Before the city was swept up in the Icelandic men’s football team’s performance against Austria on June 22, a different kind of performance took place at Ingólfstorg. A group of young actors dressed in football uniforms danced their way down Austurstræti before turning the downtown square into their stage, miming in slow motion the actions of Iceland’s latest national heroes.
It’s hard not to miss the theatrics of Götuleikhúsið if you’re spending any time in Reykjavík this summer. Their performance at Ingólfstorg was just one of a series of daily performances they’ve been holding on the streets of downtown since May 30. Götuleikhúsið, a project of Hitt Húsið that is currently in its twentieth year, aims to bring theatre to the public while providing youth with valuable work experience.
Developing young talent
The nine actors in Götuleikhúsið (“The Street Theatre”) range in age from 17 to 25 years old, and are selected from over 100 people who audition, according to Jón Gunnar Þorðarson, the program’s art director. The actors are paid by the city of Reykjavík to develop and perform public theatre on the city’s streets for Reykjavíkingar and tourists alike.
Jón says that over the years, Götuleikhúsið has been an important part of developing Iceland’s young acting talent. “You can look at the national theatre or the city theatre, and the majority of Icelandic actors have been in this,” he says. “They’re performing every single day for two months, and twenty different performances throughout the summer, so it’s a very good school.”
As someone who has directed theatre in Iceland and in the United Kingdom, Jón says he helps to guide the performers and provide feedback. “But they make everything themselves,” he adds, from developing the concepts behind performances to pulling the different pieces together. “It’s a brainstorming process.”
Bringing performance to the people
Some of Götuleikhúsið’s performances tackle difficult subjects. On June 24, the performers held signs on Bankastræti displaying words such as “kærleikur” (“love”) and “jafnrétti” (“equal rights”). They were dressed in clothes and masks to make themselves look like elderly people, and hobbled from around the city to Bankastræti before hammering the signs into the ground. Finally, the actors watered the signs in an expression of hope that the ideas expressed on them would take root.
“We try to respond to what’s happening. Like we did this football thing two days ago when Iceland was competing. And this,” Jón says, gesturing to the performers on June 24, “is because tomorrow we are voting. And we just thought, well, maybe we should do something, and these are the words and the things that they want the President to think about, and people to think about when they are voting for the President.”
Jón says he hopes people understand why funding projects such as Götuleikhúsið is important. “Even people that don’t like to go to theatre, everyone needs to see this. And they accidentally see this street theatre, and I think people like it,” he says, adding that Götuleikhúsið will be continuing to perform daily shows around Reykjavík until July 22. “But the fun thing is also that anything is possible. Shakespeare said the whole world’s a stage, and this is the stage.”