Street Theatre: A Temporary Suspension of Life

When I met my friend Zelis Niegaard first time at a summer party and she told me that she earned her living by being an organizer of an international street theatre festival, I only had a faint idea, what street theatre was. I visualized something similar to the street acts I have seen on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, LA and the street performers in Covent Garden, London. I was yet to learn that street theatre is a performing art which is richer in its form and content and has a very different purpose and outlook than the tourist traps, that I thought it were. Last March, Zelis offered me to become her PR Consultant for the festival she was organizing in 2017. As a curious culture lover, I could not let this opportunity pass.

What is street theatre exactly? Some sources indicate that street theatre originates from India and some point to Southern Europe. Regardless of the historical roots, today’s street theatre art has these things in common: The audience comes unprepared to the performances, which take place outdoors in social spaces in urban settings. There are almost no props involved in these short performances of 30-40 minutes of duration; there is no stage and hence no hierarchical demarcation between the audience and the artists. The audience is people from all walks of life, who happen to be in the radius of the performance. The shows are free, no tickets required. There can be audience involvement, making the shows very dynamic and impromptu. The performances can be from a palette of different genres such as street parades, new circus, acrobatics, dance, live music, physical theatre, human specific shows and more.

Rue des Dames by Cie Passante (France)

In its very essence, street theatre is about taking ownership of the public space to give cultural and political messages to the people. The performances create a sense of belonging and community for the people of the urban area. It helps build a common reality, where people from all ages, social and economic classes are equal. In that sense, it is a very democratic form of art. The spontaneous nature of this art makes it the perfect ingredient to create a temporary suspension of all duties in the urban life: A time-out.

Les Tonys by La Compagnie de Albedo (France)

At a more abstract and symbolic level, street theatre is an instrument of social change. It is a platform where everybody has the opportunity to participate in a performance and influence its course. As opposed to established theatres where only those who can afford the ticket can become culturally “enriched”, street theatre gives everybody the opportunity to get a cultural experience and to get involved in the acts.

Nois Um by Cia dela Praka (Brazil)

I am glad to have been introduced to this niche art through my work at Denmark’s International Street Theatre Festival, which has enriched my life this summer with more than 10 different performances in each of the 12 host cities, interacting with international artists, volunteers and local politicians.

Video: Fiers a Cheval by Compagnie de Quidam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Play about Dementia

Last night, I was at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. A friend of mine was so kind to invite me out to see a play as a birthday present to me. As much as I enjoy the theater experience, I am not a frequent theater-goer; my theater visits add up to four or five times a year, including the obligatory children’s plays around Christmas time. Maybe a New Year’s resolution is due?

The  theme of the play was dementia. When I heard my friend’s choice of play, my first reaction was: ”Could you not have chosen something more cheerful?” After having seen the play, I am glad my friend chose this play; not only because of the brilliant performance, but also because it has helped me understand this increasingly common disease better.

The play Med Sne (With Snow), is written by the contemporary Danish playwright Thomas Bendixen. The décor is very simplistic, consisting of a circular stage with projections representing the brain, on which the superb acting of the four artists and the powerful dancing of three dancers take place.

The main character Bent, the father, has dementia and is not quite aware of it. As a retired engineer, who takes very good care of his body and mind, he is proud of always being able to depend on his brain. Then, there is his son and daughter, who are trying to help him, but feel increasingly helpless and frustrated as the disease progresses. There is also the neurologist Lene, who tells us the cold facts about the disease and what is happening in a brain with dementia. In her words, coping with dementia feels like “…driving a whole day with 300 km/hour on an eight lane highway, where you must constantly keep an eye on all the cars and everything else going on around you”

I had my first encounter with the disease, when one of my close co-workers, at an age of fifty-five, was diagnosed last year. As his colleagues, we had observed some changes in his behavior that seemed strange, as his increasing forgetfulness, not keeping the agreements we made, seeming confused and disoriented. But none of us really knew what he was going through, until the day we were called into our General Manager’s office, who told us that our colleague was diagnosed with dementia and would be on sick leave for a long time. It was awful news, knowing the odds of recovery for this disease. He was a very experienced and competent colleague, who came highly recommended by his former employers. Tough times were awaiting him, his family, his children.

 

I think, everyone in the audience last night would agree that seeing the play was a very emotional experience. We were taken through Bent’s journey, through his own, his children’s and his doctor’s points of view, from the faint initial symptoms to his total disintegration.

Dementia is a disease that is very real and present. Learning about how it affects the brain and body of the patient, and how incredibly demanding it is for the caretakers, has definitely increased my awareness and sensitivity.