Narrator Of Silent Stories Vecihi Ofluoğlu

Pantomime Is A Universal Art And Its History Roots Back To The Earliest Days Of Humankind. Its Modern Foundations Were Laid Upon Theatre Theory Hence Turning It Into A Technical Performance Art.

Pantomime is a form of expression that roots back to tragedia, the oldest version of the theatre. In most basic sense, pantomime is a wordless form of acting. The name derives from “miming” which is a form of acting where the actor/actress expresses an action or sensation with facial or body motion. The theory defines it as the type of comedy to mime the dailylife and customs in Ancient Greek and Roman cultures. The performer tries to tell an entire story only with facial expressions, mimics, body motions and gestures.

Scream Of Silence
Vecihi Ofluoğlu is one of the most prominent names of pantomime in Turkey.  Just like other performers whose lives revolve around an art or craft since early childhood, his eyes shine with the sparkle of the creating. The sparkle of the inner-light emitted from all souls that are passionately in-love with what they do. When asked “How did you become interested in pantomime? Is there a formal school or conservatoire for it or all pantomime performers in Turkey are self-taught artists?” his passion reveals itself in full force.

“In mid 1960s when I was still a pupil of Sarıyer Junior High, I started to take stage in our school group. One day, I heard a French Troop came to French Cultural Centre in Taksim. I watched them and a new, brighter, a more colorful world was revealed to me. It was a stage performance without words but motions only. I was astonished. It was a magical moment for me. You see, I was bored to memorize, and to remain loyal to all those texts for school plays. Then, we were rehearsing in one of the halls of the library in Buyukdere. I went running to my friends and told them what I had seen. I told them: “It was strange and beautiful, they (actors) never speak but easily convey whatever they want to express; I memorized entire pieces, we can try if you want”. That was the moment where everything started for me. I was initiated to the art of pantomime, so-to-speak. You see, there was no place to formally, or academically train in this field at that time. Later on, after I enrolled in the conservatoire, I achieved the much-needed body predisposition of course. Then I trained with different masters of the art and also was in contact with the Turkish pantomime artists, many of whom are deceased now. They contributed tremendously in my development. I have always endeavored to formulate my own, personal style. In short, there is no institution that I was not trained in, since then”.

Pantomime is an art more familiar to early childhood of the generation which grow up with a single TV channel, who are now around their middle-ages. A performer with face painted in white and black, acting mostly funny stories on TV screen, is a picture mostly remembered from childhood of them. Only those who showed an ongoing interest in the art know that this is a branch of performance arts in itself. So, often the mime is confused with clowns for the children who saw him only on TV screen. When asked about the origins of the pantomime, Vecihi Ofluoğlu gives elaborate information, down to the etymology of the art:

Pantomime Is The Act Of Focusing Inside And Expressing To Others
“Pantomime” contains “panto” and “mime”. “Panto” means all whereas “mime” is mimicking. You might know, the concept of mimesis, must be deriving from here. So, in terms of etymological meaning pantomime means “mimicking the whole”. Of course, modern sources call the art pantomime, but the etymology is what I described. Technically, pantomime is the entirety of the actions in which the performer conveys the narrative story to the audience without any costumes or accessories or use of language by using only his/her body and face. Can everything be performed? Naturally, this is not possible. Every narration has its limits. Much like the ballet or other performance acts, similar limitations apply to the pantomime as well. The artist, however, should not focus on such limitations but should concentrate on what can be conveyed. This art needs a strict training before one can become a performer. As goes with all performance arts, one should master the body because the body is the only instrument of a mime. We, the performers, must structure the things based on the body. So, it all starts with knowing and highly physical training of the body. To achieve meaning one must master. Therefore, this is the art of focusing internally and expressing externally. What I mean is, you need to know your body and what you can do with it. That’s the starting point upon which you will structure the narrative which you will convey through your body.”

Space And Acting In Pantomime
It is a certainty that pantomime has a minimalist approach. To pantomime, costume and decors are mere details which are not so welcome. Considering the theatrical theoretical elements, one can wonder if space is significant, or poses a limitation for the pantomime? Vecihi Ofluoğlu admits the minimalistic approach yet highlights that pantomime is a true performance art in its own right.

“I have given theoretical and practical education and training of pantomime. It is a stage performance. Therefore, it is a format of performance arts and has space requirements and limitations. Especially in abroad, street pantomime shows refuse all spatial limitations, but I personally think that they approach the art in a different format. Because their performance is for the passersby who naturally are not actually attending. It is safe to say that the pantomime performed on stage is different than those performed in streets, without spatial concerns. After all, there is a dynamic circulation in the street. Passersby are not constant. If you can attract their attention, then they become audience. At that very moment, one needs to repeat the story by rewinding a little. Also, a passerby cannot be expected to show same patience and loyalty with the stage audience. So, the street is more difficult and harsher than the stage-performed pantomime.”

Since before the history, acting on stage to make the audience subjected to an adventure or a story is the most basic method of narrating. To achieve this, the artist’s most essential tool is the text to be voiced. Well, the pantomime takes the hard way. The mimes try to convey the story without using this most essential tool of the performance arts. Vecihi Ofluoğlu gives clues to those interested while he tells us about how a mime deals with such difficulties.

“There was a time when the mankind lacked verbal communication and communicated through primitive instinctive voices or gests and mimics. Verbal communication developed later and included a set of concepts and definitions but use of gests and mimics was never abandoned. To put it simply, if I feel the instinctive need to use my hands and facial expressions while talking to you, this is a natural motion of my body. Of course, daily use of the gestures and mimics are not the exact same of those we use in pantomime. So, in short, history of mankind does include transition to non-verbal towards verbal. Non-verbal communication is not a show in itself, of course. But people do enjoy expressing something without talking and thus the art developed in due natural course. Can one express everything with body actions (non-verbally)? Of course not! It is also worth underlining that some bodies are especially predisposed for this. Some people can easily convey what they mean in this way. When technically so needs, pantomime can use minimal number of accessories or sound effects and even visual materials. The essential purpose is to convey a message to the audience in a certain format of storytelling.

Pantomime is not the art of silence but is the art of being able to express in silence. Vecihi Ofluoğlu carefully conveys all he gathered about this art, most of which were learned through trial and error, with the excitement of a man talking about his passion, with the care and mastery of craftsman. He ends his words with the excitement of people who love to express their passion. So we learn how much there is something we don’t know about pantomime, and we understand what a sonorous voice this silent art actually has.


Who Is Vecihi Ofluoğlu?
Born on 1950 in Bartın, Turkey he was graduated from Trakya and İstanbul Universities. His debut was in 1965 with the play “Ölümden Daha Büyük Şeyler Var (There Are Things Bigger Than Death)”. He started the pantomime in 1966 and put great efforts to promote this art in Turkey. In 1968 he founded the very first pantomime troop of Turkey in modern sense. He created and chaired “Pantomime Branch” of İstanbul University. For a very long time, he gave mimic and motion courses as artist faculty member of Opera and Ballet Department of State Conservatoire. He served in private theatres as trainer and actor and featured in many opera, ballet and films. Holder of many domestic and international awards, his plays were featured on countless domestic and foreign TV channels. He authored approximately a hundred pantomime plays most of which have been staged.

Mask And Makeup In Pantomime Art
Preferring a minimalistic style of storytelling, costume and decors are not musts of pantomime but the masks and makeup are used frequently. During the silent era, the cinema benefitted from pantomime acting to a great extent (even though there were some technical differences). This highly contributed development of pantomime in modern era. Charlie Chaplin as well as Laurel and Hardy are successful examples of adaptation of pantomime to silent motion pictures.

Pantomime Education In Turkey
“Unfortunately, academically, there is no department of pantomime in university in Turkey. There was a certification program which had been opened within the conservatoire upon my personal efforts. Many people participated in this program and even today most of them actively continues to perform. However, the program was discontinued regretfully. This is not a problem unique to Turkey, same goes for all of the world. The trainings are mostly formulated as courses.”

How Should Be A Pantomime Artist Like?
“A mime must be amorph to a degree. The mime is the author, the director, even the poster designer of the play. She/he sells the tickets, create an audience and prepare everything and only after all these, takes the stage and performs. On stage is where the artist must be extremely careful. The audience might miss a part of the story even at the slightest abstraction. So the mime must always, but always, observe the continuity and synchronization of the audience with the story that is being told. Not an easy trick to pull, right?”

By: Bahar Alban

*This article was  published in the  July– August issue of Marmara Life. 

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