Making space for new Scandinavian classics

Scandinavian American Theater Company highlights up and coming Nordic playwrights

Photo: Yann Bean, courtesy of SATC Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Kristoffer Tonning, and Andrew Langton in SATC’s Off-Off-Broadway production of The Returning.

Photo: Yann Bean, courtesy of SATC
Ingrid Kullberg-Bendz, Kristoffer Tonning, and Andrew Langton in SATC’s Off-Off-Broadway production of The Returning.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Norway’s Ibsen is a big hit in the states and Sweden’s Strindberg can often be seen as well. But can you name one Scandinavian playwright born since 1900? I couldn’t.

The Scandinavian American Theater Company hopes to remedy this. SATC was founded in 2009, and calls New York City home. Here they offer performances in many spaces including the Scandinavia House and theatres off Broadway. They also provide co-production services for Scandinavian organizations bringing shows to New York.

The cost of creating a play from inception to the stage is quite dear, so many worthy pieces never stand a chance. SATC has found a way to tap this vital potential with their annual reading series, in which each of the Scandinavian countries is represented in a staged reading. SATC’s most recent initiative is the Play Club, an online community that discusses contemporary Scandinavian plays.

I recently discussed SATC with Albert Bendix, co-artistic director and co-founder.

Victoria Hofmo: Can you give us a brief history of SATC?

Albert Bendix: In April of 2009, five of the company’s founders (all New York-based theatre artists) made out a wish to introduce contemporary Scandinavian theatre to an American audience. All around us, we noticed new Scandinavian design, music, visual arts, and film being promoted, but where was the theatre? The wish to bridge that gap by introducing a new generation of Scandinavian playwrights in America became the seed of Scandinavian American Theater Company.

Since then we have produced eight off-off-Broadway productions, 27 readings, and last season SATC went off-Broadway with the show Bastards of Strindberg.

VH: Why did you think it was important to have Scandinavian theatre in the U.S.?

AB: In the interaction and collaboration between the American and Scandinavian theatre artists in SATC’s productions and readings we create a multi-cultural artistic exchange that examines and challenges the cultural points of view. I think Scandinavian culture and our view on things and life in general can influence American culture in a positive way, e.g. on equality and women’s rights. But also the other way around; Scandinavians can learn a lot from the American culture, which originated from many different cultures from all over the world.

VH: From what I could garner from your website, your current season has six productions. How do you do it?

AB: The season you are referring to is our 2014-15 season that just ended this June. Our web designer is in the process of creating a new updated website introducing our upcoming season 2015-16.

In our season 2015-16 we will continue with our popular SATContemporary Reading Series. This is the sixth season of the series, which presents five readings (not productions), one from each of the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. The readings are one-night-only events, free to the public.

The first reading is on Oct. 5, presenting two plays by the Norwegian playwright Marius Leknes Snekkevåg: I Love You, Let Me Go and We Are The Voice of Our People.

The second reading will present Denmark on Nov. 9, introducing playwright Tomas Lagermand Lundme and his play The Sauna.

All the readings take place in Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, NYC: We will have at least one guest star from Scandinavia in the reading series this fall.

We have one to two productions per season. This season we will introduce a new concept called “Shows in Development,” where we invite people to follow our process of creating an off-Broadway production on an early stage, and thereby give the audience the opportunity to ask questions and bring their thoughts to the table. The first show in development has the title The Remember Me Project, and the first audience interaction will be on Sept. 21, 2015, at 7:30pm in Victor Borge Hall at Scandinavia House.

In 2016, we will present the U.S. premiere of Norwegian playwright Arne Lygre’s play Then Silence as an Off-Broadway production.

VH: In May you will be offering an interesting production about Karen Blixen entitled The Baroness. Why was that play chosen?

AB: We introduced The Baroness as a reading on May 18 this year. It was a very successful reading with 125 people in the audience, starring American Broadway actress Tina Benko as Karen Blixen, and guest starring from Denmark was the young actor Jens Sætter-Lassen (lead actor in the Danish television series 1864). The playwright Thor Bjørn Krebs also came all the way from Copenhagen to participate in the Q&A that followed the reading.

We chose The Baroness because it’s very well written, the English translation is great, and it portraits a famous Scandinavian author and woman who in many ways was ahead of her time.

VH: Your productions take place at various locations. How is this challenging?

AB: One of SATC’s goals is a theatre to call home in New York City: A residency at an established theatre, or financial assistance to run a building as our own. A Nordic theatre would be financially practical as we would save on the costly production expenses, e.g. theatre and rehearsal space rental. Additionally, SATC would be able to host Scandinavian theatres from abroad where together we can build our community and serve as a cultural platform, producing the best of Scandinavian theatre for audiences from all over the world.

VH: Do you work in New York solely?

AB: We are bringing some of our productions on smaller tours outside of New York, and we would very much like to expand on this area.

VH: Have you ever considered including the work of Scandinavian Americans?

AB: We do receive and consider plays from American playwrights who have written plays with or influenced by Scandinavian subject. For Bastards of Strindberg, SATC commissioned American playwrights Dominique Morisseau and David Bar Katz to each write a short play inspired by Strindberg’s iconic play Miss Julie.

VH: I really like “The Play Club.” Could you explain how it works?

AB: The Play Club is SATC’s most recent venture into creating a community of theatre lovers and creators. It’s an online forum for people with a shared passion for new Scandinavian plays to exchange thoughts and opinions. Every other month a translated contemporary Scandinavian play will be available as a free download for the Play Club Members. With the Play Club we hope to engage the SATC community to become more actively involved in the SAT Contemporary Reading Series, and give the playwrights a chance to showcase their work and expand on their international following. We only started the Play Club a few months ago and so far we’re getting new members every week.

SATC’s new season begins in October. You can read about their many offerings on their website at satcnyc.org.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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