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Why do we need New Theatre Helsinki?

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Written by Davide Giovanzana

New Theatre Helsinki is a new theatre project promoting diversity and inclusiveness in the field of performing arts.

Two years ago, in a conference organized by the city of Helsinki about theatre and internationalism, the theatre director of a city theatre (Erik Söderblom) was saying that theatre does not change the society, but the society changes theatre. I think it is more than obvious that nowadays Finnish society is changing, it is changing rapidly, but Finnish institutional theatre is gasping behind. It is time to request that the diversity of our society find also its space in the Finnish theatre landscape.

At the beginning of 2019, 15.7% of Helsinki city’s population did not use Finnish, Swedish or Sami as primary language of communication and in 15 years this will grow up to 26% of the total population. However, what is important to point out, it is the fact that “diversity” is not only a Helsinki issue, but it affects the whole country. Many times I have heard: “yes but our city is not concerned with issues of diversity, this concerns only the capital”. We should not reduce the issue of diversity to the mere confrontation between Finnish autochthones and immigrants. Diversity affects the whole society on every level. There are only different magnitudes of diversity. Diversity starts already in the way identity is defined: if it is based on the notion of inclusiveness or of seclusion. A healthy democratic society shows its strength in the respect and defence of its own diversity.

However, it is not enough, as we have seen with the failure of multicultural projects, that this diversity exists in separated, segregated realities. It is important that the diversity is in dialogue. This is why, it is more than necessary that a platform where the exchange between different cultural backgrounds, different ways of beings, different understandings of society are in dialogue. This is why, we need a New Theatre Helsinki, which aims to support intercultural theatre projects that are re-considering what is to be an inhabitant of Helsinki, what is to be a Finnish citizen, what is to encounter another human being with different languages, different means of expression.

Someone could say: why to create a new theatre? There are already city theatres, there are already cultural centers whose mission is to present the diversity of the society. Indeed, the creation of a new venue is problematic and expensive. The money spent for establishing this new space could be used directly for cultural projects. I would be the first to agree with this assertion. Unfortunately, existing institutional theatre venues which receive money from taxpayers (therefore also from the various community populations) are failing to present the diversity of the society. Not only are they failing, but it seems that they don’t see the importance of doing this operation. (We also have our own experience on this: some institutional theatres have been approached by us, but their response to the topic has been dismissive.) Cultural centers are sensitive to this subject, but the issue of quality and longevity of a performance is not their concern. Performances in a cultural center are usually shown once or twice. Would the national theatre be interested in producing a show that would be performed only once or twice? Of course not. A performance must be performed at least 15 times. People must come to see it so that they can talk about it. Communities must have the chance to come and see also their stories presented on the stage, so that they feel they are part of the society. This is the only way that a real intercultural exchange is established. 

We are interested in developing a cultural platform where Finnish performing arts professionals, foreigner artists, and local communities are in dialogue. And as a last point: Finnish theatre is craving to establish international coproduction, but it has a difficulty to acknowledge its international richness within the country. Let the New Theatre Helsinki be as well this bridge that would open the horizon of the Finnish theatre. 

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