Turkey bans actors over 65 from theater performances, sparking backlash

Turkey has banned actors older than 65 from performing in state-sponsored theater performances, according to reporting by daily Birgün. Many of these actors, who have not entered a theater since before the pandemic, are being forced to abandon the stages they performed on for years.

Duvar English

Turkey has banned actors over the age of 65 from performing on its state-owned stages, sparking an intense backlash in the art world, according to reporting by daily Birgün. After two years without theater due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many actors will be forced to abandon the stages they performed on for years.

Actors were not provided with any explanation for the ban above Turkey’s official retirement age and were perplexed by the fact that older performers were still allowed to perform in private and municipality-run theaters. 

These banned actors demand an explanation, saying that “actors have no age.” Mustafa Kurt, general manager of Turkey’s state theaters, declined daily Birgün’s request for comment.

The famed Turkish actor Metin Belgin had to, as a result of the ban, shut down his play “Contrabass,” which has run for three decades in a State Theater. He has not performed since before the Covid-19 pandemic, and will not perform again.

Belgin says he is not against the age ban in principle, but that he is worried for younger actors. In an industry built heavily on the master-apprentice relationship, he says, who will be there for those starting out their careers?

“They are leaving the new generation completely masterless and alone on the stage,” he said.

He also wonders who will play the elderly roles central to many plays in the canon. 

“Will those under the age of 65 wear wigs and beards for roles at a later age? Or will plays with older characters no longer be performed?” he asked.

Belgin says he has received no explanation for the decision and is baffled. Though he has received many offers, he says, to perform Contrabass for private theaters, he says he finds the idea unethical. 

“If the State Theater will not allow it in any way, I will not perform this play anymore,” he said.

The ban has also placed some actors in bizarre situations where they’ve lost half of their role in a show. Ali İpin was directing and acting in Josef Bieder's The Moment When His Star Shines, but now he can only direct it. He handed over his role in the play, once they began performing again, to Murat Karasu.

"To some extent, I have handed over the flag that I have carried for 48 years to my dear Karasu,” he said.

İpin believes the government is “hiding behind the pandemic” to silence theater arts in the country. He points to Western theaters, where artists often perform into their 70s and 80s.

“The fact that actors above the age of 65 cannot work is an unprecedented practice,” he said.