Going to see theatre in Iceland has not been an option for non-Icelandic speakers, since there have been relatively few performances in other languages. Therefore, Dan Kai Teatro’s plays in Tjarnarbíó this Menningarnótt were noteworthy due to the fact that they were performed almost entirely in English.
Aside from that, the group is an interesting phenomenon for different reasons. “We’re an independent theatre group with members currently located in four different countries,” says Eyrún Ósk Jónsdóttir, one of the founding members. “We met at Rosebruford College in London, where we were taught the methods of devised theatre, which is based largely on improvisation. The school teaches us to think beyond being simply actors, writers or directors, but as an ensemble where everyone can influence and affect the different aspects of theatre.”
“People who study theatre are brainwashed to believe that it’s such a hard business with such slim odds of success,” says Jónsdóttir. “Rosebruford College taught us that everything is possible, and that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Even in theatre.”
Another founding member, Kristján Hans Óskarsson, says that it’s all a matter of creating your own opportunities. “We’ve been producing original works about issues we’re interested in,” he says. “None of us are really turned on by the classics.”
Jónsdóttir has written two original pieces that the theatre group has performed, called Beauty, and another called Fear. Both of the works are very physical and surreal. Including Iceland, Dan Kai Teatro has performed in Spain and Britain. In Madrid, the group performed in Spanish.
“I had to learn the language in three months,” Jónsdóttir told us, giggling. Their performance in Madrid was based on the play El Publico by Federico Garcia Lorca. Jónsdóttir described the choices behind the piece:
“We developed our adaptation of the play as a group, and called it Nudos. When we translated it from Spanish to English, the play changed so drastically that we had to give it a new name, Nana Del Caballo, which we performed in Reykjavík. We like toying around with languages, so we inserted Spanish chapters into the plays Beauty and Fear, which were otherwise performed in English.”
When asked about the problems of being such a scattered group with members in four different countries, Óskarsson and Jónsdóttir see it as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. “It increases our chance of funding, as we can all apply to different funds in our respective countries. It also makes international touring easier, with people who know their way around. In the future, however, we’d like to establish a form of headquarters here in Iceland,” says Óskarsson.
Without a home base, funding becomes difficult. But recently, the township of Hafnarfjörður granted Jónsdóttir 100,000 ISK out of their cultural fund. Still, being based in Iceland has its consequences. For example, Jónsdóttir told The Grapevine that she invested heavily in the production. “I paid for the flights for the other members out of my own pocket, before I knew I’d gotten the grant. I found out the following day, and was thrilled to have an extra 5000 ISK left over. It’s a matter of keeping the faith.”
Jónsdóttir and Óskarsson say that the audience response in Iceland has been quite fantastic. “The theater scene in Iceland is a bit limited,” says Óskarsson. “Therefore, we didn’t know what to expect, since our style is very expressive and surreal and perhaps hard for theater-goers here to comprehend. But we’ve gotten great responses from 7 year olds and up to 90 year olds. One little girl approached us after a show and told us that out of our two plays, she liked the more surreal play better because she understood it better.”
“She understood the feeling we were trying to convey,” says Jónsdóttir. “It was great.”
The other members of Dan Kai Teatro who are not from Iceland got a bit of a culture shock when they first came here. They were accommodated in Jónsdóttir’s family’s house, where her father cooked for them and scheduled activities for them.
“My father picked up the phone and made a couple of calls and got us amazing things. We went to the Blue Lagoon, we were taken out to dine in two different restaurants, we got to do the Golden Circle on a bus and didn’t have to pay a thing for any of it. Because Iceland is such a small community, it’s easy to make deals and get sponsors for things like this. The other members of the group, who are not familiar with this sort of environment, were completely astonished. They started calling my dad “the king of Iceland” says Jónsdóttir, and she and Óskarsson both laugh at the memory of it.
As we part, they ask to remind people of this: “If you keep the faith, nothing is impossible.” Looking at what this group has accomplished, given the strong reviews that their show has received in Iceland, this seems to be true.