From Iceland — Power In Numbers

Power In Numbers

Published July 2, 2024

Power In Numbers
Photo by
Joana Fontinha

Theatre collective Afturámóti takes over Háskólabíó

The atmosphere in Háskólabíó is buzzing with excitement as Reykjavík’s latest performance collective Afturámóti prepares to open their doors for the first time. Based out of the 60-year-old defunct movie theatre, the collective platforms rising talent on the stages.

Nestled in the cinema’s foyer are two of three Afturámóti’s founders, as well as a handful of helpers making sure everything is ready for showtime. However, on the day before opening, the movie theatre-turned-performance space doesn’t look show-ready. Miscellaneous belongings are strewn about the place, a basket of almost too-ripe-to-eat bananas fill one of the tables, and the concession stand is still being loaded. Still, there’s enough time — and the group is feeling optimistic.

“We’re doing this one day at a time and trying not to look too far ahead. It’s a crazy undertaking. I don’t think any one of us had dreamt how big this would turn out to be.” shares founder Ingi Þór Þórhallsson, who established Afturámóti along with Kristinn Óli Haraldsson and Höskuldur Þór Jónsson.

A Eureka moment

Sharing a background in the performance arts, the founding trio are wrought with performance and event management experience. “Höskuldur and I were chilling in the hot tub one time discussing spaces for our creative ideas,” says Ingi. Upon learning that Háskólabíó was essentially empty, Höskuldur and Ingi roped Kristinn into the project. Initially aiming to lease out only one of the three auditoriums, the group suddenly found themselves taking over the whole building.

I don’t think any one of us had dreamt how big this would turn out to be.

It’s a massive undertaking, but with help from friends and family, Afturámóti were able to fully execute this ambitious project. “We’re extremely lucky to have this enormous group of good people around us. The people involved are willing to help. We have great support and the closer we move to opening, the more we feel excited. So it’s gonna be…” Kristinn pauses to knock on a wooden table.

As the idea developed — and the sudden need to fill more seats materialised — the scope grew, transforming Afturámóti into a collective collaboration of thespians. “Originally, we wanted to have this space to create something on our own. But when we found out that we could have this enormous space — which was more than we needed — we got the idea to invite other people to access it,” Ingi explains, continuing, “Usually when you want to do something like this, you need capital. Few people are prepared to rent a theatre for hundreds of thousands in the slight hope of it working out.”

By granting performance groups the space for their shows, Afturámóti negates the financial risks of the artists and instead bears the brunt of the responsibility. In addition to their own musical production Hlið við Hlið, based on the songs of Friðrik Dór, Afturámóti hosts 10 other collaboration screenings and a concert series to boot.

“The idea is that people can come in without paying large sums out of pocket, but the business model ensures that if it’s successful, both parties gain,” Ingi clarifies. Kristinn adds, “People walk into fully decked spaces, logistically — stage-wise and lighting-wise.”

A cultural middle ground

Being in their early 20s, the founders identified the need to support other artists in a similar position. “[Our focus is on] young people. All of our screenings and everyone involved are young individuals who haven’t had the opportunity to access those spaces they want to perform in. It’s a mix of people who are experienced and people taking their first steps,” Kristinn says.

Ingi jumps in. “We want to create a cultural centre. A sort of middle ground this summer. There’s not a lot going on in the summertime, theatre-wise.”

Supplied by Afturámóti

On the subject of cultural centres and performing venues in Reykjavík, Kristinn passionately interjects. “If we take venues, for example — concert venues specifically — the size and type of this auditorium is perhaps similar to Bæjarbíó [in Hafnarfjörður] and Salurinn in Kópavogur. There isn’t a place like that in Reykjavík. You have Kaldalón in Harpa, which unfortunately is too expensive to rent for a single show — you’d probably need to produce three shows in one day just to pay up the cost of the space.”

The lack of mid-sized, affordable venues is a recurring point of contention among artists — especially those who don’t expect to fill more than 300 seats. Despite their comments, Ingi and Kristinn deny establishing Afturámóti as an antagonistic response to the lack of performing venues for upcoming artists. “It just pops out of our need for spaces. It’s not directed against other parties. I’d say there’s space for even more venues,” Ingi comments.

There’s nothing in the Excel file that supports this.

“It’s not like we’re trying to say this isn’t enough, but there needs to be more for everyone. Mid-sized venues for young people that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Not even that, we just need stages and seats. We think these things are lacking.”

Pitching in

Despite the mounting responsibilities, financial risks and an enormous amount of work needed to keep things running smoothly, you can sense the optimism and passion brewing inside Háskólabíó. Imbuing the former movie theatre with new blood, one can’t deny being impressed by the project’s scale, novelty and ambition.

Ultimately, Afturámóti is a homey affair built on a community of like-minded artists with seemingly everyone pitching in. Ingi and Kristinn have their own shows to perform in; Kristinn’s mother stocks the concession stand; Ingi’s father delivers the equipment; Afturámóti’s friends and schoolmates help out with stage preparation while also performing in multiple performances.

“Afturámóti is a group of friends. If we were in this for the money, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Kristinn remarks, while Ingi chimes in, “there’s nothing in the Excel file that supports this.”

Although Afturámóti’s events are only scheduled throughout the summer, Ingi and Kristinn are open to looking to the future. “In whatever form or shape, I think we all envision to take things further,” Ingi concludes.

Follow Afturámóti’s shows at or on their instagram page @afturamoti. Keep an eye on their upcoming Strandgate Film Festival on July 7.


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