Bjørneboe and the theater's future

Therese Bjørneboe. Photo: Truls Lie
CONVERSATION / Do we have too many "petty-bourgeois" or aestheticized dramas when time holds so many major political problems? Therese Bjørneboe about her father and the theater before and now.


In the essay The theater tomorrow (1966) is Jens Bjørneboe quite clear on what should be important theater. I meet his daughter, Therese Bjørneboe, who has run the Norwegian Shakespeare magazine for over 20 years, to discuss her father's opinions and the importance of theater.

In the essay in the 60s and elsewhere, Jens Bjørneboe first writes what tomorrow's theater is not was to become when "the dynasty 'Civil Drama' in the succession Hebbel-Ibsen-Strindberg-O'Neill is abdicated". Most of the drama and literature was obsolete after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ripe for museums. Their "naturalistic psychology" of bourgeois privacy would be of primary importance "to old ladies." According to Bjørneboe, the theaters' gender struggle and family life provoked an involuntary comedy as long as nuclear weapons were rattled on the big political stage. Soul agony, longing and loneliness could no longer be taken seriously.

Therese believes that her father's use of language is characterized by time and place: “But it is the artist's privilege to speak out, in a way to clear his way. It's somewhat similar to the philosopher Ornament, who wrote: 'It is barbaric to write poems after Auschwitz'. "

Well, I push a little with the problem, where Bjørneboe thinks his role model Bertolt Brecht also mutes something after this, as "Brecht is harmless, because he never touches with words the real problems of our time". The bourgeois drama was called 'psychological' – and "moralizing comedy writers" as Molière and Holberg got their scratch. Bjørneboe also accused Shakespeares classics for escapism, dramas about «the eternal human» and «the timeless». I ask his daughter if, after the atomic bomb and the enormous military-industrial complex we have today, there is something in this that "humanity has, for the first time, really, really met itself." That one needed a fundamentally new way of thinking – especially in the theater:

«The essay is from 1963 and expresses both his personal theatrical views and attitudes that were in the time. The 60s were a time of upheaval, not least in the theater. And it's easy to understand the need to clear the table when you look at how sublime and declamatory the playing style and much of the 50's theater was. Of course, it also sprang from political and historical conditions. The most radical breaches also appear to have occurred in dictatorships or in their aftermath. My father had a very close relationship with Germany, through his first wife who was a German-Jewish refugee, and it may seem as if it almost facilitated a theatrical view that was radical in relation to Norwegian theater at the time. "

The theater is always in danger of becoming complacent, or falling into habit and routine.

From Odin Tearet's Archive
From Odin Tearet's Archive

I do not give in and ask Therese if theaters focus too much on classic European dramas and overlook global political issues: "Yes, it would have been interesting with a couple of years with a self-imposed ban on classics, so you could see what developed . Or a 'ban' on Western and European drama. "

She continues: “The theater is always in danger of becoming complacent, or falling into habit and routine. But back to the classics, it is also interesting to see the essay you quoted from, in the context of the Polish theater critic Jan Kott's groundbreaking 'Shakespeare – our contemporaries'. He reads King Lear as a grotesque, in the shadow of the Atomic Mushroom and Becketts playoff. Jens mentions himself Kott, in a letter to Eugenio Barba. "

For Bjørneboe, the theater had no choice in the future if it were to continue to be a theater – "it must be socially critical". One had to touch on the contemporary, which with its violent social and political contradictions and tensions could provide an "excellent raw material for the socially critical drama". One had to arouse indignation rather than run "aesthetic entertainment theater" for a "happy bourgeoisie". Such a theater should not have "any kind of modernism or formal-aesthetic experiments". I ask Therese:

"I do not understand exactly this, but he had a horn in the side of what he perceived as 'fashion modernism'. It's a controversy that I think we can let go of. As a playwright, he was very responsive and receptive to other people's ideas.

Eugenio Barba

I am a child of a different time than my father, and the mainstream culture and media are much more commercialized than in the 1960s and 70s. In such a public, it is important to play classics. As for what my father wrote about Hiroshima, the paradox is that today it is something we read about in history books, in the same way as Becketts drama has become theater history and 'museum', if you will.

In the essay you are referring to, he writes that he lacks a human sense of justice in 'the absurd' (without mentioning names). This means that they lack 'moral authority'. At the same time he acknowledges that they – in contrast Brecht – has seen 'the man with the tail and the nuclear mushroom'.

Today it is important to remember that 'people have lived before us', but also because 'history does not belong to yesterday', to put it with Frank Beaver. He is one of the central names in post-Brechtian theater. Although his aesthetics may seem very distant from Jens Bjørneboes, I think my father would have had a great sense of how Castorf continues and at the same time criticizes Brecht. By including the irrational, in a physically expressive, political and philosophical form of theater. "

A lot has happened within the theater, which means that Bjørneboe's essays must be read in the light of his time. The friendship and correspondence with Eugenio Beard shows that he was responsive and thirsty for new impulses. "

Documentary theater

The latter became a good friend of her father, as can be seen from the letters they exchanged, too Elsa Kvamme elaborates on them in the book Dear Jens, dear Eugenio (Pax 2004, see own case). In the Shakespeare magazine's spring issue, the main article is Eugenio Barba, with an interview and book review. Where Barba begins by saying that «Bjørneboe's articles ignited the imagination […]. A close friendship arose ». Around 1960, they met almost daily, and Barba later in 1965 staged Bjørneboe's drama The Bird Lovers as he called it The ornithophiles:

Here Barba brought with her the experiences from studies with Jerzy Grotowski in Poland. The Bird Lovers is a mixture of tragedy and farce. The German tourists who criticize the Italian village for their bird hunting are recognized as former torturers from the war. The piece has a number of double meanings. Therese shoots in:

"The play is a critique of how money rules. In a letter, Manfred characterized Wekwerth from the Berliner Ensemble it as 'the bitterest piece about the petty bourgeoisization of the working class'. There are also big questions about guilt, and the famous poem 'Mea Maxima Culpa' has actually been put in the mouth of the German torturer. "

From «The History of Bestiality» Played At The Norwegian Theater This Year
From «The History of Bestiality» Played At The Norwegian Theater This Year

I stick to the documentary in the conversation. Bjørneboe's later drama that was staged (see review page 39) is Semmelweis – about the 28-year-old doctor who until his death fought for the medical staff to disinfect their hands between surgery and the maternity bed in order not to infect the maternity women. He thought he had experienced where the mortality came from, but in the play we see that he himself stroked in the end of the disease.

"The play was premiered in 1968, while the student uprising was going on. And that explains the frame story where the students storm the stage. When I saw the television theater production, it seemed like a cliché. And, of course, should not have participated. "

Therese's mother, Tone Bjørneboe, describes in the preface to the collection of essays About theater (Pax 1978) his former husband's project: «The authorities and the dictatorial states' abuse of power towards minorities and the individual weak or oppositional form the common thread. "Compassion," says Jens in a survey in Vinduet, "is the most important characteristic of a poet – factual, accurate and precise compassion."

At the same time, Bjørneboe himself has emphasized that he wanted to show how alive Semmelweis was: "I have got him off the shelf, the halo is gone, instead a living person stands in all his opposition there, drunk, woman-loving and obsessed with the idea of ​​using his head to think with, disrespectful, rough in the mouth… »

Bjørneboe has described Semmelweis as a mixture of himself and Allan Edwall, and Therese comments: "Yes, but it was in a letter to Edwall."

Shakespeare and individualism

Jens Bjoerneboe

Bjørneboe and Eugenio Barba tried to start a theater magazine around 1960, but did not succeed in financing it. Even if Barba made it TTT (Theater, Theory and Technology) after he and the theater troupe Odin Teatret emigrated to Holsterbro in Denmark.

Therese Norwegian Shakespeare Magazine arose after a proposal from Edvard Whom about a member magazine of the Shakespeare Company, but she preferred an independent one. She was not aware that her father had tried the same thing 40 years earlier. And according to her, the name today is very ingrained, even if it is not just about classical or text-based theater.

Bjørneboe described the theater scene as quite dead until the 60s. In the interview in Therese's magazine, Barba describes the 15 years that followed as very vital, but then it died again in the 70s and 80s (see also case about Fassbinder page 44). According to Barba, one could realize in the theater "an inner freedom, and at the same time fight committedly against oppression, censorship and bureaucracy". But he also had a dichotomy and an ironic distance to the 70's political world improvement project. The theater's energy probably came as much from deep individualism. Therese comments:

"Although theater is a collective art, it is best when it exists and is created by strong individuals. Individualism does not have to stand in opposition to social engagement. "

Bjørneboe called for social criticism in the theater. But he also highlighted pantomime and clowning.

"He was originally trained as a painter, and his visual observation ability and form awareness characterize the entire authorship. But perhaps also his views on theater, the physical and the plastic. Several of his articles are about acting. As a playwright, he obviously felt that psychological realism and bourgeois living drama had long since played their part, but he found no solution to the "character", that is, the individual, in the theater after Brecht. In his novels he broke with the realistic form of the trilogy about 'The History of Bestiality', but these books still seem radical and contemporary in a different way than the plays. So I understand that they also seem more attractive to theater people today. This year, Det Norske Teatret is staging Powder Tower The source theater Jonah, and next year there will be a stage version of Sthe attachment at Rogaland Theater. »

Bjørneboe's legacy

Bjørneboe consoled himself around the 1970s with "the study of anarchism", as his wife Tone points out in the preface to About theater. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were the starting point for Red Emma em> #. As Tone Bjørneboe wrote, acting Red Emma about the repression of anarchism in the United States and the Soviet Union: "Putting the anarchist queen 'Red Emma', America's most dangerous woman 'against these two social systems, was a dream of a subject for Jens."

"Yes, my father writes elsewhere that the trials against the anarchists in the Soviet Union and the United States gagged the labor movements in both countries."

What will Bjørneboe's legacy be? With the 100th anniversary, Therese wants the authorship to be read through other lenses than "anthroposophy" or "anarchism". I can not help but ask a daughter what a burden it must have been for her father to have dug himself into the stories of bestiality and the problems of others. Or about the biographies written (Fredrik Wandrup og Tore Rem #) and others who try to take a kind of "property right" to Bjørneboe's legacy, really managed to see in the depths of such a soul:

"I have strong opinions about the biographies, but I do not think I will elaborate on this. What makes me happy now is that his books are discovered and read outside Norway. As when Volksbühne in Berlin marked the anniversary of the German liberation on May 9 this year with a [streamed] reading of the novel Before the cock crows. Or that the Croatian and internationally renowned director Ivica Buljan compared him to Thomas Bernhard. German friends of mine have also pointed out that he anticipated Heiner Müller's view of European colonial history. "

Bjørneboe found his place on Veierland, with the comment «Here I intend to be until my death», as he had longed for salt water since he was young in Kristiansand. And as he had written to Kaj Skagen #: «For 24 years I have filled myself spiritually with the worst revelations of evil in world history. It's been 24 years of walking through hell. " Bjørneboe believes the job is done, that he is free, and knows a power, where the individual can «find his spiritual core […] a way to inhabit this planet, which will enable a real spiritual life». He then writes that he will spend the next 21 years on this.

Unfortunately, this did not happen, and we end the conversation with Therese by asking if she has any thoughts about her father's last days at Veierland:

"It is difficult for me to comment on this in public."

Also read: Bjørneboe and Barba


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