Með því að smella á „Samþykkja“ staðfestir þú að vafrakökur séu geymdar í tækinu þínu til að auka notendaupplifun, greina notkun síðunnar og aðstoða við markaðsstarf okkar. Skoðaðu persónuverndarstefnu okkar fyrir frekari upplýsingar.
Skilmálar um notkun á vafrakökum
Þegar þú heimsækir vefsíður gætu þær geymt eða sótt gögn í vafrann þínn með vafrakökum (e. cookies). Þetta er oft nauðsynlegt fyrir grunnvirkni vefsíðunnar. Vafrakökurnar gætu verið notaðar til markaðssetningar, greiningar eða til að sérsníða síðuna, t.d. til að geyma kjörstillingar þínar.

Persónuvernd er okkur mikilvæg. Þess vegna hefur þú möguleika á að slökkva á ákveðnum tegundum af vafrakökum sem eru ekki nauðsynlegar fyrir grunnvirkni vefsíðunnar. Þessi útilokun getur haft áhrif á upplifun þína af vefsíðunni.
Stjórnun á vafrakökum eftir flokkum
Alltaf virkt
Þessar vafrakökur eru nauðsynlegar fyrir grunnvirkni síðunnar.
Þessar vafrakökur eru notaðar til að birta auglýsingar sem eiga betur við þig og áhugamál þín. Þær geta einnig verið notaðar til að mæla árangur auglýsingaherferða eða takmarka fjölda skipta sem þú sérð auglýsingar. Markaðsfyrirtæki setja þær inn með leyfi rekstraraðila vefsíðunnar.
Persónulegar stillingar
Þessar vafrakökur gera vefsíðunni kleift að muna stillingarnar þínar (svo sem notendanafn, tungumál eða svæði) og veita betri og persónulegri upplifun.
Þessar vafrakökur hjálpa rekstraraðila vefsíðunnar að fylgjast með virkni síðunnar, hvernig gestir nota hana og hvort það komi upp tæknileg vandamál. Þessar vafrakökur safna ekki upplýsingum sem auðkenna gesti.

Performing Arts Centre Iceland Podcast - Episode 10: Þorleifur Örn Arnarsson - director

For the latest episode of the Performing Arts Centre Iceland podcast, Salka Guðmundsdóttir sat down with Þorleifur Örn Arnarsson, one of the pre-eminent theatre directors of his generation and one of the first names that come to mind when you think about Icelandic performing artists working internationally. Þorleifur who was born in Reykjavík initially studied acting at the Iceland University of the Arts, before he turned to directing and studied at The Ernst Busch Academy of the Dramatic Arts in Berlin. This proved to be the start of a career that has interwoven practice in Iceland with practice on the continent, in particular in Germany. Þorleifur has a history of stretching forms and genres. He has worked with classical texts, new writing, opera, research-based material – created new work from the sagas, from contemporary novels and from mere concepts.

So, Þorleifur, you have an obvious passion for directing, but like quite a few Icelandic directors you originally studied acting. Did you do that as a gateway into directing or were you genuinely interested in becoming an actor at that point?

Well, I think at that point I didn't really know what I wanted to do. My father's an actor, my mother's a director and the acting school was the only path available in Iceland at that time. I was on stage from the age of six, so it felt kind of normal, but I realized quite soon during my studies that I saw myself on the other side of the fourth wall. The way my brain operates, the way I read theatre and the way I read society made it quite clear to me that I would be better placed on the other side.

I directed my first show two and a half weeks after my graduation as an actor, with the acting class one year below me. I always knew that I wanted to go abroad to study. I wanted to immerse myself in a new culture and I wanted to add to my toolkit. And my sister started acting at Ernst Busch in Berlin and I just set my mind on going to that school and lobbied them for like two years before I applied, so they all knew me when I showed up … I had actually directed quite a lot in the years between which I'm very thankful for now, because when I got into the school in Berlin I already had quite a lot of experience, I was more mature and could relate in a different way to the theory of directing. The school is very focused on craftsmanship, on storytelling structures. One of the central questions for a director is your positioning towards the world, how you view the world, how you read the social, economical, sociological structures of society and how you portray that within your art practices. I think it simultaneously structured and opened my mind. I could relate very strongly to the German way of reading everything from a historical perspective, to understand the history and the tradition which you stand upon, but simultaneously to use it and to question it, which has been one of the central tenets of the way I direct or the way I create theatre.

What also fascinates me to this day is the structure of the German language. Not only did the Germans in a sense invent the social sciences, but a lot of the way their culture develops –  in the formation of Germany in the 19th century – it was in many ways led by philosophers and artists who had cross-connections into the sciences. The German theatre tradition is intertwined with the formation of the German Republic, but also the way the language itself is structured and how thought is constructed. Because they have the verb at the end of a sentence, you have extremely long sentences with commas that they layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of meaning before they light the sentence, like they turn the light, the power on the sentence. I think that influenced the way I try to do theatre, to layer it with meaning, with social context within the solitary structure in order to kind of grasp these deeper roots.

Die Edda - Photo: Vincenzo Laera

As you've already said, you come from a theatre family and then you go somewhere as a young man where you are a blank page in the eyes of the theatre, in the eyes of your educators and that must have been quite liberating.
Yes, Iceland can be quite nepotistic, which has advantages as well as disadvantages. For me it was extremely important to free myself from all preconceived notions and establish my artistic practice on my own terms. My first great mentor as a director is my mother and for that I am extremely grateful, not least for the feminist perspective she and my father adhere to, because it is a philosophy of questioning our culture, to put on different kinds of spectacles in order to read power structures, social structures. Then when I had the historical analytical tool of the German language, of the German thought system, I could apply this pair of glasses in a much more profound way. So it was liberating in many senses, on one hand to get out of this very small country and to see the scope of what a director can be.

Your career has been marked by diverse approaches and materials. To name just a few of your recent productions, you directed a reworking of Halldór Laxness’ Iceland’s Bell with the theatre group Elefant here at the National Theatre; you directed a large-scale production of Edda at the National Theatre, where you explored new dimensions of the world of the Norse gods; and you have just directed Peer Gynt at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Is there an essence of your working process that always stays the same? Do you start from the same core, asking questions in the same way?

I think that's the beauty of working in theatre, that it's always a collaborative art form. You are liberated from becoming too self-obsessed, because you are always dealing with source material. I am very interested in mythology and in how stories form; how we understand ourselves and how we have understood those stories. I have always travelled between co-creational processes and directing certain texts, but even then … for example, Peer Gynt at Burgtheater I told backwards and forward simultaneously. I feel that the question of identity is very central to our world today and to place the existential question of facing your mortality right at the beginning and then simultaneously watching how Peer Gynt loses his sense of self – whilst also questioning, what is this self that I have lost? – that threw an interesting light on the question of identity in the modern world.

In the Edda I am looking at catastrophes, which is something I'm also interested in, through these old texts. They tell us about the rise and fall of the whole of civilization, and show us that even though the circumstances might change and the challenges, on the surface, might seem very different, they follow very similar paths.

Parsifal - Photo: Sandra Then

You possess a clear belief in the capacity for theatre to tackle big questions and you're also not afraid to answer them – or attempt to answer them – in complex ways. There was a critic here in Iceland who had seen the Edda three times, just to try and wrap her head around it and get more and more from it. I think there's a sort of bravery in not being afraid to not answer things simplistically.

I think our world today is obsessed with simplicity. This is where the populistic tendency comes from. I mean, it's very easy to say it's social media, but I think it goes much deeper than that. We live in incredibly complicated times, facing challenges which feel very existential. If you compare it with the the fear of the nuclear war in the 60s and 70s, that was still a world of a dualistic reading. You had capitalism, you had communism, the world was divided. Today you could say we have autocracy and we have democracy, but the picture is a lot more complex. The problems we face are also more complex. The global warming crisis touches upon every aspect of human existence, from the very philosophical to the very practical, and there are no simple solutions. And I generally believe that human beings aren't very simple. They are extremely complex. Therefore I have always tried to represent humans and their problems in that way in the theatre – as some sort of a meeting place of different ideas. I'm much more interested in presenting themes and asking questions than trying to narrow them down to a simple answer.

I've done a lot of Shakespeare and he's probably one of my greatest teachers, because his texts are never simple. There is always a double meaning. That’s why some of the plays I've done more than once, sometimes more than twice, because I feel by the premiere that I've only managed to touch upon a certain aspect of the universe that I entered into.

Edda - National Theatre of Iceland

Maybe there's also a fear of complex things that could be quite dangerous for the arts as well, could maybe cause some sort of paralysis. I've been having conversations with people who are worried about the arts feeling paralyzed in the face of complex realities.

As an artist you have to have the bravery, when you feel this kind of paralysis, to use it and to challenge it. A lot of the social structural change that we've been experiencing comes from deep historical injustice. One might argue with the mythology because it feels sometimes really to border on censorship – one can not like that aspect of it and simultaneously understand that it probably is needed for a certain time, for a certain period, and then have the bravery to question that as well. To question that which you agree with is sometimes more difficult than to question what you disagree with. I try very hard in my work to offer multiple viewpoints, especially because the world is so polarized. I think it brings down or lessens the possibility of theatre to be a battlefield of ideas. During the opening speech of the National Theatre in 1950, the minister of culture said it should be a battlefield of ideologies where the fallen rise up in the end, hug each other to go again the next evening. And I think that is more true now than ever, because if we do not challenge good ideas, they will turn out to be bad ideas. Good ideas are formed in dialogue, in opposition. That is what the democratic spirit is about.

Eine Odyssee - Photo: Vincenzo Laera

Talking about big moral questions, you have extensive experience directing opera. Such an interesting stage form because you have this mixture of limitations and possibilities; you have singers on stage who need certain physical conditions to be able to deliver a top-notch performance but also contemporary opera is where you see some of the most striking designs nowadays. There is a lot happening in the world of opera. What draws you to the form?

I think the beauty of opera is that it adds what theatre very seldomly can do, which is this incredible musical depth and complexities. It combines the emotional experience and the intellectual experience in such an interesting way. When you're directing opera you have to work with a different set of muscles in your artistic body, because you have a lot more constraints. And I do think that opera is limited, because the canon of works is quite limited. Unfortunately the composers of the 20th century kind of moved away from this form and they lost this kind of popular appeal that opera in the 19th century definitely had. I've been fascinated by Wagner especially because he thought about opera as a form of uniting the art forms. Sometimes his expression of Gesamtkunstwerk has been misconstrued as only bringing the art forms together, but this is at the height of industrial revolution, the machine is starting to replace the human body as the tool of work. And he says, once we do not have to work anymore, we can refocus on our main task, which is Gesamtkunstwerk, civilization. We can focus our energy and understand our society and our civilization as a living, breathing art form. And you can sense this to a very deep degree in his operas.

In opera you get to tackle both the largest philosophical questions and the largest human emotions simultaneously. So you have to also find ... well, I've never staged a Shakespeare play without doing a lot of cuts. For example, the fourth act in a Shakespeare play is mostly something that is not really needed in the modern world; you know, the messengers going back and forth. It is a trope of its time. The opera world has not yet arrived at the time, at the place where you say, well, we can just skip this and we should mix this. The compositorical structures are so intertwined that this presents a whole different set of challenges. But I still see no way around opera having to re-evaluate its approach. That doesn't mean that we should stop playing all the operas in their full length, just like the Royal Shakespeare Company still plays their Shakespeare uncut in original costumes. But I think there is an immense power within this art form. It’s a little bit like the last bastion, the last art form that still has not radically changed. So it feels like a frontier that is still being formed, which is very exciting as an artist. I find it very exciting to work in opera, because it is the high point of senses and thought, but still very constrained.

I know you have Tristan and Isolde coming up at the cradle of Wagner, the Bayreuth Festival.

Yes, it's fascinating to be at the Green Hill, dem Grünhügel, and with this magnificent piece. Wagner himself said that he hoped that there would only be mediocre productions because otherwise people would kill themselves in the third act.

I wonder, when you've reached this level of your career, how do you remain curious? You can presumably be very confident in your working methods. Where do you find that spark still?

I've never had a problem feeling the spark. It's more containing it. I'm terrified at the start of every production and I always feel like there's just a big empty vacuum that I have to fill up. I think doubt and staying doubtful is so important – not to believe the hype about yourself or that you've cracked the code. For example now, there’s a production coming up where I'm moving away from the large stages and this kind of huge machinery to a small group of actors on a smaller stage, because I really wanted to reconnect with the text, working with the actor in its essence, to go back to the basic of theatre.

There’s a book called Novacene by James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia theory in the 60s. He published this book about four years ago, at the age of 96, about the future of humanity and artificial intelligence. What struck me was that in the introduction he started by profoundly apologizing for his pessimistic views in his latest book, which he had written at 94 years of age. He said that he had been completely wrong and was going to try to set the record straight, And I thought, if you are still – at 96 – re-examining your ideas from when you were 94, you definitely have something that I admire. So I just hope that at 94, if I get to live so long, I am still questioning what I did at 93.