Most cities in Norway have a culture house.
The Harstad Kutlurhus is the largest Arts complex in Northern Norway. It was opened in 1992 by King Harald V and is the home of the North Norwegian Arts Festival Festspillene i Nord-Norge. The Kulturhus is one of three in the area–Tromsø and Narvik have one too, which makes for steep competition in securing popular international shows. However, the triangle route between the Kulturhus’ makes life easier for the smaller national touring companies.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the Harstad Kulturhus had its first female member of the production team–me! I was the resident Scenemester (technical stage manager). I thoroughly enjoyed working at the Kulturhus. The production team is fantastic and are active in their fields (the sound engineer regularly goes on tour with Kaizers Orchestra).
I was lucky enough to work with some amazing artists–Maria João, the Jo Strømgrens kompani and Leif Ove Andsnes to name a few. The funny thing being an ‘outlander’ is that I had no idea how famous people were. It was only afterwards when seeing their faces splashed all over the TV that I realised, ‘Hey, this person really is famous’. It goes to show just how down-to-earth Norwegians are. If my production manager didn’t tell me they were famous, I wouldn’t have known. I love Norwegians.
The design of the house is quite unique–all art, no function. The house might be beautiful with murals, paintings and mosaics (the works remind me of the Australian artist Ken Done) but it was designed without storage so it can be a logistical nightmare for the crew trying to fit everything in. When the house first opened, the main stage was painted light grey, which is a complete no-no in theatre. (Well, at least it isn’t as bad as Tromsø–the arch around their main stage has light wooden panelling that stops the hall from obtaining complete darkness.)
Harstad Kulturhus’ program is very big on music. Classical, jazz, rock, folk and choral music are all enjoyed. The Forsvarets Musikkorps Nord-Norge (Army Concert Band) and Landsdelsmusikerne i Troms, “Arctimus” (string quartet) are residents of the house. Morning tea concerts, cafe concerts, string quartets and classical concerts are regular features on the program with annual performances by the local Kulturskolen, Thon Gospel Choir, Bel Chorus Men’s Choir and Trallongan Childrens Choir. The Kulturhus also produces youth and cultural events and is active in supporting local artists and productions.
One of the more popular productions at the house is comedy-cabaret, known as Revy. North Norwegians love making fun of themselves and so it’s no wonder Revys have become a modern tradition, and a cultural icon of the north. The energy generated from the crowd in one of these shows could light a whole city for a month. Norwegians are usually quite a placid people, but boy do they love to laugh.
One of my most favourite customs of Norwegian theatre is the applause. The crowd starts clapping individually then halfway through they get in sync and clap as one. This rhythmical accolade thunders through the house and the performers have no choice but to come out three or four times to accept this honour. It is quite an uplifting experience (even as a stage manager watching from the side).