Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Camilla Gürtler: New Nordics Festival

By | Published on Friday 13 March 2020

Coming up this week at The Yard Theatre is a rather exciting new festival showcasing new Nordic plays in the UK, bringing the work of playwrights from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands to the UK for the first time, to be directed by UK-based directors.

The New Nordics Festival is the creation of producing company Cut The Cord Theatre. I spoke to the group’s founder, and the festival’s director, Camilla Gürtler.

CM: Can you start by explaining what the aims of the festival are, and who and what you hope to promote?
CG: The driving force behind this festival is a wish to promote more international collaborations in the UK and give space to unheard voices on our stages and in our collaborations. With the festival we hope to promote new Nordic plays and artists in the UK, making this work more visible and accessible to audiences as well as venues and producers.

We also hope to encourage UK artists to engage with this kind of work and collaborate across borders and cultures. We want to promote the skills-exchange our directors in this festival has experienced and help it influence the working practices of other artists in the UK and Nordic countries.

CM: What made you want to set up a festival of this kind? What inspired you create it?
CG: We’ve done our own productions focusing on Nordic plays and international collaborations for a few years and the positive response from other artists and the wish to have more international new writing on our stages here, made me think that there must be a way of doing what we – and many other companies in this country – are doing but on a wider scale. What would need to happen in order for emerging artists to create this work themselves, what support would they need to be able to do it, and what would make more venues take the risk on this kind of work?

A festival format showcasing what new Nordic writing is seemed like the perfect and clearest formula. I’ve been so passionate about the writing coming out of these different countries that I thought, seeing them all together in one big celebration, with the opportunity for an audience to experience what makes a Danish play different to a Swedish one etc, would be a powerful way of reaching new audiences.

The skills-exchange part of the project – with the directors visiting the country they are working with, meeting their writer and other directors and venues – came from my own experiences as a director, finding that I was missing support in just being exposed to new ways of working and new perspectives. It quickly became clear that the only way for us to support UK directors in exploring more Nordic ways of working was for them to engage directly with the artists making that kind of work.

CM: Is it something you are planning/hoping to do on a regular basis?
CG: We are planning on the festival returning every two years, each time in a different region to maximise our engagement with a variety of artists and audiences around the country.

Everything going well and funding allowing it, we are hoping to return again in 2022 with a new line-up of plays and artists! In the meantime, we will continue supporting the directors and writers involved in their collaborations.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwrights involved?
CG: We have a really exciting collection of playwrights of different experiences and artistic styles. Their work reflects different current themes and ideas in their countries, all focusing on social change in one form or another. We have plays about climate change, fir trees, garages, loneliness, cows… and IKEA. The festival is full of funny, dark and explosive plays, each giving a glimpse of the countries they come from and the work and passions of these writers.

Our Icelandic play ‘Refuge’, which opens the festival, is written by Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson who is the up-and-coming voice of Icelandic theatre. He has just been announced as the playwright-in-residence at the City Theatre in Reykjavik, and when he is not writing, he tours the world with his band Hatari, who represented Iceland in Eurovision last year.

Our Faroese play ‘Searching For Being’ is written by Katarina G. Nolsøe, who is an actor, artist and writer living in Torshavn. The play is an autobiographical piece about depression and featured Katarina’s own artwork in its original production.

Our Swedish play ‘The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree’ is written by Lisa Langseth, who is a film director and writer, known for her films ‘Pure’, ‘Hotell’ and ‘Euphoria’ starring Alicia Vikander. Lisa is currently directing and writing ‘Love And Anarchy’ for Netflix.

Our Finnish play ‘Garage’ is written by Mika Myllyaho who is the artistic director of the Finnish National Theatre. Mika is a renowned director and writer in Finland and his work has been translated and performed in several languages.

Our Norwegian play ‘Counting To Zero’ is written by Kristofer Grønskag who is currently playwright-in-residence at Haugesund Theatre in Norway. Kristofer is the winner of the prestigious Jugendtheaterpreis Baden-Württemberg in 2018 and his work has been performed all over the world. His play ‘Kinder K’ was the first play we produced as a company in the UK.

Our Danish play ‘No Planet B’ is written by Vivian Nielsen who is one of the most produced playwrights in Denmark and who is the recipient of the prestigious Reumert Prize for her play ‘Brandes’. Vivian is a passionate climate activist and wrote the play in close collaboration with the original cast.

CM: Can you tell us about the directors involved in the festival?
CG: We did an open call last year to find six UK-based directors at a stage in their careers where they would like to take creative risks and engage with international work and artists. We have an eclectic group of incredibly talented young artists who each bring their unique approaches and experiences to the project, at the same time exploring how to work in more Nordic ways.

Jack Nurse is a Scottish director who co-founded Glasgow-based theatre company Wonder Fools and trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the National Theatre Studio Directors’ Course. He is directing our Icelandic play ‘Refuge’.

Janisè Sadik was the Trainee Director at Paines Plough in 2019 and is currently part of the Tamasha Directors Programme. She is also an experienced facilitator both in the UK and internationally. She is directing our Faroese play ‘Searching For Being’.

Anna Himali Howard was recently the Staff Director on ‘Small Island’ at the National Theatre, and recently directed ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ at the Bush. She travelled to Sweden via train to highlight our joint responsibility in the climate crisis and is directing our Swedish play ‘The Woman Who Turned Into A Tree’.

Lucie Dawkins is the co-Artistic Director of SCRUM Theatre and has worked internationally the last few years. She currently works for Cheek By Jowl as Literary Advisor and holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. She is directing our Finnish play ’Garage’.

Eleanor Chadwick is a theatre director, producer, writer, and academic. Ellie has created multi-sensory work both in the UK and internationally, one of which was ‘Ergo Sum’ performed at the Barbican. She is directing our Norwegian play ‘Counting To Zero’.

Roberta Zuric is a theatre director and facilitator, most recently creating work at the Pleasance, Vault Festival and for the Almeida Young Company. Roberta was also part of Mono Box Playstart in 2018. She is directing our Danish play ‘No Planet B’.

CM: The festival is produced by Cut The Cord. Can you tell us a bit about the company, and your involvement with it?
CG: I started Cut The Cord a few years ago, with the view to create a platform for international plays and artists and the merge between different cultures. The company focus on exploring social change on stage and on international collaborations in the UK, particularly Nordic.

We work with organisations and charities in relation to our productions and also have strong relationships with the Nordic embassies in London. We want to champion international voices and promote inter-cultural collaborations, while also challenging how theatre can create positive social change. So the festival seems like a natural extension of this, with the view to extend this mission to other artists in the UK and get more people to look outwards and collaborate across cultures and borders.

CM: What aims for the future does the company have?
CG: We would like to grow from the place we are now to running this festival every two years and in between produce our individual productions and eventually have our own building. But in a broader sense we would love to become a company that facilitates the meeting between artists from different countries, a mediator for this sort of work.

We are very passionate about promoting Nordic plays in the UK and will continue to do so and support other artists in connection with these plays and artists – but maybe our focus will extend. Who knows. It’s exciting to have started a formula of collaborating with artists, venues and embassies and governments in this way so we hope it can really make a difference to how this kind of work is being produced and facilitated in the future.

CM: Can we talk a bit about you now? How did you end up working in the arts? Did you always aspire to being a director?
CG: I’ve always been a bit of a storyteller – I was fascinated by drawing and writing at a young age and kept creating new universes and stories that expressed the world around me and how I fitted – or didn’t fit – into it.

What first drew me to theatre was the live-ness of these stories – that for a couple of hours you were living and breathing these characters and plots with people on stage, in the same room as you. I guess it was an epiphany of empathy and connections – that theatre can bring so many different people together in one room and make you all feel part of something, together.

I started a theatre company in Denmark as a teenager making work for young people by young people and I think a director started growing inside me – although I thought I had to be an actor first and it took me years to realise no, I definitely have a director’s mindset and I should just jump and go for it.

CM: How has training and working in the UK been for you? What made you come to the UK? What differences (or similarities) are there between the arts scene here and in Denmark?
CG: I moved to London from Denmark as I was fascinated by the idea of a city that was a creative melting pot – anyone could make anything there and it was a hub for artists.

I spent a couple of years directing, trying to fool everyone I wasn’t Danish but a homegrown Brit – the accent was beaten out of me early on – but when I hit my second year of drama school I had another epiphany – I had been trying so hard not to be Danish, but that thing that defined my “style” and creative preferences was my background and culture.

So I started experimenting with merging my Nordic roots with the “British” text work and actor training, and I finally found my place. Cut The Cord then grew from that.

The arts scene in Denmark has a much stronger financial support network – arts funding is more stable and more long term so you have a lot more time to create and experiment and so the focus is a lot more on what you want to discover as an artists or company than what you can get out of it commercially. In Denmark our hierarchy is also flatter so it can feel a lot more collaborative making work and all creatives are respected in the process.

Theatre is often very direct and political but also very visually driven with an emphasis on space and the actor’s relationship with it. London is different as it is a melting pot and people make a bit of everything, but I do find there’s a stronger text tradition in the UK and tendency to naturalism and the power of the word that we don’t have.

There’s definitely more of a hierarchy here but there is also a strong fringe scene which we don’t really have in the Nordic countries. So emerging artists in the UK have less financial support and time to make work, but more platforms to do so. I think if we put the positives from both together we’d have the perfect system!

CM: What are you looking forward to most about the upcoming festival?
CG: To see the celebration of all these plays in translation and experience a togetherness around the work from the Nordic region. I think all of our writers are incredible artists whose voices haven’t had a platform in the UK so I’m excited we are the ones giving them that.

I am also really looking forward to the audience’s responses to work that is essential half Nordic half British with our directors and actors’ having worked with the material the last few weeks.

There is a strong support network of embassies, Nordic artists and the UK theatre industry supporting international work, so I’m excited to bring all of those together in one room and for four nights celebrate that all these people are making work together and learning from each other.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
CG: After the festival we will look at what’s next for all of these plays and how we can best support the directors and artists further engaging with these collaborations. After that we start programming for next year and then it’s time to think about the next New Nordics Festival!

The New Nordics Festival is on at The Yard Theatre from 18-21 Mar. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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