Norway’s Verdensteatret stages both live theatre performances and gallery installations. Bringing together designers, artists, musicians and sound and lighting experts, the team builds intricate sculptures using analogue and digital technology to create abstract audiovisual experiences. Music from old bicycle wheels, robots that create visual art, and stories told through shadow play are just a few elements of Verdensteatret’s unique aesthetic. IAM talks to co-founders Lisbeth J Bodd and Asle Nilsen to find out more.
Tell me how you create new work.
LB: We work on each project for about two years. It’s quite complicated because we use a lot of technology, including video, mechanics, sound, movement and lighting to create new compositions – musicians play homemade instruments, each in different ways. We are doing the work of an orchestra, but with different media. When we’re abroad, we also gather materials, objects and sounds to bring home, which we then often use for new projects.
AN: The mechanical constructions we build are a central part of our work – sometimes we connect them with loudspeakers that are constantly moving around the room. Or we might use a light that is moving continuously, playing with shadow.
LB: We want to bring the space to life through many different layers of objects, sounds and movements. On our project Concert for Greenland, performers used polyphonic instruments with small microphones underneath. But when we were putting the piece together, we realised those instruments alone were interesting in themselves. So our room installation, The Telling Orchestra, came out of that initial production. The machine can produce music, visual sequences, and mirror projections, depending on what we programme it do.
How do you adapt performances to suit different environments?
LB: It depends what we’re doing in each space, since sometimes we do live performances, or only installations, or a hybrid of both. In 2010 for example, we performed And All the Question Marks Started to Sing in Calcutta, India. We performed the piece in the partially restored space of the Currency Building, which used to be the Reserve Bank of India during the years of British rule. We used local materials, such as bamboo and cotton, to create a performance space in the courtyard of the building. You could hear the noise from the city’s traffic while we were performing, and it completely changed the whole piece. So adapting work to the location is not just a practical thing – it can really influence the productions in an artistic sense.
Have you noticed many differences in the type of audiences you attract, depending on where you’re performing?
AN: In Calcutta there aren’t really any venues for this particular type of work. So it was local workers from the surrounding buildings who came to watch – it wasn’t a traditional, fixed audience that you’d get when performing in European or American theatres.
LB: We try to be as precise and consistent as possible in our work; that’s very important because you need to communicate with audiences in very different parts of the world. It’s been fantastic to meet audiences in so many countries. The context of where we perform is quite important: in a theatre, audiences are generally more conservative, but in a gallery or exhibition space, people tend to be more open.
How easy have you found touring these productions?
LB: Travelling overseas is quite challenging, particularly in terms of taking all the materials over, which can be expensive. We get support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it all requires a lot of work. The whole team usually travels with the productions because the technology is so complicated to set up and use. We focus on one project at a time. It’s also important that we travel together as the experiences we have when touring often inform future works. The artistic team is often a mix of age and interest groups, so it’s important we have these mutual experiences.
What’s coming up for Verdensteatret?
LB: We’re working on a new piece which will premiere at Henie-Onstad Art Centre, just outside of Oslo in September. The work is a co-production with the centre, Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival, Black Box Teater Oslo and BIT Teatergarasjen.