Arda Yildirim moves through time and space
This year's new Nordic voice from Finland is a playwright who’s not afraid to explore the inner workings of trapped minds as she takes us on an emotional rollercoaster ride of a journey.
Arda Yildirim is a 29-year-old writer, born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. Yildirim’s play Hornblende (Sarvivälke, translated into English by Eva Buchwald) is about a young, anxious woman without purpose, who develops an obsession for a man she barely knows. Hornblende was chosen by the New Nordic Voices showcase at the Cut the Cord theatre in London in March, along with four other plays from the Nordic countries. Yildirim met up with TINFO director Linnea Stara for a chat over Teams to talk about being an emerging dramatist and about exploring depression as a personal characteristic rather than a medical condition.
How did you become an author?
When we were young, my two sisters – I’m the middle child – and I used to put up plays as well as give dance and circus performances. I’ve been interested in performing ever since I was a child. We would do our own adaptations, small summertime productions at our summer house in the Häme region. I’ve always seen a lot of theatre, but an interest for writing probably superseded that interest only once I entered university to study communications.
It’s been interesting to hear how in the UK the playwright is considered the crown jewel of the theatre making process.
I’ve written all kinds of texts, but the possibility of actually making a living from creative writing never entered my mind. I only applied for the dramaturgy programme at the Helsinki Theatre Academy in 2019. By that time, I had experienced things within my close circle that had made me think more boldly about life. It might sound like a cliché, but I thought it’s now or never, if something feels even slightly meaningful, you should just do it. And so I did, and I got in.
What were you looking for when you applied to the Theatre Academy after making a living as a freelance writer and restaurant critic?
Other than learning new things, I’m not sure. I’ve always enjoyed studying though. The academy challenges you to view texts from a multitude of perspectives, you’re exposed to lots of other views and opinions. We start off by taking many of the same classes as the acting students. I’ve definitely questioned what I’m doing while taking a physical education class with them – running up and down the track, but it’s given me a broader insight into what an actor will need to consider within their profession, how they have trained, what they are capable of and, ultimately, how you write for actors.
I have now been absent from the academy for a year – it is tough to be a full-time student when you’re not eligible for any of the Finnish student grants because you already have one master’s degree in the bag . So I’ve had to make a living and save up. And I have missed the intense conversations, and the amount of reading that everyone does. I’m working really hard to get back to my studies.
You’ve written elsewhere that ”… it is like we close our eyes and only open them in safe spaces to observe life in its purest form”. What is theatre for you?
Theatre is some kind of a safe space for me. Though it is firmly rooted in time and space, there’s a timelessness and placelessness present there as well. It’s an arena for possibilities – everything is possible in the theatre. You can play anything, you just say: ”We’re on Mars.” And then you’re on Mars. Then there’s the safety in that everything that happens in the theatre is just for play. Say a murder happens on stage – you know it's just pretend – but all the while, you can imagine it to be true.
The current coronavirus crisis has highlighted how theatre happens in the moment. I long to sit in an audience, to sense the atmosphere of an audience living with the performance, being moved.
You’ve said that you come from a Finnish-Turkish family. There’s a great shortage of voices and bodies representing multicultural backgrounds in Finnish theatre. As a person with a multicultural family, how do you deal with the expectations placed on you as a dramatist?
That's something I've thought about a great deal. I've felt – particularly when I was young – that I didn’t belong anywhere. That I don't know Turkish well enough, or I haven't lived in Turkey long enough to be a good Turkish person. I've felt that I’ve been both a bad Turk and a bad Finn. I would like to be both proud of having a multicultural background, and yet not having to be a voice for it. It's brilliant knowing more than just one language intimately and having a deep understanding of other cultures.
Amalia’s depression is something that is part of her, not something that labels her.
In my writing however, I’m rarely inspired by a theme, but rather a feeling or an observation. Questions around identity and representation emerge from developing characters, their thought patterns, as the characters talk to each other. With a multicultural background, you develop an intuition for questioning whether or not characters are emerging out of plain habit, or whether there’s something delicious to be explored within them…
How did your play Hornblende come about?
The play initially started out as a prose text three or four years ago. I was interested in passive-aggression, as well as the unsaid, and started off by exploring the possible causes for such behaviours. The protagonist in the prose text was more passive-aggressive than in the final monologue. My translator, the dramaturg Eva Buchwald, helped me to see certain passages and dramaturgical choices through which I could express Amalia's thoughts through speech, which also the monologue as a form allows. I wanted to convey what it's like to live with your thoughts going round endless circles, how that affects your relationships, and how it is to live on with such thinking patterns.
This play deals with depression and self-harm and manages to be entertaining while doing so in a manner reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ monologue, Fleabag. How do you write about depression as a dramatist, and avoid having to add trigger warnings to it?
I’m glad you read it as such. I didn’t want to label Amalia in any way, but rather to explore whether pain could be a personal characteristic rather than a medical? condition. As Amalia says in the monologue, would she be who she is without the pain that she is feeling? There are many people living with depression in Finland, as a permanent state of being at different stages in life. Amalia’s depression is something that is part of her, not something that labels her. We are so quick to self-diagnose ourselves today, I wanted to avoid that.
Can you talk about the chosen form for your monologue? How did this particular form come about and what were you looking for exploring the form of monologue?
I’ve always found film fascinating. It’s the closest form of expression for me personally in the way that close ups can portray the smallest of expressions and thus reveal the inner workings of the mind. This monologue form intrigued me therefore, in that I could skip all the unnecessary bits and go straight to conveying Amalia's thought patterns. There are leaps from one space to another as soon as Amalia’s thinking changes. For me, theatre enables that. As I stated earlier, as soon as you say you’re somewhere, you are. There will be lots of different spaces also in the reading of my play during the New Nordic Voices festival.
Finally, what expectations do you have for the New Nordic Voices festival coming up?
It’s been interesting for us Nordic playwrights to hear how in the UK the playwright is considered the crown jewel of the theatre making process. In our theatres, the director is usually the one who gets the last word. It’s quite something to realize how different things can be.
I’m just very excited and open minded as to what will come from the reading. It’s particularly wonderful this year to have been in touch with people elsewhere and to get acquainted with other playwrights. I hope friendships will be formed through the process, and I'm looking forward to an exchange of ideas.
TINFO / Linnea Stara, 10 March, 2021