From Oslo to Tehran: Visjoner Teater performs Hedda Gabler in Iran

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater Visjoner’s performances of Hedda Gabler take place in intimate settings, before small audiences. Few changes were needed to adapt the play for performance in the Muslim country, though of course the women were required to wear headscarves.

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater
Visjoner’s performances of Hedda Gabler take place in intimate settings, before small audiences. Few changes were needed to adapt the play for performance in the Muslim country, though of course the women were required to wear headscarves.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

At the end of January, Visjoner Teater brought its unique production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler to a new destination: Iran. The Norwegian theater company performed as part of the Fajr International Theater Festival, an annual festival held in Tehran to celebrate both local and international theater.

Actress and artistic director Juni Dahr founded Visjoner Teater in 1988 and has since produced several productions, many of which are performed in untraditional venues.

The theater company’s well-received Hedda Gabler på Sæterhytten production premiered in 2011. It presents Ibsen’s 1890 play in the intimate setting of Hedda’s living room, staged in Sæterhytten on Oslo’s Bygdøy peninsula. The unique production was nominated for the Norwegian theater award Heddaprisen the same year and participated in the Oslo International Ibsen Festival in both 2012 and 2014. Visjoner Teater first presented Hedda Gabler internationally in 2014, when it was performed at a theater festival in Łódź, Poland.

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater

The Fajr Festival marked the second international performance. Lars Øyno, Robert Skjærstad, Nina Woxhollt, Hauk Heyerdahl, Tonje Gotschalksen, and Marianne Roland joined Dahr in Tehran.

Interested in Visjoner Teater’s decision to perform Hedda Gabler in Iran despite cultural differences and the possibility of censorship, I interviewed Dahr on their experiences at the festival:

Molly Jones: Why did Visjoner Teater decide to participate in the Fajr International Theater Festival?

Juni Dahr: This is one of the prestigious international festivals and very attractive for our company Visjoner Teater. As artists we are interested in communicating, and in 2014 Ibsen Women and actress Juni Dahr won The Fajr Festival’s jury’s special prize! This was a great honor and opened up a very interesting collaboration with Iranian theater artists. And we have created a project called “Theater Beyond Borders.”

MJ: What makes your production different from traditional performances of Hedda Gabler?

JD: The artistic concept for our production of Hedda Gabler is site specific. Our interpretation of Hedda was originally created for a small house with glass windows bringing the nature into the plot. The site-specific space in Oslo was transformed in our mind to be Hedda Gabler’s home, and we invite the audience into her house.

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater The organizers of the theater festival in Iran found a beautiful house for Visjoner Teater to perform in and around, enabling them to take their site-specific production on the road.

Photo courtesy of Visjoner Teater
The organizers of the theater festival in Iran found a beautiful house for Visjoner Teater to perform in and around, enabling them to take their site-specific production on the road.

MJ: What is it like to perform in a country with such a different cultural framework than Norway?

JD: I think Ibsen’s text gets more important, and we all felt saying the words had a deeper meaning.

MJ: In 2011, Iranian authorities banned a production of Hedda Gabler in Tehran after the Fars news agency described it as “vulgar” and “hedonistic.” Have you encountered any censorship?

JD: The Iranian censorship was reluctant to Hedda Gabler and to show Visjoner Teater’s performance. But after they had seen the video and our organizers in Iran who had highly recommended our version of Hedda Gabler, which takes place in a site-specific space, they found the most beautiful house for us to perform in.

MJ: How has the production been received?

JD: Our two performances were sold out, and we had an extra performance. The audiences were very open and interested in our work.

MJ: Do you alter the production in any way according to the cultural background of your audience?

JD: Only some adjustments were necessary. Of course the actresses Hedda and Thea had to wear shawls to cover the hair, and women and men should not touch. Alcohol was also an issue, so Løvborg was drinking juice instead of wine, but he acted as if he were drunk, so there was no misunderstanding in the action. We were informed about the cultural rules before we went to Tehran, and the adjustments were easily made.

Dahr also noted that they are continuing to reflect on the experiences in Iran and opportunities to expand their collaboration with Iranian artists.

Later this year, Visjoner Teater’s Hedda Gabler will continue its international journey with performances planned in both Portugal and Japan.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 19, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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