Arda Yildirim | Finland
Meet our New Nordic Voices playwrights
PLAYWRIGHTS IN FOCUS:
”The fact that someone actually reads my writing and that it perhaps evoke feelings in them, is the biggest gift I can get. It is fascinating to see how my remarks on life in Finland resonate with other Nordics and people living in the UK”
New Nordic Voices is a new translation programme for emerging Nordic playwrights. The scheme aims to enable Nordic talent to find an audience overseas, gaining further recognition through the translation of their text. The selected texts from the participating countries, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland form part of a showcase 29 March – 2 April 2021, hoping to give the contemporary Nordic voices a platform.
As a part of our article series, we want to shift the focus to our amazing playwrights.
Get to know them better through these interviews, and what theatre is like in their country, before the showcase of the first ever translation of their play. For our third interview, we explore Finland with playwright Arda Yildirim and her play ‘Hornblende’.
How did you get into writing, and what’s your journey been to where you are now?
As a pre-teen I would make summer theatre shows with my sisters and cousins at our summer cottage. We would invite all the neighbours and relatives. I just recently found one of our “adaptations” that was based on Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking stories.
We would also write our own stories. One summer we even did three different plays of our own!
In upper secondary and high school, I was into history and ethics, also drama. Fortunately, I managed to get speaking roles after a traumatising role as “part of the wall” in third grade. I guess I could have done my part as a piece of a wall more creatively, but for 9-year-old me that was too abstract of a thing to even think of.
In 2018 I graduated from the University of Helsinki and started working as a freelance journalist. During my studies I worked as a barista for about six years. I also worked in Copenhagen. This period got me excited about food culture. For almost three years now I have also worked as a restaurant critic. In 2019, I started at the Theatre Academy on the dramaturgy and playwriting programme.
Last year I had my first short stories published in various Finnish literary magazines.
I just hope to be able to write as much in this life as possible. It gives purpose.
How would you describe yourself as a writer?
Humour has always played a significant part in my life. To find angles that lighten up a subject or mood, or just make people laugh. Laughing and getting others to laugh too is just such a rewarding feeling. I have spent my childhood and youth mainly watching Turkish Şaban-films, musicals with Barbra Streisand, Monty Python and Finnish character Uuno Turhapuro acted by Vesa-Matti Loiri.
To name a few. It is a weird intertwined net of dark humour and American musicals that I guess raised me. Genuine and sincere characters, some would say naive and foolish, are always close to my heart.
In my writing I tend to go for the emotions and paradigms. And more than dialogues, I am more interested in inner monologues. The conversations we go through with ourselves in our everyday lives. After all, they are the ones that affect other people too. Small glances and the musicality of life.
Writing as an act is such a versatile tool to explore ourselves, and this world. For me it is the work that everyone should do sometime in their life. To let the words just flow and see what is left in oneself, and on the other hand, what has been written down. It’s like when we dream: the stories don’t usually seem weird in it, but when we wake up and analyse them, there seems to be so much more to think about than the obvious. Writing reveals those hidden and muted sensations we have.
I guess writing has always been easier than speaking to me. Through writing I get to revisit and explore my experiences in life.
Tell us about your play and your starting point for writing it.
I was interested in words that were not said but thought. Passive aggressive actions that were shown delicately, empowered by boiling rage with no particular reason behind it. So I started to write these observations down sometime around 2017. They were first written in the shape of a novel. Later after time went by, I had this feeling that actually it might work better on stage. I sent it to a dramaturg in Finland, who is actually my translator in this process, and we discussed it and I worked on it for about a year. She was also the one that suggested I send it to New Nordic Voices.
Now the text is in the form of a monologue. The main character, Amalia, is wondering about her place in this world. What to do with this life of ours and how to deal with loneliness. She ponders on the dichotomy of wanting someone in her life and at the same time feeling that other people seem to live with their eyes mainly shut. It is a story of filling a void with obsessions. A tale of finding meanings.
How would you describe theatre in Finland, what are the main styles and themes?
I feel a bit nervous answering this question, since I am still quite a newcomer. But from a viewer’s perspective, I feel that the Finnish mainstream theatre has been based on classics, adaptations and current affairs. It is quite realistic and naturalistic in style and has a tendency to put a societal problem as a starting point for the story. I feel that many shows are quite problem focused. Like “we have this inequality in society, so we must address that and solve that problem – on stage”. In that sense I guess theatre in Finland is quite political. After one year in Theatre Academy, I feel like the most courageous, absurd and out of the box thinking and doing is still mainly amongst students. Probably because of the very nature of ‘school’.
We also have a long and strong history of summer theatres. Almost every city, town and village have their own. The actors are in many cases amateurs. In contrast to these serious subjects and conflict focused stories we have during winter and spring, in the summertime there is like a common permit for light and airy farces to be done. It sums up the annual wheel of Finnish mentality pretty neatly.
How do you feel about your work coming to the UK?
Words can't describe. I am honoured, still in a bit of a shock, grateful, excited, anxious. Feeling all of those things at the same time really. I am eagerly waiting for the responses of the British viewers but also the reception of the ensemble doing my monologue. How does the actor receive my writing, is it fruitful or hard to perform? Or the director – is there enough space for them to fill the gaps but enough information to understand what I am trying to say? All these things are even more exciting when I am dealing with another language and culture than my own.
This program has brought the world closer which in itself lowers the barriers we think are set for us. I feel venturesome.
How has your translator supported you throughout this process?
Eva Buchwald has been a supporter I wish everyone could have! She gets me and my writing and most of all, wantsto get it. I feel that we have quite an open relationship in which we can relate to one another. In the end, both of us want the same thing that is this story to be played.
Eva has challenged my thinking and given me advice from a professional point of view. For example, during the translations process, how to interweave scenes together in these short extracts. As a dramaturg she has challenged me on my decisions concerning the directions and signs I have written. It has been a very hands-on and at the same time thoughtful process in its entirety.
What do you think Nordic plays can bring to theatres and audiences around the world?
Nordic plays as a concept is already a very complex word combination. I don’t know enough of the Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic and Danish drama scene that I could say what we Scandinavians as a group bring. There are mainstream and underground scenes in every country. Also every artist is a thinker, one of a kind. With different stories to be told, with different takes on life. I think the diversity of the group of 2021 in Cut the Cord demonstrates it quite well.
But if there is something common in all of us, maybe it is the experiences of darkness and coldness. The questions of how to cope with it, and later, what do we feel when the sun finally comes up and brings warmth and a sense of survival. That we survived the polar night, again. That is at least something we do not take for granted, light and sun.
I am a 28-year-old writer born and raised in Helsinki.
What inspires me is our inner voices and the way we adjust them for others. Rhetorics.
I funded my journalism studies by working as a barista. Later I went nuts about coffee and ended up being the person in charge of it in (Michelin-star) restaurants.
Now I enjoy my cup of coffee as a restaurant critic. On top of the reviews, I enjoy writing essays and short stories. My first small drama Pelottaa, että uskallan was performed in the Theatre Academy in August 2019.For me writing is a cry for help. An investigation of emotions. Emotions are still the one thing we all have in common.
written by Arda Yildirim, translated by Eva Buchwald
Amalia has no feeling of purpose but mundane wandering. The feeling of nothingness has made her create an obsession called Max.
He keeps her somewhat sane.
Amalia’s wonders, what is our purpose on this planet? Who are we to judge? And why are other people so irritatingly stupid and ignorant?
Amalia believes emotions can be transmitted, and it keeps her away from normal social behaviours – she is afraid her anxiousness will spread. She wants to reset everything, and her friends worry she might harm herself, just as her father did. After Max hits her in the gut, she finds herself in a place where she doesn’t know whether to kill herself or to continue living with the pain of loneliness. Amalia’s monologue asks, what is the role of others in our lives, and what keeps us going.