Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Being inspired in Denmark

At the end of March I began what turned out to be a most wonderful journey with Assitej South Africa in cooperation with Assitej Denmark... A programme to inspire four South African theatre makers by exposing them to Danish theatre for babies, children, teenagers, youth and therefore... theatre for anybody lucky enough to be in the audience of, almost, any one of the some 43 shows we saw.

The journey began in Cape Town at the Family season held at the Arts Admin Collective run by the formidable Caroline Coburn (who are also partners in this Denmark | South Africa creative exchange).  We saw some really wonderful shows...  and we flew to Copenhagen.

Briony Di Horwitz, Thando Baliso and Jayne Batzofin about to take off... Copenhagen via Dubai

A brief overview of our three weeks in Denmark...

Week one was experiencing theatre companies, Patrasket, Zebu and Batida.
Week two was spent at the April Festival in Holstebro about four hours from Copenhagen.
Week three was back in Copenhagen for a workshop with director Marc van der Velden from Zebu.

Theatre troupe Batida in full swing rehearsals... preparing for the April Festival

So firstly, I'd like to start off by smashing any preconceived ideas of what 'childrens' theatre actually is...

I guess I expected, for the most part, for it to how I think children's theatre often is - BIG.  I expected big shows with big costumes and mostly two-dimentional characters... and I am delighted to say that this is not what we saw.  At all.  I was blown away by the creative level of the work in just about every show I saw.  Not once were the shows talking down to their audience.  The level of theatricality was the highest order, from the production design and the live music to the costume design and performances.

So a show whose target audience was for ages 6 - 8 left me with my hand on my heart and tears in my eyes because I too am still 6 years old... sitting with my grandmother looking at photographs of her life, listening to stories of youth and adventure... brought so vividly to life in 'All the Time in the World' by Maridiano.  The sheer visual feast of the show, its emotional heart... left me breathless.  This show is for anyone who has ever had or ever wanted a grandmother... whether you are 6 or 35.  Or the relentless joy that is brought to the stage by a band of some 9 actor/musicians in a crescendo that has you leaping to your feet at the utter delight of how live theatre can make you feel completely alive... done with such virtuosity in 'Grande Finale' by theatre troupe Batida.

A snap from Grande Finale... 
Or the staging genius of 'Peer Gynt' that had its audience as sports spectators on either side of the stage as live musicians and actors moved on and between two stages placed on either end.  With great ease and style they took us through the different worlds and emotional landscapes of this epic story.  Honestly.  This theatre is wonderful.  I could go on and on...  I should also mention that it was all also in Danish... and it didn't matter.

The care for the theatrical space, right from the audience entering to the final applause, was held and nurtured with such love.  Frankly.  Where it is the actors who open the doors and welcome you in and ask you turn off your cellphones.  At end it is the actors too who let you out and thank you for coming.

I often have the feeling that young audiences are not treated as a valid audience - and in Denmark this is absolutely not the case.  It really comes down to the level of respect these theatre makers have for their audience... which visibly overflowed to their respect for each other on stage... and furthermore to each other as theatre makers.  To me it was an environment set to cultivate the highest level of art and not a culture of mostly cutthroat competition.

A few examples:

Fully funded companies do not sell their shows to schools or set their ticket prices at festivals or theatres so low that it makes it impossible for individuals who are not funded to break into the industry and get an audience.  Anyone can take their show to their April Festival... however you have to first perform it to a panel who decide if your show is professional or not - not to be confused with whether they like it or not - and once it has been stamped as professional you can take this show to their festival.  This way the level of the work remains high.  Artists are forced to up their game - they don't end up wasting all their money taking a show to a festival that is not professional or ready yet.  It also means that the audience is cared for as they may see work they don't like but they are unlikely to see work that has not been worked.  Once your show is stamped as processional and you manage sell it to a school - the government pays the school back half of the cost of the show.  Hey?  How amazing.  Amazing.

Holstebro... the city where the April Festival was held...
It changes each year thus taking theatre all over the country
So besides seeing what I can really say is some of the best theatre I have ever seen in my life we met amazing people got to see a bit of Denmark...

The splendid apartment we stayed in right in the heart of Copenhagen during our first week.

Soren and Jayne outside Soren beautiful home where we were invited for a most delicious traditional Danish meal!

Sightseeing with Vika... to name but a few...

The Love Castle (i think!) in middle of beautiful Kings Gardens

The Queens guards outside her palace.

The Little Mermaid... of course!

The Royal yacht... it was the Queens birthday on this particular day that we went on the boat tour :) 

Dinner with Maria (from Batida) and her lovely Family.

Our dinner with Maria began with a sunset walk through the forest...
(where they shot some of The Killing)

...And ended with music!  As many evenings do in Denmark.

On a day off during the festival we were treated to some sight seeing... an old Lighthouse...

...facing the very dramatic North Sea.

The SA group... Jori, Briony, Jayne, Thando, Yvette and Caroline.

The programe runs until next year where we aim to put on new productions - inspired by what we experienced in Denmark at the Family Season at The Theatre Arts Admin in early 2015.

It was a completely inspiring experience.  I believe I am already beginning to integrate some of what we experienced.  So thank you to the amazing Danish theatre makers for making it so very wonderful. To Dirck and everyone at Patrasket... Joren and Marc and everyone at Zebu... Soren and Louis and everyone at Batida.  To the brilliant South Africans who made it possible, Yvette, Jori and Caroline - thank you.  And finally to Briony, Jayne and Thando my colleagues on the trip who I shared this time with.  You guys rock.

Our last dinner together in Copenhagen.

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