English thespian, the so-called graveyard
contracts still in use in many Finnish theatres are simply beyond their
comprehension. An increasing number work as freelancers, but many theatres
still employ people on a lifetime contract: till death do us part. Sounds very
cushy, yet the reality is often far from it: a very tight schedule of
rehearsals and shows, which would squeeze the juice out of any artist.
philosopher Pekka Himanen talks about the Finns being suspicious about anything
new. We Finns say a definite no to anything we are not sure about – just in
case. Everything in Finland grows slowly: potatoes, blueberries, friendships,
and tolerance for anything new and different. That seems to be true of theatre
here tends to be quite traditional: it’s good and well made, as it should be in
the land of Nokia. And it’s reliable, like the granite we stand on. Most of the
time when you go to the theatre you know exactly what you will get.
repertory theatres have a simple formula: they must get bums on seats. So the
shows must be accessible. They are custom made to serve busloads of middle-aged
women. There’s nothing wrong with that I suppose, it’s just a bit…blah.
certainly people pushing the boundaries as well. There are companies making
theatre in odd places and others starting international groups: ambitious
enterprises with fierce artistic drive.
Sanomat has been criticised for the limited publicity they give to small-scale
productions. Artists are frustrated with a lack of resources. The system seems
to be stuck in the mud, like in the popular theatre game of the same name. In
the game you need someone to rescue you, so you can carry on playing.
the National Theatre rescued a financially struggling company that was doing
very experimental shows in the unused tunnels
of the London underground. The shows still take place in this rough and
exciting location, but now the funding, and the much needed publicity, come
from the National. That way, both the experimental company and the National
reach new audiences. The two divided worlds meet: the margin and the
mainstream. And the benefits are plentiful.
National also hosts an outdoor festival every year, where they bring in an
array of international street theatre. Again, the old institution opens up to
the new possibilities.
I yearn for
a time when this kind of open-mindedness will rule in Finland: when the rusty
structures are crushed, and forward-looking theatre practitioners get the
opportunities they deserve. Then I’ll be excited about going to the theatre