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Provocative director Turkka dies at 74

The former head of the national Theatre Academy was notorious for his sometimes-brutal method of training students, many of whom went on to become well-known actors and directors.

Jouko Turkka
Jouko Turkka, 1942-2016 Image: Touko Yrttimaa / Yle

The most controversial figure in modern Finnish theatre, director Jouko Turkka, has died at age 74 after a long illness.

The former head of the national Theatre Academy was notorious for his sometimes-brutal method of training students, many of whom went on to become well-known actors and directors. Active from the 1960s until a few years ago, he is credited with shaking up and modernising the once-conservative Finnish theatre scene and its educational system. 

1987 shock show

A group of his protégés shocked the nation in 1987 with a performance in Oulu in which they cut themselves and threw excrement at the audience. Turkka was not directly involved in the performance, but stood by the students.

Amid the uproar and lawsuits stemming from the incident, Turkka held onto his professorship at the academy until the following year. He had served as rector in 1983-85.

Jouko Turkan ohjaama tv-sarja
Turkka directing the "Seven Brothers" series for Yle. Image: Antero Tenhunen / Yle
He went on to direct plays at the National Theatre and the city theatres of Gothenburg, Helsinki, Turku and Joensuu, as well as TV work including several series for Yle.

Turkka also published seven books and inspired at least four by other writers and former students. In 1994, Turkka was shortlisted for the Finlandia literary prize for his novel Häpeä (Shame). He was awarded a number of prizes, and an honorary doctorate by the Theatre Academy in 2009.

News of death delayed

Turkka died on July 22 in his hometown of Pirkkala, near Tampere, but news of his death did not emerge until an obituary appeared in the local paper Pirkkalainen on Wednesday. Turkka's death was confirmed to Yle by his son Juha Turkka, a boxer turned artist and writer. A play that the two wrote together is currently being performed as part of the Tampere Theatre Festival.

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