Theatre Får302 — the Smallest Intimate Stage of Copenhagen
By Tan Shuo
Charlotte Elizabeth chose to stay in 2001, but she knew that she alone could not steer the theatre back on track. Nor would she want anybody else other than actors to retain control over the stage.
And as what she kept reminding herself, “In school, my teacher always told me it (acting) is not about how I felt, but how the person I was playing – ‘how did she feel’ and ‘what did I make her do’. So, that was what we looked for. That was the reason why Theatre Får302 was born – the real life on stage.”
In this sense, the theatre was not only a space to release their creative energies, but a commitment to developing what they had been trained, and a tribute to their Russian teacher and her high demand which gave them a rounded foundation for a career in theatre.
Being faithful to Stanislavski’s method, the ensemble of nine had pushed against the traditions in the realm of the absurd, setting up a distinct, if not unique, profile in Danish theatre – a profile which began to take shape in Metamorphosis, and was firmly established in the mid-1990s after a cycle of plays scripted by the New York-based Nicky Silver and the English playwright Nick Darke.
Throughout the first ten years, almost all of their productions had a family context in common, particularly, family in destructive crisis, like the brutish children committing parricide in Night of the Assassins (Mordernes mat, 1992), the middle-aged couple struggling in their child-free marriage in The Dead Monkey (Den døde abe, 1995), the parents and the son depraved after a plane crash in Fat Men in Skirts (Tykke mænd i kjoler, 1995), and the twin siblings being reunited in a quandary over the decisions on their lives in Raised in Captivity (Tvillingetvist, 1996), to name a few.
“Family is important everywhere I think. The surface is how people try to make their family look right and happy, but what is the truth? What is the lie about it?” Charlotte Elizabeth says, to her, making arts can be likened to archeology – a process of digging for the truth. “What you always see is the surface on people, on situations, on all the results, but when you turn to look at yourself, you try to understand what lies beneath.”
Incest, cannibalism, adultery, murder…The extremely abhorrent scenes one could (or could not) refer to a family relationship were thus laid bare. Coated with black humor, they thrilled the audience while exhilarating them, and ultimately posed deep existential questions from which the stories originated.
“How do you survive? Why are you here? What do you want from life? What is important to you? …It is so important to keep curiosity and keep asking the questions about life, about yourself, like going through the layers,” Charlotte Elizabeth explains, “because I believe very deeply that the more layers you take off, the more universal it will become, as we are one big human being.”
On 31 May 1997, Days on Top (Dage på Toppen), a play commissioned for the 10th anniversary of the theatre, was premiered. Being recognized as an exemplary work in the era of Danish drama breakthrough,1 Days on Top was not only the first major peak of the ten-year-old theatre, but also a career highlight of the dramatist Jokum Rohde, who came to prominence in the mid-1990s and later grew to be considered “one of the greatest dramatists of the country (en af de fremmeste dramatikere herhjemme)”.2
The following year saw the staging of another lauded production The Survivors (De Efterlevende, 1998), in which three sisters were portrayed from their childhood in the 1930s up to the current decade (the 1990s). Scripted by Bo Hr. Hansen, the play probed into the trust in family relationships, and like always, it turned out to be “a black farce, a laughing ghost (en sort farce, en lattergyser)”.3
“I like it (Theatre Får302). And it is very important that we have this kind of small theatres in addition to bigger and also to more conventional ones,” comments Birgitte Hesselaa, a renowned dramaturg and theatre critic in Denmark, “Being so small, they have a larger extent of freedom. They don’t need to think of selling many tickets, so they have the freedom to make experiments. But still, as they are also subsided, they have to live up to certain economic standards. As to Theatre FAR302, it has a kind of fan group of people who like them, people who follow them, which is important. There are not so many small theatres, but they are very important in the whole picture.”
In this regard Charlotte Elizabeth also admits their “selfishness”, i.e., to make the arts of their own instead of catering to the tastes of the audience. And what’s worth noting, all of their productions were close-ended and limited to a running period of three or four weeks, only except for the highly-acclaimed ones, which may be either revived or sold to other theatres as guest productions – but usually for once only.
“To stage two times is ok, but three times – no…We don’t think much about what we can sell, but about what is more artistically interesting for ourselves,” Charlotte Elizabeth stresses the principle.
In 2001, she chose to stay. And the cardinal principle, the valued solidarity, the sense of black humor, the theatrical absurdity, the authenticity in acting, and what’s more important, the actors’ dominant power in creation, were all passed onto a newly-formed ensemble later that year – actress Birgitte Prins and actor Pauli Ryberg joined the artistic board, which saved Theatre Får302 from closing down. While the stay of Charlotte Elizabeth, in certain ways, helped maintain its consistency.
For Audiences, Artists, and Theatres
Notes and references:
1. Hesselaa, Birgitte. Det dramatiske gennembrud – om nybruddet i dansk dramatik fra 1990’erne til i dag. Gyldendal, 2009, p. 129.
2. Bangsgaard, Jeppe. “Som dramatiker er jeg hæmningsløs. Når det gælder min prosa, er jeg hypernervøs.” Berlingske, 9 May 2016, www.b.dk/kultur/som-dramatiker-er-jeg-haemningsloes.-naar-det-gaelder-min-prosa-er-jeg-hypernervoes. Accessed 16 Mar. 2018.
3. Thygesen, Erik. ”Tre blodsøstre.” Information, 16 Feb. 1998, www.information.dk/1998/02/tre-blodsoestre. Accessed 16 Mar. 2018.
The series of articles is fulfilled with support from Danish Arts Foundation and Theatre Får302.