Handan Ozbilgin

Finding Home: Migration, Exile, and Belonging Essay Salon


If you are an immigrant HOME is one of the main themes of your life. It is unavoidable. In my directorial work, there are always signs of the home that I left behind; a Turkish song or a movie clip. I was waiting for the right time to do a theatre project so specifically about this theme. But I didn’t want to write or direct it. I wanted to put a team together and let them explore their own idea of “home”.

I am the Associate Artistic Director at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (LPAC) in Long Island City, Queens. I recently returned from Istanbul after participating in an intensive weeklong theatre workshop! As part of our Global initiative project, we launched an exchange program with Istanbul-based theatre company, Ikinci kat (2nd floor). We asked the Artistic Director, Sami Berat Marcali to craft a new theatre piece for this exchange. Following the completion of his first draft, Home, American director Ellie Heyman and I traveled to Istanbul to workshop the piece with a full cast. The next phase of this project will be a workshop performances, directed by Elle in early November at LPAC with an American cast performing it.

The story of Home is about two siblings in search of a home. Drawing from our current refugee crisis in the Middle East, as well as images of isolation, violence and innocence, the play asks us to investigate our own personal relationship to freedom, security and love.

I met with Sami two years ago at his wonderful theatre space Ikinci kat. I knew he was the right person for this project. When Sami and I first spoke about the themes for the project, I told him I always search for the meaning of home in my life and work. In my personal life, my home is NY where I live with my family. Also I used to call Bahcelievler my home, the neighborhood in Ankara where I spent my whole childhood.

Today I no longer feel connected to Bahcelievler. It is not only because I haven’t lived there for twenty years but also because in Turkey certain values, feelings, thoughts attached to my childhood are intentionally erased under the current political regime. Turkey feels like a different country that I don’t recognize as one I used to call my home. On the other hand, I call New York “home”. It is not because I live here but because I have the freedom to be who I want to be here. Home is not necessarily where you were born and spent most of your life - it is a place where you can be who you want to be.

Exile is an unfamiliar concept for me. Home is easier for me to understand. But if you live in Istanbul, you cannot ignore the presence of Syrians in the streets. They are in exile with no hope of return. Their presence in Istanbul is forcing us to look at the world through a different lens. From the refugee perspective, their condition is not about finding a new home or somewhere they feel belong - it is about survival. Staying alive is the only reality that exists.

Since Sami has been experiencing the refugee crises on a daily base, it was only natural for him to create refugee characters in his play. Two refugees, a brother and sister, lead us to see the definitions of home and belonging in a completely different way. The way that I would never have thought of having my legal immigrant status in New York City.

At the end, we all know the world is not safe. I am in a lucky bunch because I live in a city I can call home.

HANDAN OZBILGIN is the Associate Artistic Director of LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and Independent Theater Director based in NYC. Most recently she directed Three Graces by Ruth Margraff , Lonely Leela by Rehana Mirza. Stage Reading Are You Now or Have you Ever Been? by Eric Bentley (Phoenix Theatre Ensemble). Rose Love Pepe (Target Margin Theater’s Stein Lab). Affiliated Artist with Lark Play Development Center and New Georges. A member of Lincoln Center’s Director Lab, Theatre Without Borders, Atelier for Young Festival Managers and ELI (Emerging Leadership Institute). www.handanozbilgin.com





Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff's plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect. 

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