Skrekkur is the annual Reykjavík Elementary School Talent Competition. It is explicitly for grades eight to ten (or teenagers from 13-15 years of age) in the Icelandic elementary school system who reside in Reykjavík. Every year, the competition attracts hundreds of anxious contestants, some of whom put months of work into their act. The rules are simple: any form of art or entertainment is allowed, including musical performances, acting, dancing, puppetry, etc. The only real no-nos are lip syncing, stripping and handling of open fire. The act has to be within seven minutes of length, and the participants cannot exceed 35 people, including the technical crew. The winning team is presented with the award, the Skrekkur statue.
The name is a play on words, as “skrekkur” means stage fright in Icelandic. “The idea is to get the stage fright out of the kids,” Haukur Harðarson, an employee of ÍTR (Reykjavík Sports and Youth Council), which hosts Skrekkur, tells me.
Much to some contestants’ agony and to others’ delight, the competition is streamed live on the web by phone company Síminn, which is also this year’s main sponsor. A 14-year-old contestant told me that the stage fright may be tripled with this modernization: “I don’t mind going on stage in front of hundreds of people. It’s the thought that if I mess up, it can be replayed over and over again online that bothers me.”
Needless to say, emotions run high in this competition. The schools put different emphases on their Skrekkur representatives, some hiring professional directors and artists to help the kids out, others put the creation and rehearsal process entirely into the hands of the participants themselves. Some schools spend a fortune on the costumes and set design of their act, others not a penny. Add these different approaches to the multitude of art forms that are allowed to compete, and the result is an incredible range of acts.
Skrekkur has been held in various venues such as Háskólabíó movie theater, and Laugardalshöllin sports stadium, since its inception in 1990. The last few years, the City Theatre has hosted this festival for the country’s youngest talent.
Reykjavík’s largest elementary school, Hagaskóli, has won the most competitions since Skrekkur started. Rumour has it that the reason for Hagaskóli’s success is the fact that the surrounding neighbourhood is populated by actors, whose children go to Hagaskóli.
“They have an unfair advantage,” an upset 15-year-old contestant from Rimaskóli school says. “Their parents coach them. Some of the kids have even been in professional shows. It’s not cool.”
Harðarson says the rumours are partially true, but that parents have the right to help their kids out. “For example, singer Helga Möller helped out at her childrens’ school. Parents shouldn’t be discriminated against because they happen to be famous. Besides, Hagaskóli is the largest school, and as a result, they have the largest pool of talent,” he told us.
Tickets were sold out for each of the Skrekkur semi-finals. Close to 300 kids were packed backstage each night. After being locked up in a crowded backstage for three hours, all contestants gathered on the stage before the results were announced, and were joined in a song with their supporters in the audience. By that point in time, the atmosphere was so thick and electric, it felt like the roof could easily be blown off the theatre as close to 700 teenagers sang away at the top of their lungs.
To top it all off, the band Sálin Hans Jóns Míns, a beloved Icelandic pop group, suddenly came on stage and joined the kids in the singing of one of their greatest hits. Actor Höskuldur Sæmundsson, one of the hosts of Skrekkur 2005, described it this way: “Standing on the stage with a crowd gone wild in front of me, and hundreds of ecstatic contestants freaking out behind me, is a priceless feeling. Now I know what it feels like to be a rock star.”
This year, Austurbæjarskóli, Álftamýrarskóli, Árbæjarskóli, Hagaskóli, Hlíðarskóli and Réttarholtsskóli were selected to compete in the finals. With acts ranging from mime to modern ballet, the main focus seemed to be on synchronised dancing.
Réttarholtsskóli did a comedy sketch about self improvement, complete with synchronized aerobics and 80’s sweat glam. Árbæjarskóli bravely submitted an utterly dramatic act with no comic relief, by staging a WWI battle through interpretive dance. Hlíðaskóli did a parody of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, where the whole cast, including Snow White herself and her wicked stepmother, were played by male contestants. Hagaskóli submitted a sophisticated act with singing and dancing that rivalled that of professional artists, landing them the third place. The contestants from Álftamýrarskóli, who came in second place, wrote and performed an original song using garbage bins, CD covers and whistles, along with more traditional instruments such as a violin and the grand piano. Last but not least, the contestants from Austurbæjarskóli, who ended up winning Skrekkur 2005, did a dark comedy sketch reminiscent of the play Forðist Okkur by comic book writer Hugleikur Dagsson.