The Harstad Kutlurhus is the largest arts complex in Northern Norway. It was opened in 1992 by King Harald V and is the home of the North Norwegian Arts Festival Festspillene i Nord-Norge. The Kulturhus is one of three in the area – Tromsø and Narvik have one too which makes for steep competition in securing popular international shows. However, the triangle route between the Kulturhus’ makes life easier for the smaller national touring companies.
It wasn’t until 2005 that the Harstad Kulturhus had its first female member of the production team – me! I was the resident Scenemester (stage manager – come Mechanist, come set desinger). I thoroughly enjoyed working at the Kulturhus. The production team is fantastic and are active in their fields (the sound engineer regularly goes on tour with Kaizers Orchestra). I got to work with some amazing artists – Maria João, the Jo Strømgrens kompani and Leif Ove Andsnes to name a few. The funny thing being an ‘outlander’ is that I had no idea how famous people were. It was only afterwards when seeing their faces splashed all over the TV that I realise ‘Hey, this person really is famous’. It goes to show just how down to earth Norwegians really are. If my production manager didn’t tell me they were famous I wouldn’t have known. I love Norwegians.
The design of the Hus is quite unique – all art, no function. The Hus might be beautiful with murals, paintings and mosaics (the works remind me of the Australian artist Ken Done) but it was designed without storage so it can be a logistical nightmare for the crew trying to fit everything in. When the Hus first opened the main stage was painted light grey – which is a complete no-no in theatre. (Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as Tromsø – the arch around their main stage has light wooden panelling that stops the hall from obtaining complete darkness.)
Harstad Kulturhus is very big on music. Classical, jazz, rock, folk and choral music are all enjoyed. The Forsvarets Musikkorps Nord-Norge (Army Concert Band) and Landsdelsmusikerne i Troms, “Arctimus” (string quartet) are residents of the hus. Morning Tea concerts, Cafe concerts, string quartet and classical concerts are regular features on the program with annual performances by the local Kulturskolen, Thon Gospel Choir, Bel Chorus Men’s Choir and Trallongan Childrens Choir. The Kulturhus also produces youth and cultural events and is active in supporting local artists and productions.
One of the more popular productions at the Hus is comedy-cabarets. North Norwegians love taking the mickey out of themselves and so a whole generation of ‘Revys’ travel the country with slap-stick and musical send-ups. The energy generated from the crowd in one of these shows could light a whole city for a month. Norwegians are usually a placid people but boy do they love to laugh.
One of my most favourite customs of Norwegian theatre is the applause. The crowd starts clapping individually then half way through they get in sync and clap as one. This rhythmical accolade thunders through the Hus and the performers have no choice but to come out three or four times to accept this honour. It is quite an uplifting experience (even as a stage manager watching from the side).