I spent two years working for Riksteatern, Sweden’s touring national theatre, and much of that time was spent in a room in their headquarters in Hallunda, one of Stockholm’s outer suburbs, which I shared with the directors Lisa Färnström and Joakim Rindå. As ‘leader of artistic development’, my work lay so far upstream from the actual productions that went out on tour, it wasn’t always easy to know if there was a connection between the endless, fascinating conversations that went on in that room and the actual making of theatre. So five years on, it was a joy to get an invitation to work with Lisa and Jocke again, making a small contribution to Kartan över oss (The Map of Us), a production which has its premiere this month, and which is the final element in a strand of repertoire that came out of the work we did together in 2015-16.
Kartan takes the form of an audiowalk. A fictional bureaucracy, Myndigheten för Emotionell och Själslig Beredskap (the Authority for Emotional and Spiritual Preparedness) has been tasked with creating a map of how Sweden feels about the future. The audience are greeted by the MESB’s representatives, members of the local Riksteatern association in fluorescent jackets, and led by an app on their phones and the voices in their headphones.
Along the way, there are forks in the road. You get a question about how you imagine the future will play out, and depending on your answer, you choose one path or the other. (All of this has been mapped onto the streets of forty towns and neighbourhoods, up and down the country.) At a certain point in the journey, depending on the choices you have made, you’ll be prescribed a message from one or other of the MESB’s specialists.
This is where I come in, as one of seven contributors asked to write and record a seven-minute reflection aimed at members of the audience whose choices suggest a certain outlook on the future. (The other members of this team of specialists include a physicist, an environmental psychologist and the Archbishop of Uppsala.) I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say that I was asked to speak to the most pessimistic fraction of the audience, but the aim of these reflections is to rattle the frames a little: ‘to cultivate the capacity for second thoughts’, as Ivan Illich once put it.
Kartan över oss will premiere on 19 September 2020 at forty locations all over Sweden. The play is in Swedish – it’s the first time I’ve written anything directly into Swedish, and I’m grateful to Lisa and Jocke for helping me work up the text, as well as to Anna who went through the first draft with me – but there’s a plan for an English language version in the near future.