Dismayed by the suppression of Kurdish culture in Turkey, American storyteller Diane Edgecomb decided to travel to the remote mountain villages that are fast becoming the last vestiges of the Kurdish language. She enlisted the help of Kurdish friends in the States to get her on the ground in southeastern Turkey. Once there, Edgecomb started recording the last Kurdish storytellers, with the ultimate plan to document their craft in a book. Her performance of A Thousand Doorways at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival is a theatrical account of that experience, featuring very few props, sparse sound effects, and a cast of only one.
Edgecomb begins her two-hour tale with a melodic song in the Kurdish style. The delicate undulations of her practised voice command attention and more music of this sound will appear throughout the set.
The story begins in Italy, where Edgecomb says she met a Kurdish refugee who showed her the effects of the violence between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on Kurdish civilians. Edgecomb uses accents and physical ticks to embody each character, ranging from a hip Italian friend to elderly Kurdish villagers. This is a creative, if not risky undertaking, but Edgecomb’s combined skill as a performer and firsthand experience with her characters make for respectful portrayals.
This is a heavy performance about the deliberate suppression of a culture – at one point Edgecomb urges a resigned elderly storyteller to share her tales: “They’re taking away your language! Don’t let them take your stories too.” The gravity of the subject matter is handled deftly. But if there is a standout element to A Thousand Doorways, it is the humour that Edgecomb draws from her experiences. In describing everything from a difficulty learning Kurdish words to meeting an elderly woman with a surprising knowledge of Skype, Edgecomb draws the humanity out of foreign encounters – and manages to get a laugh in the process.
For most of her performance, Edgecomb is dressed plainly, which focuses the audience’s attention on her words and ability. She sometimes wears a traditional Kurdish hat piece, made up of black velvet with gold and silver adornments hanging down. Barring this costume change, as well as a few stools and some well-timed sound effects, Edgecomb leaves the stage minimal enough to accommodate her immensely entertaining voice.
A Thousand Doorways is an excellent pairing of material and medium – the long-muffled stories of the Kurds finally come to life in the hands of a skilled performer. But the show does leave its audience wondering about the fate of the storytellers Edgecomb encountered in her travels. Is it possible for them to be heard, not vicariously but in the first person? The impracticality of that sentiment will not be lost on anyone who sat through Edgecomb’s gripping descriptions of smuggling her recording devices in and out of Turkey’s Kurdish region. The show does not let us forget the value of the voices that we are not hearing.
A Thousand Doorways was performed as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. For more information, visit their website.
Image: Diane Edgecomb.