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Finnish theatre´s turn to conquer Europe

Kristian Smeds sets up international theatre community with the entire continent of Europe as home base

Finnish theatre´s turn to conquer Europe
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By Kirsikka Moring
     How would a Finnish production of Asterix on the main stage of Belgium's National Theatre sound? Or a Finnish-European Cherry Orchard in a wooden building in Vilnius that is slated for demolition? Soon you will see.
     A new Finnish-led international theatre community has emerged in Finland - the Smeds Ensemble. As the name suggests, the artistic director of the new theatre company is Kristian Smeds.
      Ville Hyvönen is responsible for financial and administrative matters, and the production management is in the hands of Eeva Bergroth, who has acquired international experience in Germany and at the Helsinki Festival.
Members of the group have rejected the ordinary traditions of theatre production, which are tied down to seasons, specific buildings, and an established company of actors. The idea is that artistic content alone determines the place, time, group, and rehearsal schedules.
     A proposal for developing Finnish cultural exports, published on Thursday by a working group headed by Petri Tuomi-Nikula, immediately got a theatre that could serve as an example - and more.
      The theatre neither imports nor exports. It lives, is seen, and is heard in Europe. It does not have a fixed staff of artists, or a single location for performances. The home of the group is everywhere, actors are hired separately for each production from Finland and from each of the countries involved.
"The idea is based on the personal international contacts of the group and on long-term networking. The starting point is not that we would announce on the Internet that Theatre X is looking for partners for cooperation by a certain date - with getting EU financing in mind", Smeds says.
     It is also not an export company, but rather a theatre troupe that wanders freely in Europe, as dictated by artistic goals, whose work is borne by personal foreign contacts.
     Fixed financing is being sought for only three. In other respects, financing is acquired separately for each individual production, from the EU's Cultural and Structural funds, Nordic finance channels, the Finnish Ministries of Education or Foreign Affairs, international foundations, and from partner theatres - to name a few. The Smeds Ensemble does not seek to fall within the framework of theatre legislation.
Some partners have been sought out, and more are to come. Plans are ready for years ahead in the Baltic countries, especially Lithuania and Estonia, as well as Hungary, France, Belgium, and Germany.
     Finnish organisations that might be involved include the Helsinki Festival, the Finnish National Theatre, and the Korjaamo Culture Factory.
     The Baltic Circle festival is an appropriate partner for the theatre, as Smeds has long been involved in the artistic working group of the festival.
Smeds and Hyvönen, who are currently putting the finishing touches on The Seagull by Anton Chekhov at Von Krahl in Tallinn, note that Von Krahl is one of the key partner theatres - an important spiritual, and very concrete home.
     In 2009 the Smeds Ensemble will have a massive production at the Belgian National Theatre in Brussels called Real Asterix in Finland. And no need to fear: copyright issues have been dealt with!
     About half a dozen actors are to be hired from Finland. The rest are Belgians - mainly representatives of modern dance. Rehearsals will be held half in Finland and half in Belgium.
      Smeds is currently writing a play set in the future in 2069.
     "Then the EU will have expanded, and will be as big as the Roman Empire was. Borders, national languages, and customs have gone. Money and sex are flowing", Smeds explains.
     "In it, Brussels is a demonised city, with a strange tribe living in shipping containers on the outskirts. It secretly holds on to its language, customs, and internal disputes." Sounds Finnish.
      Dogmatix, the dog in the Asterix comic, is a reindeer. "I mean a real reindeer, which appears on stage."
Next summer the Ensemble will do a multinational interpretation of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard in Smeds' "third" home city, Vilnius.
      The performance will take place in an old wooden building on the outskirts of the city, which is to be demolished. A large bank will go up in its place, and a large cherry orchard in the yard will be cleared away.
      The Smeds Ensemble is applying Chekhov's lines to the performance in the yard as an on-line event, which is being recorded on video throughout the process.
Smeds is also writing a play on the world championships in ice hockey in 1995, when the Finnish tem won. A main character already exists, and he will be played by Johannes Korpijaakko.
      According to the writer, national feelings have been raised by two events since the Winter War: the 1995 ice hockey championships, and the victory in last year's Eurovision Song Contest.
      Thus, he is looking into what feeds our national spirit, and why.
      In the autumn of 2008 there will be a revival in Helsinki of Jumala on kauneus ("God is Beauty"), first written and directed by Smeds in 2001. The play is about the artistic work and fate of Ostrobothnian Vilho Lampi.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.3.2007

KIRSIKKA MORING / Helsingin Sanomat

  6.3.2007 - THIS WEEK
 Finnish theatre´s turn to conquer Europe

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