Where in the World is ITW Theatre: Annika Vestel

Some days ago I did it. I actually bought a house. A tiny, 15 square meter, white, wooden house twenty minutes away from the center of Gothenburg. So now I´m sitting here, on the terrace, surrounded by nature and neighbors, breathing in the fresh smells form the garden while I´m thinking about ITW and our retreat last year to Block Island.

I think that one of the things I appreciate the most about collaborating with people from different parts of the world, as with ITW, is that my experience helps me notice aspects of my cultural background which I may not have necessarily been completely aware of before. Encountering norms and habits that differ from my own, helps making my own habitual ways of thinking/doing things more visible to myself.

This experience creates freedom, in a way. Because the more clearly I can point at what´s taken for granted, notice underlying norms and values that I and/or other people in my surroundings base certain actions and choices on, the more I can actually reflect upon these norms and values, and make independent choices about how I want to relate to them.

An example is, in Norway and Sweden we use the term  ”ideal” or “idealistic work” as a synonym for ”voluntary work”. In November 2015, as some of you might already know, I invited Jonathan Taylor to come to Sweden for a one month residency at ”Tokalynga Teaterakademi”, which is a somewhat special culture house on the country side outside of Gothenburg in Sweden. At the time we were in the house there were, among others, 12 young theatre-students living there and at the same time studying in a kind of self-organized one-year theatre program. (Self-organized in the sense that the students themselves had the full responsibility to collectively make all the decisions about the content of the program – what kinds of workshops, which teachers, the structure of their days etc.) With three miles to the nearest grocery store and who knows how far from other civilization, it´s kind of a miracle that they didn't all end up killing each other. But hey, sometimes what might seem impossible when looking upon it from a certain angle can turn out to be completely doable when approached from another, so maybe it wouldn't be bad to believe in miracles sometimes. Anyway. Something that came up several times in conversations with these people, was the term “idealistic”.

The fact that in Sweden we use “ideal” or “idealistic” as a synonym for voluntary work is maybe not very strange. You choose to work for something you believe in, a bigger ideal, and because of that you are willing to do the work, even if you don´t necessarily benefit from it economically. This is an approach to work which I can easily identify with, and I think that is valid for many other theatre makers too.

In everyday language though, we also use the term “ideal” or “idealistic” as a synonym for unpaid work within the culture sector, independently from whether or not the reason for accepting to work unpaid has to do with idealism.  Why is it so?  As in many other countries, there´s a lot of unpaid work going on within the art sector even in Sweden, due to lack of adequate funding resources. That´s certainly not an “ideal” situation for the artists. Is it constructive then, to use the term in that sense? In Sweden and Norway “Idealism” is generally used as a positively loaded word, and sometimes I think the idea about culture workers as altruistic idealists becomes a way to justify bad working conditions for artists.

So, where do I stand in all this? I see myself as a realistic idealist, in the sense that I attempt to relate to the world as if everything is possible, even if I know that´s not true. I try to believe in miracles. Because I think that´s constructive. “One has to learn how to crab before one can learn how to walk” –is a Norwegian saying. It is definitely true in many cases. Certain things demand enormous amounts of patience to be possible to learn, and if you jump over certain “steps” you might never get there. But the saying can also create unnecessary assumptions about what´s possible and what´s not. Life is undoubtedly full of limitations. Simply being a human being living on this planet implies an extremely big amount of limitations. If we make a big jump up in the air we necessarily fall down again, we do not continue upwards (unless we´re in an airplane..), or sideways (unless we´re taken by a big storm..), that´s just the way it is. The bitter truth. But what's fantastic is that there is at the same time endless possibilities, and sometimes we just don't see them because we get caught up in our habitual ways of thinking.


Annika Vestel