Høringsuttalelse 3: SCENETEKST


I forbindelse med de tre offentlige høringene under METEOR 2015 ba vi lokale skribenter om å feste høringen til papiret – som en høringsuttalelse, et referat eller en åpen invitasjon til talerstolen. Rania Broud har transkribert Høring for scenetekst.

04. desember 2015
Av Karoline Skuseth


The panel for this hearing consists of Ludvig Uhlbors (SE), Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson (IS), Gritt Uldall-Jessen (DK) and is moderated by Cecilie Løveid (NO).

Biographies of the panel:

Ludvig Uhlbors was educated at Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm 2006. Playwright and co-leader of the theatre company Institutet 2006-2009. Worked as a freelance dramatist and performance artist from 2009 until today in Sweden, Germany, Norway, Finland, Estonia and China. Director of The End Foundation in 2012 and author of a book on theatre, Gjord obrukbar, published in 2013. Has worked as a publisher running the publishing house Förlaget since then. Recent dramatic work includes the adaption of Njals saga at Cinnober Teater in Gothenburg 2015. Now studying theatre directing at Master level at KHIO in Oslo, Norway.

Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson is an Icelandic playwright, author and director, with a background from The Iceland Academy of the Arts, Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts and Goldsmiths University of London. He has published a number of plays, among them Bláskjár/Blue Eyes and The Commercial of the Year, and was director of Harold Pinters Silence at Reykjavik Art Festival in 2015. He has been awarded and nominated in a number of categories for Grima – awards for Performing Arts in Iceland.

Gritt Uldall-Jessen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark 1970. She is educated at The National School of Playwriting in Aarhus at Aarhus Theatre and she also carries an MA in Nordic Philology, Copenhagen University. She is working as an independent playwright within the field of Contemporary Stage Art. Her main interest in theatre is to investigate the various roles of the text and the work of the playwright within modern contemporary stage art. She has been writing for the Danish ensemble Hotel Pro Forma by the productions Monkey Business Class, House of the Double Axe and jesus_c_odd_size. Other collaborations such as Recoil Performance Act, CoreAct, Cantabile 2, Bal/Verk-produksjoner (Norway) and Nydanskeren Jimbuts Kulturforening. She is since 2014 the spokesperson of the interest organisation Independent Performing Artists that she is also one of the co-founders of. She is part of the organising team behind the yearly Festival of Independent Stage Art at Dansehallerne. She works as a part time administrator at The Experiment Lab Station in Copenhagen.



Karoline Skuseth (BIT Teatergarasjen): 

Welcome! These events [the hearings, red.] are meant to open up for voices to be heard. Not to assume or to judge, but to open up a discussion. On behalf of BIT Teatergarasjen I present to you today's moderator, Cecilie Løveid.


Cecilie Løveid (NO):

I am very interested in this hearing because we come from different parts of Scandinavia. Today we have colleagues that are from Sweden, Iceland and Denmark.

Our host is asking if there is something rotten in the state of theatre. I've heard similar questions being asked before, such as why are they doing mainstream? And then on the other hand we have this festival, METEOR, where we can go and see a lot of new forms and ideas of theatre and also some different texts for the stage. BIT Teatergarasjen has been hosting this for 30 years [regarding the festival, only 15 years, but 30+ as a seasonal venue, red.]. I don't think that it in the end is so bad, is it? What is art? Do we feel like that? Because there should be a question about quality too. Why should everyone have a play on, just because they want to? You have to earn your money and pick your fights.

I've had a lot of colleagues that wanted to write for the theatre or for television, and they started out very freshly, eager, and then, after a while, they are not so eager and they are bored with the system they are meeting. The system also changes through the years. And it seems to me that it takes a lot of courage to stay in this field. What you need is to believe in yourself. Because you cannot believe in the system of the theatre; the theatre can never take care of us [writers]. That is one of the many tasks for me, because I am also writing poetry and other things. I've always had good publishers and they've worked very differently with me and my work than what the theatre does.

I've always had this thought that there are agencies. I know them personally and I've seen them, their offices weere stacked with manuscripts. Maybe they are inside a computer these days, but in the beginning there were rooms stacked with manuscripts, they were living on mainstream things, the operettas and so on, often names like My Fair Lady or something like that and they did good work in selling these shows to the theatre. The theatre dramaturges over the years would socialise with them, have a nice meal and drink together, and there they would talk about what's new in other theatres in New York, London or Berlin and then they could bring these packages of plays into the Nordic towns. And 80% of the theatres were filled with 80% classics and the rest was filled with must-see plays known as box office.

My agent in Copenhagen told me and a few other writers that he could get rid of us at any given moment because he didn't make any money out of us, the reason for him keeping us is because it looks good on paper to have some contemporary writers. It was not a very wise thing to say. What if a publisher had said that about Ibsen? “What can I use you for? You don't sell.” Which brings me to this other question; What kind of drama should we write? That question has taken over my life. I don't know why it's so difficult, because it's not hard to choose if my poetical ideas should be short story or poem or – whatever it should be never bothers me. I just like the idea and I write it. But when it comes to performance text I always think about the form, if they like it, if they will manage it, if it's something for them, is it in their field? I become like a kind of servant trying to please the theatre. Sometimes I find myself as a servant pleasing. Or I can find myself very thrustful where they do what I give them and they have no questions. Maybe it's because they like it or maybe it's because they are uneducated for analytics of the text. So, where should I take my input from? I have to give and give and give but where is my input? And this is a much bigger question than the other one. That is my little intro. I have prepared some questions to start with for the others, maybe I'll try to give some answers as well.

My first question is: Do you feel trapped in a system?


Ludvig Uhlbors (SE):

No. I think I've always done what I want and I've been able to make a living out of it. What I have been able to do more of the last couple of years, in reference to what you mentioned, is to turn the obstacles into options. As you said don't expect anything from the system. So for example I wrote a book and tried to get it published with no success. So instead I started my own publishing company.

There is a system and the system is very strong. I don't personally feel trapped by it, but there is a strong expectation of what and how you should produce. In Sweden there is a strong economic pressure.


Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson (IS):

I originally come from performing arts, so when I got into theatre I didn't really realise that there was a system. Now I need to remind myself almost everyday that the system exists. I am a person with a temperament and when I work a lot I have to remind myself about the system almost every day because my skin comes off, you know. I'm very sensitive and it's a very strange thing seeing this big man being very sensitive. I try to remind myself that the system doesn't owe me anything. The art director or the theatre instructor – they don't owe me anything! The world doesn't owe me anything. This is the hateful truth that I try to remind myself of in the working process. The system is a system of theatre. What I do is that I fight fire with fire. Since it is the theatre, I too get quite theatrical by leaving meetings or not attend meetings that I'm supposed to attend. I will raise my voice and I will put fear into people. This is a difficult work place and I respect people who are respectful.

I need the boundaries in the theatre and I need the boundaries in the system and realise that this is a clinical space. I have to be really vigorous. At times when I get asked to read like 10 plays a week I sometimes do feel trapped and suffocated because I'm being used. What they will say is that "this is such a great opportunity for you". Fucking opportunity talk! It's so awful because it's especially addressed to young people and to young women.

I don't know how many assisted directors that are working in the city, they say they are not well funded, but they are. They're losing a lot of money now on Billy Elliot the musical. Before that they lost a lot of money on Mary Poppins and now they're planning on losing a lot of money on Mamma Mia. And they say that this is because they need to bring the people in. The ideology is that if people come to see Mamma Mia then they will also come to see your play, therefore you should love the musical they're currently putting on. This is the system, they throw in a lot of crazy ideas where you get confused. That's why I need to be a ground keeper myself, I need to be very careful to not allow them to confuse me. I go there as little as I can these days, I go to work with the director that I like, he's not a friend he's a director doing his job and we're working on this together. The main problem is that the people in charge of theatre are as I view it "the children of hippies". They grow up in an environment with no boundaries where their mother runs around naked and then they come up to the real world and everything is flakey. For example I have no idea what a dramaturge does. Neither do they read my work and give me good notes, I have my own editors for that. My editors come from publishing and are wonderful people. In Iceland people want prestige, but nobody really wants to work and if I ask about the reading each person points to the next. This brings me to the other side of theatre - theatre is a place for swindlers. If you're a swindler and you don't need that much money you go and work in the theatre. It's very sad but you see it a lot.

Do I get trapped in a system? I don't think I do anymore because now I know the system, but I think everybody goes through this phase where you're reading this awful play, usually from London, about how not to bully or how not to be a racist or how not to hate gays and then you realise that you don't stand a chance. We're very lucky in Iceland because we get a writers grant which means that I get to work with pretty much what I want.


Gritt Uldall-Jessen (DK):

I want to answer the question with my paper that I have written because I am describing the system there, and the different obstacles that I see. But first I would like to introduce myself, my name is Gritt Uldall-Jessen and I’m based in Copenhagen. I'm educated at the National School of Playwriting in Aarhus from the first round when it was a test education. After that I took my MA in Danish Literature. I've written a paper for this hearing that shows the system in Denmark.


(Shows a couple of slides on the whiteboard containing theatre/performing arts during the autumn season 2015 in Copenhagen that shows how many music theatre, musicals, theatre concerts, opera, classics, older drama imports, new Danish dramas or something resembling that and other types of plays that are in the repertoire.)


It's clear that the independent field of state arts are vastly represented in comparison to the established theatres. In addition to the fact that independent groups of the performing arts cannot afford to advertise in the newspaper. This circumstance is clearly linked to the difference in the perspective of future planning. It's very clear that musicals and theatre concerts hold a strong position in the market, often the playwright isn't listed.

How do we characterise a playwright anyway? Shakespeare would be one version, authors like Ibsen represent another. The Shakespeare version who creates form on stage and then writes the text down. This might also apply to the classical greek authors, yet we cannot know. Christian Lollike is a well known modern danish sample of playwright/director person. Ibsen wrote for the readers and left his text to the theatre directors to realise for the stage.

What constitutes a text for the stage? Aristotle defines drama as telling the story through the acts of acting. Nevertheless there are also text for the stage which work with changing subject-object relations. These relations are communicated through the text and through the images and relations between the performer and the physical environment that the text presupposes, more or less, implicit. Where a dramatic text creates fictitious reality, a relational text for the stage reaches the illusion that it creates a real fiction. In my opinion there needs to be a greater awareness of what a dramatic text really is, and that it's not just a dramatic text. I wish that we could reserve the use of the terms drama, dramatic and dramatist to when we describe the narrative form, which narrate through the act of acting. The relational text for the stage may come from different sources. And often they're not originally written for the stage. In some cases they're developed through rehearsals or devised.

Generally people want to see a story about themselves. The model, what is known, is recognised as a strong fascination. So has the show, the metamorphosis, the experience to see oneself from the outside, to be transferred into another world. To see and recognise something that you would not normally see, or otherwise choose to ignore. This could prove to be a frightening experience. It's not particularly surprising that plays such as Sound of music hold such a prominent place on the market.

You asked if I feel trapped in a system. I try to make three outlines of the actual terms of the playwright's works today. It seems to me that the playwright has two choices, one is to become an independent author who writes and publishes texts that others produce, can interpret and perform. Texts that are so beautiful and relevant that we simply cannot ignore them, or the playwright can receive training to become a producer, thereby being able to create a stage where theatrical texts are performed and creating words of high quality for the performing arts. With this comes also a challenge. When you as a playwright work with another kind of theatre, that uses equal dramaturgy as parameters, working in a collaborative process, versus working in a more traditional dramatic theatre structure, may certainly experience a greater freedom within the norm of work.

My own experience as a playwright tells me that sometimes putting the text away and no longer being responsible for what happens to the collaborative process is a good thing. The playwright offers sensitivity for the words and the experience of writing and make use of words as an artistic material, however in the collaborative process words aren't necessarily used as lines. Instead the text can be used as an image for the stage design, special lighting effects as well as in many other ways. The playwright loses the dramatists mastery over words, becomes a tool alongside other tools with specialised knowledge (stage design and special effects). This act of objectification can be uncomfortable and challenging for all of the production team. The playwright must take responsibility for herself and work for instance by ensuring that the produced text is released in a form that can be read and acquired as an independent piece of art. As author staging the other work, the playwright must also acquire the necessary management related disciplines in order to ensure that the invertible process of objectification of the members of the co-created collective is counterbalanced by a deliberate subjectification and the respectful attitude, to ensure that no member of the team will feel like having wasted any potential opportunities. The dramatist is resurrected by becoming a playwright, a poet, theatre worker, stage art worker or author.



Cecilie Løveid (NO)

Do you have a fear of squares or of too many possibilities? And who are you in all of these possibilities?

Ludvig Uhlbors (SE)

Creativity is related to narrowing down the possibilities and making a choice, which is very important.


Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson (IS):

I'm not afraid of being put in a box. Having said that I think that looking at old literature, and of course theatre is literature, it's either exciting or it is funny. It's one of these two things, sometimes it's both. What's killing us is that there is a lot of crap out there. It's probably arrogant to say, but there are too many people working in the theatre. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question, but I think that the box is there and that is something you'll have to realise. I think that writing a play is 85% technique plus your intuition, where you then throw some art on it. In other words it's very easy to make a show, but it is very difficult to make a good one. This has to do with honesty which I think we have very little of. Theatre is for me the cruelest of forms because you can write something down that seems to work in your head and then the actors rehearse on it for weeks and it doesn't work. You can try to get help from the dramaturge to make it work, but sometimes it's just like that. It's very cruel and also it can be extremely humiliating. Being in the box, outside of the box – in the box there are a few tools that you can learn, that's why I mean that writing for the stage is a technique.


Cecilie Løveid (NO):

Do you think it's a good thing to have education for the dramatist?


Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson (IS):

I was not educated. I went to school for only one year and then I quit. The reason I quit was the fact that they were teaching us methods of how to make money from being a playwright. It became more about the practical things, which are true, like keeping the numbers of characters down to three – then it will be easier to get produced. It wasn't about the artistic writing anymore. Then you're talking about boundaries, mixing art and education.


Gritt Uldall-Jessen (DK):

I want to say a little bit about working in the independent field, the independent field is where I mostly work. It takes me more or less two years to get a production. I do applications for the national arts council and after two years you have a production with three actors, scenographer, production team and everything. I feel I have the possibility to define what I want to work with in the independent field.


 Cecilie Løveid (NO):

Do you feel harassed now because Tyrfingsson means there are a lot of fakers out there?

Gritt Uldall-Jessen (DK):

I don't recognise that it's so easy to fake something, for me it's a lot of hard work in the independent field just getting the funding and getting on to a stage. If you want to have artistic integrity you'll have to become a project manager as well. There are also a lot of benefits from working in the independent field and that is the freedom to choose who to be in the process, you don't have an institutional theatre that comes and tells you what to cut out or what to do, even though you pay for your own artistic integrity. I like having it. At the same time you end up doing everything functioning as an auteur.


Cecilie Løveid (NO):

Ludvig, do you have your own people around you, or do you work alone as an auteur?


Ludvig Uhlbors (SE):

I've pretty much been forced into the auteur position because I've wasted all of my privileges. For me this is the point where you can achieve art. When you have privileges the question is what do you do with them? It's only by wasting them, not risking, but actually wasting them that you can achieve art. I think that the role of the artist is something that the artist needs to get accustomed to, is to acquire privileges and then waste them, and the start over again from another position. I say this because of my experience, where I've seen the Swedish institutional radicals who have a lot of privileges and they use it to raise questions. A lot of times my feeling is that these aren't real questions, there's a difference between gestures and questions. Real question always penetrate something, a crisis for example, and there's always a risk involved. For me to have institutional radicals maintaining their position year after year becomes a question about credibility, and as soon as that credibility is tested, in my experience, they don't live up to what they claim. I don't see art as work, I do recognise that an artist works.



Cecilie Løveid (NO):

Are you a writer, playwright or a poet?


Ludvig Uhlbors (SE):

I am an artist who mainly use writing as my expression.


Tyrfingur Tyrfingsson (IS):

I like the word theatre-poet.


Gritt Uldall-Jessen (DK):

I too identify myself as an artist who uses words as a medium.



The last 30 minutes of the hearing has not been transcribed, due to the dramatic potenitial of these last statements. 


Rania Broud er på nivå 26 i livet. Teater- og medieviterin spe, teaterinstruktør og anmelder. Skriver en tverrfaglig master i medievitenskap på Universitetet i Bergen om bruk av film og video i teateret. Nåværende scenekunstseer, fremtidig scenekunstskaper. Over gjennomsnittelig ambisiøs, takk og lov.