions to survive. For this reason, as the Theatre Cooperative, we prioritise advocating for the change in the legal status of private theatres.
Many private theatres have visibility problems but don’t have sufficient resources to allocate to promotional and marketing activities.
According to 2021 data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 503 of the 608 private theatres registered with the General Directorate of Fine Arts had to cease their activities. How can the survival and financial sustainability of private theatres be supported and ensured?
Most of the private theatres’ problems are caused by financial reasons. Because of this, we have structured our solidarity as a social cooperative, and we aim to create economic and social benefits for our partner theatres. To solve the deep-rooted problems in our field, we cooperate with public institutions and organisations, local administrations, civil society organisations, academia, and the private sector. Currently, private theatres generate 90% of their income from ticket sales, which is a major problem in terms of sustainability. For instance, many private theatres have visibility problems but don’t have sufficient resources to allocate to promotional and marketing activities. To support theatres, we proposed the Visibility of Istanbul Theatres Project for Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s 2023 participatory budget programme. The project was entitled to be included in the budget with the votes of Istanbul residents. With this project, the promotion and marketing needs of all private theatres in Istanbul will be met with public resources.
Our primary goal is to underline that private theatres carry out a public activity different from any commercial enterprise and to ensure that they gain a field-specific status. For this purpose, our struggle focuses on the fields of law and legislation. The tax burden on private theatres should be eased and the social security status of art workers should be ensured. On the other hand, it is also crucial to encourage the transfer of resources to the field through regulations that will pave the way for donors and sponsors to support private theatres. We continue our work in this direction by increasing our sphere of influence and solidarity. The Cooperative Union Initiative, founded by seven social cooperatives, today represents 123 private theatres.
Performing arts activities stopped with the quarantines in the early periods of the pandemic. However, with the opportunities offered by the digital world, individuals working in this field continued to produce, share, and communicate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made digitalisation mandatory for many fields and sectors, including theatre. What kind of transformation are theatres going through in a world that is digitalising more and more each day?
Performing arts activities stopped with the quarantines in the early periods of the pandemic. However, with the opportunities offered by the digital world, individuals working in this field continued to produce, share, and communicate. Some private theatres continued their work and production on digital media, but it was quite costly to create the necessary systems. During this time, as Theatre Cooperative, we became a stakeholder in the Stage 2.0 project, with the support of Google and the leadership of Inogar Cooperative. The project aimed to strengthen the digital capacities of all individuals working and producing in our field, and to enable them to present their productions to audiences on the digital platform.
Within this project, an online training programme consisting of five modules prepared for performing arts was presented with the contributions of expert trainers. The users who designed their content by completing this programme benefited from the Stage 2.0 studio in Istanbul free of charge to bring their ideas to life and had the opportunity to present their productions on the project’s YouTube channel. However, the world is digitalising, and this is not only a trend related to the pandemic. We can interpret the theatres’ use of the possibilities and tools of the digital world as a necessity of the age. Theatre has undergone many transformations throughout its thousands of years of history, and this transformation will undoubtedly continue in today’s rapidly changing world.
You will implement the Accessibility of Theatres project with our grant support. Can you tell us about the purpose and activities of the project?
With this project, which we have designed in cooperation with Everything Accessible (Erişilebilir Her Şey), we aim to make private theatre venues and activities more accessible and inclusive and to provide the necessary conditions for individuals with disabilities to actively participate in culture and art activities. According to 2021 data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), there are 4.9 million people with disabilities in Turkey. Currently, we do not have statistical data on the accessibility of theatres, but as we all know, there are no theatre venues or plays in Turkey that are designed considering the needs of individuals with disabilities. While many plays for adults and children are staged in different parts of Istanbul every day, people with disabilities can’t access these events.
Theatre has undergone many transformations throughout its thousands of years of history, and this transformation will undoubtedly continue in today’s rapidly changing world.
As the Theatre Cooperative, we advocate that art is a public activity and attach great importance to making culture and arts accessible to everyone. With this project, we aim to take a step to prevent this inequality of opportunities and to prepare a ground where individuals with disabilities can exercise their rights to access information and participate in culture and arts. We aim to ensure both the accessibility of theatre venues and plays. For this, it is necessary to consider all steps ranging from buying tickets to watching the plays and giving feedback. It is important to prepare for the physical accessibility practices of theatre venues that can host accessible performances in the medium/long term and become meeting points for individuals with disabilities.
Our first activity within the scope of this project will be to provide accessibility, awareness and communication trainings to the management teams and field staff of 10 private theatres that are partners of the Theatre Cooperative. The training for managers will focus on basic concepts of perception and awareness of disability and accessibility practices in theatres. We will organise the training for field staff in two sessions. Our goal here is to support the theatre field teams, who are the first group to encounter individuals with disabilities, to gain awareness about disabilities. All trainings will be conducted by the Everything Accessible team, which has previously provided training in this field.
In addition, following the visits to six theatre venues by the Accessible Everything team, we will prepare a physical accessibility report on the venues. We also aim to publish an accessibility checklist for theatres to disseminate the information we have gained throughout Turkey. To ensure that this checklist reaches all those concerned, we will contact local governments, academia, and trade unions. We aim to complete the first phase of our project with our communication and visibility activities.
You are implementing the Accessibility of Theatres project with the cooperation of Everything Accessible, which offers coaching and training services and solutions to everyone who wants to step into a more accessible life. Can you tell us about the scope of this collaboration and its contributions to your work?
Since 2019, Everything Accessible has been working with culture and arts institutions. They also work with individuals with disabilities in all these processes in line with the principle of participation. As the Theatre Cooperative, Everything Accessible is our solution partner in general, not only in this project. We have designed every step of this project together with the Everything Accessible team, and we will manage the whole process together.
Currently, we do not have statistical data on the accessibility of theatres, but as we all know, there are no theatre venues or plays in Turkey that are designed considering the needs of individuals with disabilities.
This cooperation is very exciting for us because, unfortunately, the studies on the accessibility of theatres in Turkey are very limited. With this project, we aim to take the first steps to a sustainable and comprehensive transformation for the accessibility of theatres. Our goal is to create a model that can set an example for all culture and arts institutions, especially theatres, across the country regarding accessibility.
About Theatre Cooperative
Theatre Cooperative aims to represent the collective voice of private theatres, find permanent legal solutions to sectoral problems, and improve and professionalise all production and implementation processes in the sector. Theatre Cooperative provides guidance to improve the capacity of its members economically, legally, socially, and academically, organises projects, campaigns, training, webinars, seminars, and workshops, and advocates for legislative changes in favour of private theatres.