The 2016 Signe Karlström Event was a three-day theatre festival celebrating the Swedish playwright Lars Norén, who has been widely performed in Sweden, throughout Scandinavia, and in other European countries since the early 1980s. Lars Norén, who is regarded as the most important Swedish playwright since August Strindberg, has written more than 70 plays and is still very active. Always in step with society, his newest plays deal with immigration, integration, and the tension between different ethnic groups.

For our festival, three of Norén’s plays were performed at the Walgreen Drama Center: Terminal 3, Blood, and War. Terminal 3 (2006), a staged reading directed by Residential College drama faculty Kate Mendeloff, is an emotionally charged drama about a couple in two different stages of life, sitting in a hospital waiting room: as young parents, waiting to give birth, and simultaneously, 20 years later, back to identify the body of their only son. It was a fine performance by Residential College students Will Arnuk and Emma McGlashen, long time Shakespeare in the Arb actors Graham Atkin and Rob Sulewski, and Mendeloff.

Akvavit Theatre, an independent theatre group from Chicago with a repertoire focused on contemporary Scandinavian Drama, read Blood (1994), directed by Kirstin Franklin Hammergren. The play is an Oedipus-drama revolving around a young son lost in the military coup in Chile in the 1970s.

In addition to the readings, Akvavit Theatre’s Chad Bergman held a workshop for students, initially created for actors joining Akvavit theatre who are new to Scandinavian drama. Bergman explained these actors were often unaccustomed to the amount of silence and ambiguity found in contemporary Scandinavian drama. Theater students and Swedish language students worked together on exploring and learning to understand the style.

Most polished of the performances was professor Malcolm Tulip's studio production of War (2005). He directed an intensely physical and anxiously wired take on how war brutalizes people. Students Lila Hood, Lauren Balone, Aaron Huey, Zoey Bond and Ryan Rosenheim from the School of Music, Theatre and Dance were fantastic in their roles. The production will travel to a theatre festival in Poland in the summer of 2017.

Swedish-born and New York-based translator Marita Lindholm Gochman was also with us for the weekend. She met with the Swedish students and participated in talkbacks. Marita has translated around 30 of Norén’s plays into English since the 1980s. With the recent publication of the plays in her translation by Richard Altschuler & Associates, Inc./Chauser Press Books, Norén may see a US breakthrough.

The Norén festival was made possible thanks to funding from the Signe Karlström Fund, the Swedish Institute, and SWEA Michigan. It was organized by the Scandinavian Program in collaboration with The School of Music, Theatre and Dance and the U-M Residential College. Almost 400 people attended the events, which were free and open to the public.

Johanna Eriksson (right) with visiting actors from Akvavit Theatre