By: Max Mehran
You might have seen the show title of this next piece, tldr:smh, all over Montreal for the past few months, and wondered: what does it mean? Well, QDF can answer this question and so much more after having met with the wonderfully talented Burcu Emeç to talk about her upcoming production, tdlr;smh, at the St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival.
My first question, and the one most of our readers may also be wondering, is where the title came from. Burcu tells me that “tldr;smh is internet short-form for ‘too long, didn’t read; shaking my head.’” The code is actually very popular on online forums, such as reddit. The piece is a one-woman show that includes shadow theatre and light play, exploring Burcu’s identity as a Kurdish woman and centering around the themes of Middle-Eastern feminism, pop stardom, and the female fighters of Rojava, which is in northern Syria. “I would say it’s written very politically,” Burcu explains, “with references that some people in Montreal might be seeing in the news, but not know exactly what’s going on.”
In fact, before heading to the Fringe Festival, Burcu received the amazing opportunity to present her piece at two festivals, Arts Matters and Revolution They Wrote. “It was great because,” Burcu tells us, “I got to actually perform the piece many months before the Fringe and learn a lot.” By having a supportive audience Burcu received constructive feedback that helped her reshape her piece and workshop it further. She tells me that the piece that she is now presenting is quite different from the one presented at the two previous festivals. “One of my main hopes is bringing diversity to the Montreal theatre scene,” Burcu tells me, “so I learned that I had to provide a lot more context and information for people to hold on to.”
I now ask Burcu what originated her desire to tell this story. “As a recent graduate of Concordia’s Theatre Performance program,” she explains, “I wanted to do a one-woman show for a long time, so I started with my own experience.” She explains that as a first-generation immigrant to Canada, Burcu went through a process of owning her Kurdish heritage, her brownness, and her Middle-Eastern-ism for the first time, something she was in the past shameful of. “When the revolution in Rojava began,” Burcu explains, “I felt it was an awakening of acceptance and respect for my heritage.” She asked herself what it meant to be a Kurdish-Canadian artist based in Montreal not only in today’s art and theatre scene, but also in today’s political climate. She tells me that there is a big rise of Kurdish pop stars in this area of the world, with the ban of recording Kurdish being lifted particularly in Turkey not too long ago, and how YouTube, with its ability to share and spread Kurdish music and culture, became a major source of inspiration for this piece.
The world of pop stars and female fighters of Rojava were fused to create Burcu’s alter-ego: Lady Jîyan, the main star of tldr;smh. In addition, her interests in puppetry and shadow theatre make their appearance in the piece. “There was an intuitive link between pop stars, alter egos and performative identities, light and shadow, magic and illusion, and hallucination,” she explains. “Those worlds connected for me naturally.”
She is excited to be part of the Montreal Fringe for it “provides a platform for diversity, which [she] thinks is incredibly important.” While tldr;smh tackles her identity as a Kurdish woman and the reality of the situation in northern Syria, it also pulls from Burcu’s own experiences with assault and abuse. “Art is one of the only places we can speak honestly about these issues,” she expresses, “and if not in theatre and art, then where else?” She hopes to start a dialogue and a conversation about these community issues to prevent them from becoming what she expresses as “dangerously isolating.” One of the biggest projects Burcu is dedicated to undertake drawing from this experience at the Fringe is creating an online zine (online magazine) of a collection of resources, writing, art, and grounding techniques by and for survivors.
“This project has been a big journey in my healing for sure,” Burcu confesses when I asked her if working on the piece was cathartic. “What is great about alter egos and also creating something for the stage,” she continues, “is that it creates distance between your lived experiences and your work.” She tells me how learning about how to talk about her experiences was very therapeutic. “It allowed me to take control of what I’ve gone through, to shape it, to give voice to it, and to reclaim its power,” Burcu finishes.
“It’s a vulnerable piece,” she confesses, “so it’s scary, but I am okay with being scared.” She hopes her audience will come with an open heart to hear the sharing of these stories.
Thank you to Burcu for answering our questions with honesty. Find out more details on the production here.