Last year, the Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten) initiated the Bergman Studio, an ongoing workshop created for the development of new plays. The Bergman Studio recently visited New York in a collaboration with New York's Scandinavian American Theater Company (SATC) as part of their play-reading series “Nordic Stage: A Festival of New Scandinavian Theater.” The series included several plays from the Bergman Studio as well as others from other Scandinavian countries. Theater journalist Stan Schwartz had a chance to chat with Jacob Hirdwall, head of the Bergman Studio, whose play “Sleepwalking in the Nether World” opened the festival.
How did the Bergman Studio come about?
We started out in September of last year. It's called the Bergman Studio even though it really has nothing to do with Bergman when it comes to the ideas of the Studio. All the ideas are from the participating dramatists. It's like a writer's room. We are nine professional dramatists collaborating and we develop new drama for theater and also film. We'd like to connect this Studio with Dramaten and the Bergman Festival, which we are a part of, by using the name Bergman. Also, I called Eva Bergman, his daughter, and asked if we could use the name and she said she was very interested in new drama and said she could be our senior advisor! So she's all for it.
Speaking of writing, I was talking with Liv Ullmann recently and she told me that one of Ingmar Bergman's major frustrations was never being taken as seriously as a writer as he was a director, but she thought this was now changing.
I agree with Liv. We are collaborating with the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, and Jan Holmberg, who is the head, recently published a book about Bergman the writer. Also, we have been unable to stage Bergman's film scripts when he was alive because he was against this, but he said when he was no longer alive we could do whatever we wanted. So there has been great interest from European theatres to stage his films as plays. And that helps people look at him more as a writer.
How do you become a member of the Studio?
Some are from Dramaten itself. But most have been "head-hunted" by us. We invite them. This is our first year so it's a work-in-progress.
Are projects in the Studio guaranteed a full production at Dramaten?
No. We provide the dramatists with a context by which they can get qualified feedback on their scripts as they work on them. We also bring in actors and directors at an early stage and they can also use our spaces. It's really a dramatist toolbox. I mean, these are professionals. They would have written their plays without the Bergman Studio anyway. But it is my strong belief that because of this collaboration, the resulting play is different than if they were to sit at their own desk at home and write. A lot of dramatists really draw energy and nourishment from having early contact with actors who bring a lot of ideas which the dramatist can use.
How did your collaboration with the Scandinavian American Theater Company come about?
It started when Albert Bendix [Artistic Director of SATC] and his company did a reading of a play of mine in 2011, so we've had the connection since then. And when we started the Bergman Studio, I reached out to Albert and said maybe we could do something together and the result is this.
Your play which opens the series tonight -- did it go through the Studio?Actually no. But it did go through a similar development process, just not through the Studio. It went through my own theater company Ensembleverket, but the process is the same. We tell the dramatists “Please don't write anything. Just tell us what you're thinking.” We try to postpone the writing process. First you have to talk a lot about your ideas with the others and get input. Then you start writing. Some people really like this way of working and some feel that this is not for them.
It must be great to see your work done outside of Sweden.
Yes. It is important for us to have an international connection. We are all in this little room in Dramaten working on our own ideas and you come to a point where you have to open the door to the rest of the rest of the theater and the world. So we are very happy to have this international collaboration. And SATC is doing a really great job. We are very proud to be a part of this festival.
Photo by Roger Stenberg
Stan Schwartz is a freelance theater journalist living in New York with a particular interest in Swedish theater. He has published in such outlets as The New York Times, Time Out New York, The New York Sun, and in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter and Expressen.