Texas Tech University

A Growing Partnership with Türkiye’s Bilkent University

Cory Norman

February 26, 2024

For five theatre students and their professor, Thanksgiving 2023 is not one they will soon forget. Instead of spending the holiday with their families, they were made to feel at home more than 6,000 miles away in Ankara, Türkiye, celebrating the American dinner tradition as guests of their newly formed friends from Bilkent University.

Theatre at PrieneAt the invitation of Jason Hale, Chair of the Department of Performing Arts at Bilkent University, the group from Texas Tech spent 10 days participating in an Ancient Greek Mask Workshop with second-year theatre students from Bilkent led by Polish theatre artist Arkadiusz “Aro” Klucznik from the Wrocław National Academy of the Theater Arts Department of Puppetry. Their work culminated in a trip to Izmir, Türkiye, visiting the ancient sites of Ephesus, Miletus, The Temple of Apollo at Didyma, and the well-preserved theatre at Priene where they performed a scene from Antigone.

“This is a unique program that we've been happy to initiate not only for our students at Bilkent but also for our guest actors from the US, enabling them to learn about the birth of theater and experience it in the actual ruins of Ancient Greek and Hellenic sites,” said Hale.

The partnership with Bilkent University was formed soon after Texas Tech's School of Theatre & Dance was invited to join the International Theatre Institute's ITI/UNESCO Network for Higher Education in the Performing Arts—only the second university in the United States to be granted membership.

Each summer, theatre students from Bilkent are invited to participate in the Marfa Intensive, Texas Tech's two-week summer devising intensive held in Marfa, Texas. Students from Tech's Theatre and Dance program are, in turn, invited in the fall semester to participate in the Ancient Greek Mask Workshop.

working with masksDr. Bill Gelber, professor of theatre at Texas Tech who works with masks and Greek drama in his period styles course, was fascinated by Klucznik, the masks he created—designed specifically for travel and to be hand-held—and the unfamiliar stylistic movement that matched the design of the masks: “The masks could be manipulated both to hide actor's faces behind the those of the characters and also to reveal the actors unadorned during more intimate moments.”

No prior knowledge of mask work was required to participate in the workshop.  Rebecca Johnson, a fine arts doctoral student, had previously only worked with traditional face masks: “I was learning a whole new vocabulary. While some of the rules were the same as traditional face masks, the hand mask was more unforgiving in that it highlighted what was ‘wrong' more often.”

JD Myers, who graduated from the MFA program this past December, is grateful for the experience and the positive effect it will have on his academic career: “Interacting with artifacts of early Christian Orthodoxy, the remnants of ancient civilizations, and performances like the Sufi whirling dervish show will provide fodder for my academic endeavors for years to come.”  

More than just the Mask Workshop, students also participated in voice and dance classes at Bilkent, even squeezing in a singing masterclass. “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was such an incredible learning experience for both the American and Turkish students,” said senior BFA Musical Theatre student Samara Shavrick.  

“Since we were learning together, we found greater connections across cultures and languages,” Johnson agreed.

The collaborative exchange between the two universities also included faculty. Dr. Gelber presented a lecture to Bilkent performing arts students entitled “Creating Theatre through Brechtian Methods,” based on his book, Engaging with Brecht: Making Theatre in the 21st Century, published last year. It reciprocated the “Techniques of Viola Spolin” workshop that Professor Hale led for Texas Tech students during the Marfa Intensive in July.

lunch with friendsIt wasn't all work for the visitors.  Aside from spending downtime with the Turkish students who guided the group around the capital city of Ankara exploring landmarks and tasting new cuisine, the group also spent a day in Cappadocia, surveying its unique landscape from high up in a hot air balloon.

This was the second group from the School of Theatre & Dance to participate in the Ancient Greek Mask Workshop, and how fitting that it takes place over the Thanksgiving holiday—a time where people come together to show their gratitude and share what they have with others.

“I will keep in touch with the friends I made for the rest of my life,” said Shavrick. “Students should consider going if they want exposure to new art forms, new friends, new cultures, and new places.”

“I will miss the people and the community we built,” added Johnson. “Also, the peanut butter. Türkiye has amazing peanut butter.”