Six Minds, 59 Countries

Theatre group Head Of A Woman premieres two plays in Reykjavík
30.7.2012
Words by Ásgeir H. Ingólfsson
Head Of A Woman is a theatre group that features four female heads and two male heads from six different countries. All six heads are currently in Reykjavík and will premiere two plays at Norðurpóllinn on Sunday, July 29 at 8 PM, followed by another show the day after.

It all started in London, where members of the group are pursuing a Masters degree in Advanced Theatre Practice. They were grouped together for a project where they had to go to the National Gallery to look for Degas' work, ‘The Head Of A Woman.’ And that head seemed to fit. "It made us start thinking about heads, and then we liked working together so much we just kept doing it," the Icelandic head, Þórey Sigflórsdóttir, tells me.

"We all have very different backgrounds and experiences in theatre, and we're of all ages, the youngest member is 23 and the oldest is 46. Most of us have mainly focused on directing, even if two of us started out as actors," she says. This entails that the plays in question have a total six directors. "It could be really easy to have just one tyrant,” Þórey says, “but we wanted to force ourselves to always find the third way. In that way we end up working with the language in a way none of us would ever do individually, it's so easy to always just work with what you know."

They ended up collaborating on their final project, 'Grey Matters: A Play for Six Brains,' which has already been performed in London and Bratislava before making it to Reykjavík. The piece is an exploration of human community, where they attempt "to straddle the void between how we experience the world individually, and with/through other people—families, friends, society and the world at large. It considers the extent to which we truly understand, connect with or empathise with others, and how far our perceptions of other people exist merely in our own minds," as it says in the group’s press release. Adds Þórey: "Our manifesto is all about exploring the grey area; we wanted to play with the idea of entering people's minds and hearing their thoughts."

The travels on your CV

When I talked to Þórey, the group was in Bíldudalur in the Westfjords, rehearsing (and creating) the second play, 'curricula vitae.' Latin buffs will notice the plural and they will also know that while it's something we usually throw in with our job applications it actually means "The course of a life"—or courses of life in the plural. And these courses can be found in the travels they've had.

"I wanted to get them to Iceland," Þórey says. "And then we started looking at travels and distances, absences, we started looking into where each of us had travelled, we made maps and built a database—behind that database there are lives." When it came to stripping all that information down, Þórey says they took inspiration from Umberto Eco's recent book, 'The Infinity Of Lists,' and in the end they ended with a list of 59 countries, all the lands the members of the group had visited. "And we just work with that list, but in very different forms. People who have seen the rehearsals tell us that they take their own journeys while watching, make their own stories."

Þórey responds positively when I ask whether the groups own story will continue. "We've invested in a website domain for two years,” she says, “so we can't quit now. When we finish our studies next fall some of us will stay in London and some will go back home. But hopefully we can go for a residency in the other countries as well. The aim is to keep working together, but we don't really know where that will take us."

A question for everybody:

Have you learned anything new about your brain—or brains in general—working on those plays?

"Not necessarily about the brain as such but I trained myself in going into other people’s brain, which was often mind-blowing. I fantasized about being different people and sometimes managed to move out of my brain into the body. That was quite refreshing. I realised that the brain is a very busy place most of the time, and getting out of that traffic of thoughts is inspiring."

Þórey Sigflórsdóttir (Iceland)

"I enjoyed re-examining both the mind-body connection, and how profoundly personal our own minds are. While there was nothing new about brains specifically, the journey of exploring this subject matter with five other minds opened up intriguing explorations that were all at once vulnerable, amusing, 
exciting, and philosophical. The mind, and the definition of 'self', is an enigmatic topic that can sustain a plethora of creative adventures."

Geoffrey Ewert (Canada)

"Not psychologically or physiologically speaking, but I would say that the process of developing the work with this collection of people was wonderfully mind-opening, and so artistically and creatively I like to think that working on this play has enabled me to form new neuron-pathways."

Melanie Grossenbacher (England/Switzerland)

"Not exactly about the brain itself, but through the working process we not only got to know each other more, but also how different people have different views toward the same thing because of different cultures."

Dadiow Lin (Taiwan)

"The brain is an organ that has always fascinated me. I kept asking myself how much of my personality exists in my brain? And when do "I" end and my body begin? I don't think I can really answer these questions, but it seems impossible to stop asking them."

Nohar Lazarovich (Israel)

"It has made me think a great deal about the extent to which we all exist in our own brains/minds as individuals, how difficult it makes that makes it for empathy and understanding to occur and how miraculous these phenomena really are."

Jonathan Rogerson (Scotland)



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