In the late 1990s, both David McMurray in anthropology and Charlotte Headrick in theater arts, got to know a rather amazing student, Setenay Yener, from Turkey. But they never realized that one day, inspired by a subject they’re both passionate about, they’d witness Yener accomplish an amazing feat.
The story starts in 2009, after McMurray became interested in the story of Rachel Corrie, an Evergreen State College student who was killed in Gaza while working for Palestinian human rights. She was crushed by a bulldozer while protesting. Her diaries and e-mails were later turned into a play by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner. McMurray wanted to find a way to bring the play to OSU.
McMurray first wanted to bring a traveling troupe to OSU to put on a performance of the play, but when that didn’t work out, he asked Headrick if she would direct the play, and she agreed. Actor and faculty member Elizabeth Helman took on the role of Rachel, and the play, which was performed in October 2009, included both pre-show lectures and post-show discussions arranged by McMurray, making the performances a true learning experience.
Yener, who flew back to Corvallis to see some of the performances and to meet Rachel Corrie’s family, was transfixed by the story.
“Setenay was fired up to do a Turkish version,” Headrick said. But unfortunately for Yener, who graduated in 2001 with a bachelor of arts in theater and economics, there was no Turkish translation of the play.
So, she decided to translate the play herself. After getting rights to translate and produce the play, she set to work, and upon completing the translation, managed to find a venue in the diverse and historically tolerant city of Antioch. After a few test runs with friends and family, she was able to adapt parts of the play that didn’t translate, including jokes which didn’t go over with Turkish audiences.
Yener planned on acting in the one-woman play, but needed a director. Her first choice fell through, so she contacted Headrick to ask for help. Headrick provided her the staging notes she’d saved from her own production, as well as materials left over from the OSU performances, including an Evergreen State t-shirt, and a slideshow of images that played above the stage during the performance.
As the premiere approached, Yener invited McMurray and Headrick to Turkey to view the performance and participate in some of the events surrounding the premiere. Her uncle donated frequent flier miles to pay for the trip, and the two found themselves special guests in Antioch.
On opening night, McMurray and Headrick were in the audience, and even got to go up on stage and discuss the play with the audience. While there were some pointed questions from some fundamentalists in the audience about American involvement in Israel, in general the mood was congenial and supportive, McMurray and Headrick said. Audience members included students, the rector (president) of the local university, and even some members of Parliament.
McMurray said Yener shares some characteristics with the woman she portrays in the play.
“She’s so unprepossessing, so naïve,” McMurray said about Corrie, but also about Yener’s unbridled enthusiasm about taking on such a massive project. “She thinks first of the suffering of others. Someone needs to do something and that someone should be me, she just jumps into these things.”
Yener hopes to take the play on the road in Turkey and perhaps elsewhere, including Cyprus and Jordan. She has even performed the play for a group of fourth-graders in Antioch. For now, her former professors agree that they’d give her an A plus for her most recent work.
~ Theresa Hogue