A Brief Talk about a Long Friendship in Theatre — Stacy Klein of Double Edge Theatre and Geddy Aniksdal of Grenland Friteater
Stacy Klein is the Founder and Artistic Director of Double Edge Theatre, a 37-year-old ensemble theatre based in Ashfield, MA. Geddy Aniksdal is a director and actor of Grenland Friteater, an independent theatre founded in 1976 in Porsgrunn, Norway. The two groups have worked together in different ways for close to thirty years. Klein and Aniksdal met in 1986 at the first Magdalena Festival, part of the Magdalena Project, an international network of women in contemporary theatre and performance which aims to increase awareness of women’s contributions to theatre and to create the artistic and economic structures and support networks to enable women to work.
The relationship between the theatres has included producing performances, shared experiences around art and community, examining ensemble models, deep friendship, and bringing forward the work of women through performances and extra-theatrical activities.
Jennifer Johnson: (I’m talking with Geddy and Stacy about their long artistic friendship and collaboration, between themselves and their theatres — which I think is unusual.) Whenever I’m with you both together like this it feels like you have been living next to each other for 100 years, so I wanted to get the lowdown on some of this, and I just want to start simply with how and in what context did you meet each other?
Geddy Anniksdal: I remember, rightly or wrongly — I want people to know that my memory is tainted by my wishes and desires for it to be this way or that way sometimes — that we were on the bus from London to Cardiff and I turned in my seat and behind me there were people that came from Boston and that was you and Andrea (Dishy, former DE member. Former DE member Bonnie Cordon was also in attendance.), is this right?
Stacy Klein and Geddy Aniksdal in Boston.
Stacy Klein: Yes
JJ: What was this trip?
SK: This was the first Magdalena Festival. We were getting picked up at the airport.
GA: There were so, so many of us. I was heavily pregnant. Women were coming from all over, telling their stories, telling about their cultures, singing their songs. I think it’s always been like that, of course, in the Magdalena. Making room. It has not been difficult for them (Magdalena) in this way, to find voices. I am constantly taken by Virginia Woolf — “give the woman 500 pounds and a room of one’s own”. I turned around on the bus, and looked at Stacy, and I feel we have been connected since then.
SK: Yes. It was very simple, very straightforward. And that was the beginning, like there wasn’t really any doubt — we would spend a lot of time together at that Magdalena.
GA: And then we were connected - and that was in 1986. And we talked and talked.
SK: And it was there I saw Geddy perform her Sylvia Plath piece, which she performed at Double Edge, in the theatre’s Electra Festival in 1988.
GA: After that, my daughter Anna was born and Double Edge visited, they were on tour in Poland. It was very cold, and we would sit around a fire. And you saw a very early version of “The Wake,” and this was the first piece that I directed. About how we take the dead people from their place on Earth to their resting place.
SK: We saw “The Wake” and met the rest of the company.
JJ: What was the impulse for you to be at the first Magdalena, and can you remember something that was important for your work? It was the first one, it’s obvious that there was a need for women to come together in a theatrical context. There was a need for it, which is why it was created.
SK: Well, there were a lot of questions about that, and I think there still are a lot of questions being asked. I was invited because I did several women’s theatre festivals in 1979 and 80, and helped Sophie Parker with festivals in Boston in the early 80’s. And I got connected through the Odin as well. There was a lot of discussion and arguing about if Magdalena was needed or not needed, and I remember Geddy’s statement which was kind of brilliant. She said “I wish that it wasn’t necessary,” and she’s been saying that for many years — so there is that, but from my perspective coming from an all women’s background and an all women’s theatre to just starting to work with men in the theatre, I was doubtful about that at the time. But I think that in retrospect it doesn’t make sense, because there’s a place for both of those things, obviously.
GA: When we talk like this, looking back, far back, I think about how stubborn we were, I see how we could be so one-sided sometimes. Was it a good thing, a bad thing? Did it save us? All the men in my theatre are now in praise of the Magdalena Project, of all the things we had done, but at the beginning no one felt like that, in the midst of turmoil. There was a huge festival in South Italy where many, many free (independent) theatres came together, there was a lot of quarreling and manifestations, and that’s where Jill (Greenhalgh), the Founder of the Magdalena Project, said “I want to take all the women away from the groups, put them together, and see what they can do, because they are strong, but they have not yet reached their potential.” Which I think is a fair thing to say. She was very frustrated with all these male directors, all acting the same way, acting like (Eugenio) Barba — it was a kind of psychosis. So it was a very sound reaction. We wanted to work, to train, to think together, away from so much talking. We argued and worked, and Stacy and I disagreed with many about should someone be directing this work. And the question was asked, a thematic question: is there a specific female language? And some of us were angry at the question. And some people were very interested. And some could not care less. And some did not understand the question. Later in 1989 we (Grenland) hosted the festival, and the theme was “A Room of One’s Own.” And I think that that question is much more interesting now than it was 30 years ago. There are academics asking that question. I’m not sure that in the theatre we are asking that question.
SK: Well I think we identify ourselves with our language inside of our theatres, and I think that is much more interesting to theatre makers than an academic question.
GA: I also think so. It’s not a yes or no question!
SK: I think there was a dichotomy because almost everybody invited were theatre makers, but the framework was academic, because everything was — certainly feminism was. It was a time when people were writing and arguing about feminist theories. The academic discussion was very different from how women from different contexts were actually identifying themselves in their work.
JJ: I want to talk about the work of Grenland and the work of Double Edge and the relationship. The work is very different, but there are great similarities in the theatrical life, the sort of determination, the value of imagination and creativity — putting that at the front of how you’ve created your lives and your theatres. Also you’ve produced each other’s work so much, which requires trust.
GA: Trond (Hannemyr, a founder and director at Grenland) has been very instrumental in keeping our artistic activities together alive. The relationship goes through stages, sometimes very active, sometimes there is hibernation, which is normal, cycles. In our theatre, everyone has had to find their own room, their own way of working. Trond did not want to continue be an actor, he made the Festival (PIT Festival, a annual International Theatre Festival produced by Grenland). Lars wanted to do children’s theatre, write plays. Whereas Tor Arne and Anna and I and some others, we stayed much more with the experimental work. Then we sort of mix it all to make the huge popular festival, and then other smaller, unpopular festivals and work. We had to find out how do we stay together. We have four directors, and Trond wanted to direct the Festival. Some people wanted to stay home, some people wanted to go abroad. After all this fighting we knew we could stay together for a common purpose, we didn’t want to kick each other out.
JJ: Grenland has a unique and interesting model. People want to do specific things, and room has been made for that, rather than people thinking they can’t accomplish something independent within the confines of the theatre.
GA: You make it sound so nice but it took some real fights. I think we understood — a room of one’s own — we could have it in the same house.
JJ: Both Grenland and Double Edge have embarked on large-scale, outdoor community projects in different ways. How did the companies come to those projects? What makes you want to continue with that work, which is different from your other work?
SK: I think in our kind of company, there is an ecology. And if you follow that ecology, you get to community, in one way or another. It seems to me that there is the inner world that you need to define the way that you define it. Each of us has some inner world. In Geddy’s group there’s five directors and different projects, and that is part of growing up, that you identify yourselves and you’re not just the youthful, “we’re all going to do this together” but finding a way to keep identifying yourselves. And then you meet the outside. If you are really, truly in a culture, you need to find a way to share outside of your insular self. This was true for us in the Ukraine, in Poland, this need to share.
GA: When I listen to Stacy I think that there are at least two visible roads. Is this person on the road with me? I come from a large family. I’ve always been one of many, I have not been the only one. So I know I have been trying to re-create this “many” in my work. But when I hear Stacy talking now I think about the needs that come from outside, that’s one strand, and the needs that come from us inside, that’s another one. And we are so lucky that they meet. I think of you making the Town Spectacle, when you are meeting with the people outside of your walls — that is the world coming very close! When the cultures come together, it’s incredible. Artists need time to be in both places I think. We thought we wanted to do something that concerns our town, and the town became so we engaged, kind of surprisingly, in what we were doing. And then that the town gave us confidence, whereas I would say very squarely that before we were an island of ourselves. But then we opened up and we made something that had to do with the town, and we had this response! Then we created all these site-specific, big performances. I started to create all this “Sense of Place” work, and it was like an opening up. Was it the audience changing their perception of us? Did they change their minds about us, or us about them? It takes time. Did we change a lot, or did the town change, or were we opening up to each other over time? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it’s that important to know. But we went from being thought of as people doing something weird in a loft, to having 5000 seeing a performance. But I feel like I’m the same person. And I think the people are the same.
But the world changes.
JJ: Stacy has said that once people can really see that you’re working as hard as they are, or harder, then they can understand you. People have to work so hard to make anything, so if they see you working, see that effort, they can understand you.
GA: We had to start working at 7 o’clock in the morning because we are in the working class environment, and we would go home at 4, and then perform in the evenings. We rejected the idea that we were bourgeois bohemians, we just went about our work as working people.
JJ: We are at a big moment of reckoning in this country, and in the world, concerning women’s rights, women’s work, a sort of crisis around this. Is this anything you want to talk about in the context of the freedom to do your work, what are the questions around that, how has that changed since you first met.
SK: I think that at some point in the 2000's I lost the thread of the challenges of being a woman director, and I think that somehow defeating the community problems here and a lot of the Double Edge problems, the touring problems, or cocooning myself, I was thinking it was moving in the right direction, and I could leave that idea and focus on other things. And then the whole year of Hillary was a dread year, I just saw so much that was anti-woman, that I couldn’t believe it. And people were telling me that I was kind of crazy about that. And then it happened that I wasn’t, actually. So now when I talk to our students, telling them what Double Edge was in the beginning, what I was grappling with, and what I have grappled with through the years, I skip the part where I forgot about this. So for me it’s really important not to forget again, and not to shut up again. And going back to Geddy’s statement that she wishes it (The Magdalena Project) wasn’t still necessary strikes me so hard because I convinced myself it wasn’t so necessary, and then it’s so very necessary. And the other part is that I believe that we don’t really embrace or encompass that. It’s almost like saying well, it’s better than it used to be. So how do we have a conversation about sexual violence when we nominate someone to the Supreme Court who tried to rape a woman. But we keep saying well at least it’s not this or not that. How do we accept that. How do women accept that. How do we accept the covering up of crimes against Native women, the disappearing of people, the ongoing violence against all women. So for me that’s a big deal right now.
GA: In work it’s quite embarrassing, really, that you can feel like you are not in the same league — that you meet the Glass Roof?
SK: Glass Ceiling…
GA: Glass Ceiling. And you realize there are obstacles, some things can remain forbidden. It’s so easy to forget, to say “no, I can do anything, we are not like that.”
SK: To me it’s a universal problem. It’s not a women’s problem. It’s a human problem. Geddy, you mentioned confidence, and I think that working with men, really working, fighting, working, allows you to have the confidence that each person is themself. So for those years when I forgot, I did not have that confidence, I thought for a time that I could not discuss these things. But when we create conditions and place and work and we can build this confidence around dialogue. And there is room in the theatre for that, there has to be, and for the younger people that we work with. For the students also. I think with the young people in this way I can say I’m giving what I’m giving, and you maybe haven’t figured out what you are going to give yet, or how. But you are finding out. They need to find out.
It’s not a women’s problem. It’s a human problem.
GA: Yes, finding out. And DOING something, it’s so important to just DO SOMETHING! I always want to scream at Hedda Gabler — stop talking and DO SOMETHING.