By Mark Leiren-Young
Happy World Theatre Day (March 27, 2015) . . .
Ibsen-mania has come to Canada. The city of Oslo, Manitoba has announced plans to create a new festival dedicated entirely to the works of Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, and his lesser-known Scandinavian contemporaries.
Oslo Mayor, Hedy Gabler, says she feels the creation of a new Ibsen Festival is a great day for Canadian culture. “It shows that you don’t have to be dead and British to get your own festival in Canada,” says Gabler. “You can also be dead and Norwegian.”
After a nationwide search for an Artistic Director, the festival board decided not to hire a Canadian. Explained chairman Nigel St. Clair, “We couldn’t find any Canadian with a plummy enough accent.”
The committee selected Tomas Stockmann. Stockmann, 42, is the founder of the Herringbox Playhouse in Norway, a 20-seat experimental theatre in Bergen dedicated to the lesser-known comic works of Goethe and Strindberg. Stockmann’s other credits include the starring role in the Norwegian language premiere of Brighton Beach Memoirs and two years at the National Theatre of Great Britain where he worked as a crown maker in the props department.
Stockmann said he believes only a Norwegian can bring Ibsen to Canada because “Canadians don’t yet have the cultural or emotional maturity to appreciate the true depths of any play that was written before the Beatles broke-up.”
For his first season, Stockmann says he plans to prove to Canadians that Ibsen “isn’t the stodgy old fart that we now imagine him to be.” Says Stockmann, “His plays are every bit as relevant to the lives of Canadians as the works of many other major dead European playwrights.”
Stockmann plans to kick off his season with a futuristic production of Ghosts in which all the characters will be dressed like the aliens in the cantina scene in Star Wars. He also hopes there will be “lots of motorcycles,” adding, “I think if there had been Harleys in Ibsen’s day, all his characters would have ridden Harleys. Ibsen was a Harley kind of guy.”
The festival’s second production, A Doll’s House, will have all the characters played by men in drag. When one reporter asked him to explain his casting concept, Stockmann replied, “What are you, some kind of homophobic redneck?” The reporter burst into tears and withdrew his question.
The festival’s third production will be a musical comedy. Unfortunately, Ibsen didn’t write any musical comedies, but Stockmann has found a way to solve that dilemma: “We are combining Ibsen’s The Wild Duck with the Marx Brother’s classic Duck Soup.” He said the new musical, Wild Duck Soup, will feature an original score by “anyone with a Juno Award.”
Canada’s Minister of Culture and Cutbacks, Harper Stevens, announced he is delighted with the new festival and will give it all the money that was previously going to every other theatre company in Manitoba. Said Stevens, “The Ibsen Festival shows that we have a commitment to the classical repertoire. Besides, it’s not in Ontario and it’s really big. Voters like it when we fund really big things. We were actually thinking if we truly wanted to get the public to love us we’d stop funding small theatres entirely and simply send everyone in Canada a half-price ticket voucher for the touring production of Les Miz.”
Stockmann says the festival has arranged to carry a wide variety of Ibsen souvenirs ranging from rare CD recordings of Bruno Gerussi reciting Ibsen’s sonnets to Hedda Gabler barbecue briquets, Master Builder tool kits and gummy bears with mutton chop sideburns.
First published in a slightly different version in Theatrum Magazine a year or 15 ago, and more recently on leiren-young.com.