An English fellow, a French woman and an Icelander walk into a bar, and the weather is so good they sit outside. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not. Alexander Roberts, Aude Busson and Sigurður “Siggi” Arent Jónsson invite me to sit down with them to talk about their theatre workshop. Sipping coffee and rolling cigarettes out in the sun, the trio try not to interrupt each other, but inevitably end up finishing each other’s sentences as they tell me about their second annual workshop for non-Icelandic speakers.
Eternally a foreigner
It is plain to see that they are really excited to start teaching another semester after a successful run last year when sixteen people who identified as being foreign partook in their series of workshops called ‘Encountering the Foreigner.’
“We were curious about this word foreign, so we decided to invite people to come join us in this process, people who were not necessarily artists,” Alexander says. This culminated in a performance called ‘Assassinating the Foreigner,’ which examined how utterly impossible it is to lose the ‘foreign’ label in Iceland. The actors tried to feign being Icelandic, but each attempt was unsuccessful in some way. “If we cannot be this, and we cannot be that, then what can we be in this community?” Aude asks. That was the final question the play asked before drawing the curtains.
Aude, who has lived in Iceland for eight years, says last year’s class agreed with her that becoming Icelandic was utterly unattainable; Icelanders are simply too homogenous, making assimilation difficult. Even if a foreigner is white and an expert in the language, he or she will still have some tell-tale signs of not being Icelandic, such as their accent. “Some people have lived in Iceland for twenty years,” Siggi explains, “but they still carry this status of being a foreigner.”
This year, the trio doesn’t have a central theme in mind, wanting instead to explore new themes with their students. “It’s important to move away from the dialectic of foreignness,” Siggi says. “We can do more with the group than just talk about who they are now and how shitty or good being foreign in Iceland is.”
The workshops will thus reflect the interests of those who’ve signed up, which of course keeps the teachers on their toes. The trio seems to be anything but scared by this prospect. Alexander says it is rewarding to teach students who don’t have a theatrical background, as they often challenge the working methods that the teachers have taken for granted. This forces the teachers to explain their techniques in a new way, and in the process gain a deeper understanding themselves.
Fake it ‘til you make it
The trio believes that learning drama and theatre has plenty of real life applications. Chief amongst them are improved social skills and abilities to express oneself. “When you learn those skills, you get the opportunity to re-examine who you are and how you speak to the world,” Siggi says.
Aude also argues that learning to fake it is a really useful skill. “We find that having the ability to fake laugh and cry, fake orgasms, fake illnesses, and to generally demonstrate fake emotions has a range of benefits in the real world. It’s for example great for job interviews where you have to convince your interviewer that you are right for the job whether or not that’s true. It’s about being one step ahead of what you will become, which sounds a bit like ‘The Secret’ or something,” she says, chuckling.
Finally they say that the theatre workshops are a great way to meet new people and Aude assures me the hardest thing is to show up to the first lesson. “There’s this illusion that everyone involved will have tons of experience, or that participants are too old to start from scratch,” she says, “but that’s not that case.”
The next series of workshops start on September 11 and will be held Wednesdays from 18:30 to 21:30 at Borgarleikhúsið (“Reykjavík City Theatre”). To sign up, email the troupe.