Imagine if the municipality of Milano suddenly threw AC Milan out of the San Siro.
“Sorry, this stadium’s going to be used exclusively by Internazionale from now on,” the municipality reasons. “We don’t have an explanation, although we don’t like the way you use the English spelling of our city in your name!”
Founded in 1899 as the Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club by two English expats (Mussolini changed the name to AC Milano during his tenure!), you’d be forgiven for imagining its Anglo past had finally caught up with it!
Roots ripped out
Well, a similar thing has happened recently in the heart of the English-language theatre community.
After a year of happily sharing the fourth floor stage at the Huset-KBH culture house with a Danish dramatics group, the House of International Theatre (HIT), which was formed in early 2017 to establish a permanent home for international theatre in the city, was given notice this spring that the space would now be used solely for independent Danish productions.
Just as the city’s first English-speaking theatre space had established roots, they were ripped out, leaving the community the theatre gathered out in the cold. And it was, it seems, all due to the decision of just one official! HIT was given no explanation, and the decision-maker has already departed Huset-KBH to take up a similar position in Odense.
Bolt out of the blue
The news came as a complete surprise to HIT and its supporters, especially since ticket sales had been gradually increasing and recognition too, while the Danish group sharing the space had been comparatively inactive.
Since HIT opened last year, it has presented an impressive range of more than 30 theatre productions including eight original HIT plays and award-winning guest performances from London, Sao Paolo and New York. It has provided a welcoming home for tourists, expats and touring theatre groups that often struggle to navigate the Copenhagen theatre scene.
Its late-winter production of ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ sold out most nights and picked up a CPH Culture nomination for Season’s Best New Foreign Piece, while its early-winter staging of ‘Slapstick Sherlock’ was also well received and shortlisted for a CPH Culture award.
“It was a good space, and the centrality was a plus certainly,” lamented Ian Burns from That Theatre Company, who has established his own little corner of English-language theatre at Krudttønden in Østerbro, where his latest play, ‘The Woman in Black’, starts on October 24 (see page 21).
“Sadly, the trend towards isolationism in most countries is manifesting itself here too.”
HIT was backed by Copenhagen Municipality, and the then deputy mayor for culture, Carl Christian Ebbesen, did the honours on its opening day and continued to support the theatre through his final year in office.
HIT also established ties with many of the city’s embassies – most particularly the US Embassy, which was HIT’s biggest funding contributor ahead of its launch – partnering them on international projects while also welcoming them as regular theatre audiences.
Among the other financial backers were Copenhagen Municipality, the embassies of Britain, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, Nordea Fonden, the Opticon Foundation, Dansk Kulturinstitut the Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media and the Czech Ministry of Culture.
Denmark in their debt
Beyond its undeniable local impact and expanding the range of English-language theatre in the city, HIT has also been a major influence on developing the capital’s status as a global player in international theatre – a reputation that is somewhat stilted.
Together with fellow resident group Down the Rabbit Hole Theatre, the German company Manusarts, led by artistic director Jana Pulkrabek, has been using its network these past three years to bring to Denmark performing artists at the very cutting edge of modern theatre.
HIT was only just getting started, according to Pulkrabek, who lives between Copenhagen and Hamburg, which she contends is a great springboard, not just for international groups in Denmark, but also for Danish artists.
“Hamburg advertises itself as the gateway to the world and, in regards to culture, the city indeed provides a huge range of international activities,” she explained.
“Festivals like the Lessing Tage at Thalia Theater and the Summerfestival at Kampnagel have grown to provide Hamburg’s theatre-goers with an inspiring range of theatre from all over the world.”
A skilled networker
Pulkrabek, an established name in Hamburg as the facilitator of cultural exchange projects and international cross-genre productions at the likes of the Kiel National Theatre and Opera House and the Altonaer Theater in Hamburg, uses her connections to approach international trailblazers, such as Miet Warlop (Brussels) and the Kafka Band (Prague), and bring them to Denmark.
Unfortunately, though, the applications for funding aren’t always successful, although she was responsible for the Republique production of ‘The Myth Kafka – World of a Visionary’, which opened CPH Stage in 2015.
A new challenge
Finding a new theatre space at such short notice has proved to be challenging for HIT, and with its future in jeopardy, HIT’s only option is to wildly improvise. “The current situation somehow shifts the mission,” conceded Pulkrabek
With less of a chance to present and produce international work in Copenhagen, her current focus is on setting up MOVE THE NORTH, a cross-border festival between Hamburg, Copenhagen and Malmö to create closer cultural ties between Scandinavia and central Europe and give HIT the ability to present local Danish productions abroad.
Inspired to continue
Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen of Down the Rabbit Hole Theatre, the resident artistic director at HIT, was the other driving force behind its emergence as a serious contender over 2017 and early 2018.
Thomas-Poulsen has been living and working in Copenhagen for the past eight years, earning his breakthrough with the CTC staging of ‘Pygmalion’ in 2015 – a momentous year in which he helmed two other acclaimed productions. He has also worked in Danish-language theatre, as well as in Hamburg, Oslo and the US.
“As an internationally working director, I recognise the challenges for foreign artists in Copenhagen and have felt privileged to bring the community together with their Danish colleagues by offering a venue for regular collaboration and networking,” said Thomas-Poulsen, who is currently directing international work in Malmö and touring some of his HIT shows nationwide.
“All of this international activity can increase HIT’s potential to offer this city a strong international platform for English-language theatre on a permanent basis,” contended Pulkrabek and Thomas-Poulsen.
“We have opened a dialogue with Copenhagen Municipality and are actively looking for a new venue.”
The commitment they found among the community of artists who supported them in their first year, they conclude, is an inspiration and driving force for finding new solutions.