Beckett i Byen/Beckett in the City

Idea and concept: Sophie Barth & Nina Krogh

Performance: Sophie Barth & Nina Krogh

Film documentation: Theodor Barth (edit: Sophie Barth)

During August 2019 we had our first outdoor performance of “Beckett i Byen”/”Beckett in the City”. The idea for the performance had been brewing in our minds a few months, and one of our main tasks revolved around figuring out different ways of how to approach public space. The core idea was that we live in a multilingual society, and thus Beckett’s texts lend themselves really well to be explored in this context. We also wanted to investigate how people would react to a spontaneous performance – if they would join, watch from a distance or simply ignore. Through Beckett we wanted to create a community of people who meet to experience something, and then dissolve right afterwards. Or perhaps, they would sit together again, but some time later – in an unknown future.

Nina used Waiting for Godot as her text for making origami cranes, and had selected these languages: French, Norwegian, English, Japanese, Polish, Russian, German, Finnish, and Greek. Sophie worked on finding a Beckett character who works as a border-crossing figure between the plays Come & Go and Acts Without words I & II. Together we put together a narrative that is creating a space of interaction, contemplation and potential meetings. How this web of narratives would work in practice was hard to define in advance.

Prior to performing we worked in a mapping phase, where we looked at the location, discussed potential scenarios. Sophie also brought many new reflections with her from being at the Happy Days International Beckett festival in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, and her recent experiences added on to why we thought it was important to have it in public space. It turned into a live research, where we discussed, tested and entered into dialogue with the material through other Beckett-related activities. It was not easy to pin down where the research ended and the performance began. This is precisely what we want to capture in a performance such as “Beckett i Byen”/”Beckett in the City”.

On the performance day we each packed our bags and travelled down by bus to Sofienbergparken in Grünerløkka (Oslo). Here we were fortunate enough to find that the two park benches we wanted to use was free, and so we subtly formed a space for performance. Nina prepared her origami table with all the selection of texts, and her recorded sound of writing. Sophie placed her burlap bag in the middle of our performance location, and walked around the premises. Shortly after the first guests arrived, she disappeared into the burlap. Whilst Nina instructed a full table of audience on how to make origami cranes, Sophie moved along with the everyday park life that is very vibrant on Sundays as families take their children out to play.

A group of people started to play football just next to where Sophie was moving, and seemed to be partially aware of what was going on. She met their eyes from time to time, although their reactions seemed to be “here’s just another artist doing a performance”. Other people walked by with their strollers and looked with curiosity, but never stopped for longer than a few minutes. In the middle of the performance it seemed as though she had completely immersed herself in the situation of the park, and almost become “invisible”. What does it really mean to be merging with the environment, and becoming a character that is clearly doing a performance but just being perceived as “normal”?

Is an outside character an outsider at all in these situations?

Whilst performing Sophie also had a clear connection to the table where Nina sat with the audience making the swans. How this was perceived by the passersby is difficult to determine, and this would have to be something that should be repeated in various places over time to grasp its real impact on public spaces.

Nina’s experience: 

My material for the performance was the text Waiting for Godot in different languages printed on regular A4 paper. The text Waiting for Godot was chosen because it is the work of Beckett which has been the most widely translated. I was even able to find some in Japanese with the help of google translate and recognizing two names that were repeated in a dialogue – Estragon and Vladimir. Looking at the text in different languages made me imagine those two characters in completely different landscapes with different personalities and cultures.

Why did I choose to fold paper cranes? I have folded cranes for many years, and through repetition it has become an almost automatic process. Precision in the folding technique is crucial for a good result. The stage instructions of Beckett are often strict and rigid. They also often have a repetitive element. Somehow this reminded me of the state of mind I am in when I fold paper cranes. Although one repeats an action it is never the same. Although a word is repeated, it is not the same.

The performance was split in two parts. When we were in Sofienbergparken, Sophie was moving on the grass lawn close to the church and the playground. I was seated by a wooden table with a handful of people who had come for the performance. By the table I handed out the text “Waiting for Godot” to the audience while teaching them how to fold paper cranes. Meanwhile Sophie was already fully into her performance. The attention of the audience was split between learning how to fold correctly and trying to observe Sophie’s movements. Sophie moved closer to our table and the birds. Suddenly she grabbed all our birds, putting them inside her greatcoat. The audience was surprised. Their birds had been taken away from them. Sophie finished her performance by going back into the bag she had emerged from. The performance ended.

Having a second chance to do the performance again in Ila pensjonat (where we have our artist studios), we decided to change a few things. This time the audience would only watch the performance instead of part-taking in the making of the paper cranes. I took a more active part of the performance, which took place in the backyard of Ila Pensjonat. I was seated on a wooden chair by a table making the birds quickly and concentrated. Sophie was moving in the space as her character “Rose”. After having folded several birds I moved up the stone stairs and continued folding there. As soon as I made birds I would throw them down where Sophie was seated. The paper cranes would slowly drift down on her.

At the end of the performance the audience were allowed to bring home a paper crane. The cranes were a meeting point between the original text that inspired the performance, the movements of Sophie and an object for the audience to approach and touch.

Having done the performance in both public space and semi-private space, we saw to what extent the space had an impact on us and the audience. We are left with questions about how to perform in a public and crowded place while constantly being in negotiations with our surroundings – people in movement, dogs sniffing around, children playing. In a secluded space the attention of the audience is easy to keep, but then we have chosen our audience and our audience have chosen us. Here there is less room for the unexpected and spontaneous. We left the conclusion open after this performance, and the note we take with us is that we will continue learning how to be open for the public space to bring its unknown factors.

We hope to bring the performance out again into parks and other public spaces during spring/summer 2020.

Picture gallery:

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