November 16th – 22nd was the week of Tromsø Arctic Pride. As a part of the programme, the Saami theatre from Sweden, “Vahák”, was played on 19th and 20th of November at Rådstua Teaterhus. Inspired by the stories collected through “Queering Sápmi”, a project which highlighted Saami LGBTQ people’s experiences of having the dual minority identities, and staged by the Swedish theatre company Ögonblicksteatern, “Vahák” seeks to show how colonialization and homophobia can act together to create oppressive power. It seeks to paint queer reality. It seeks to sing a song of dream, love, desire and hope.
Four people in colourful skirts give out fortune cookies to the audience standing in front of the theatre room, waiting to go inside. When I am about to go into the theatre room after picking up one cookie, the woman who offered me the cookie stops me. After she gives out fortune cookies to a few more people behind me, she lets us in, this small team of people, guiding us to one of the white benches that are placed in the center of the room and also along the edges of the room, all facing different directions. I open the fortune cookie. It says «lär dig ett annat kärleksspråk». Learn another language of love.
The four actors and actresses, who have given out the fortune cookies to the audience, sit at each of the four sides of the square room. Four speakers from each side located next to the actors and actresses speak stories one by one. They are stories about oppression, desire and love. At some point, the actors and actresses sing joik and dance. Then they come up to the audience, into the lines of the benches, and gesture towards the audience to stand up. They guide us to another bench. Now I am moving from a bench at the center of the room to a bench at one side of the room, which is facing a different direction. I was facing an actress with short black hair and a violet skirt. Now it is an actress with long brown hair and a pink skirt. A scene that has been invisible to me is spread out in front of my eyes now. I have earned a different perspective.
In about an hour or so, we are now invited to a pink tent located outside the theatre building. Here, we stand along the circular edge of the tent and see Mimie Märak, the actress with short black hair whom I mentioned above, recite a poem in a rhythmic mood, a poem about love, desire and hope. People cheer and applaud. When the theatre ends and the people step outside the tent, we are given pieces of ribbons, each with different colours.
I fiddled with the note from the fortune cookie and the ribbon the whole time on my way home. Some legacies of “Vahák”. The note and the ribbon are the metaphors for the messages and questions “Vahák” has cast upon the audience. But one thing remains clear. We have differences, which are worth being celebrated, and yet we find a common thread upon all those differences. We have witnessed the magical moment when our bodies transformed into new beings, all glowing and beautiful. So magical that there was no word to describe the wonder, yet which deserves a hundred names and a thousand songs of praise. And we were so sure of what to do with our new bodies. We have the bodies to celebrate and the desire for life, the desire to experience the sparkle of the moment again. We will live.
After the event has finished, Utropia tried to reach and have a small email interview with the theatre team. We could hear from the producer Elinn Bolonassos and the actor Tobias Poggats, about the theatre and the idea behind it.
How would you describe the theatre to somebody who does not know about it, in regard to its form and underlying idea?
Elinn Bolonassos (Producer): The form is performative. The music and sound is a great part of the performance. It is political and poetic and it wants to change the world.
The performance “Vahák” – violence – takes place in a reality where colonial and homophobic violence act together. Queer desires, love declarations, grieves and dreams meet in a performance that stages what unites us minorities in minorities, and invite to common resistance against the suppressive mechanisms that is the world today.
“Vahák” welcomes you to a parallel space that reminds us of the fact that it can be better, that a queer reality is possible.
What motivated you to produce this theatre?
Elinn: We wanted to work with people we hadn´t worked with before, with a form we haven´t explored before and the theme and values are what we as a theatre are passionate about. The theme minorities in minorities is a theme we have been working with for a longer time, and we worked together with a Palestinian theatre group in a performance called Making Senses within the theme, and in that cooperation we explored the theme through women with disabilities.
How is it to be a minority within a minority? How does the fact affect the person’s sense about oneself, one’s relationship with the world, the actions that one could take, etc.?
Tobias Poggats (actor): First of all, it’s not correct to name the sámis as just minority. We’re indigenous to the Scandinavian area, Finland and Russia and it’s important to emphasize that. Talking from the assumption that we’re just a minority makes it easier for the colonizing states to disregard their responsibility and to not make any progress in the area of Sámi and human rights. The image presented in the media of the Sámi is (at least in Sweden) a negative one, and further building on that is just plain bad. Please, don’t do that.
So talking from the perspective of being indigenous and queer – the most important thing to talk about is again colonization, I think. Since the states have languages, health care system, etc. that are the norm and Sámi exist in that world we’re affected by those norms. Queerness in the Sámi world is not just about broadening the gender and sexuality norms, but also about breaking the norms of the colonizing states in Sápmi. We’re are Sámi, and want to be Sámi – not better or worse than any other people.
What do you wish to achieve through this theatre? What is it that you want the audience to experience during the theatre, to get and feel after watching the theatre?
Elinn: We want to change people and the world. We want people be able to be themselves without being afraid or feeling outside the norm. We want the norms to change. We want the audience have a bigger understanding of how it feels to be different and we want the audience recognizing themselves in and identifying themselves with the performance. We want them to feel that it will get better, the world can become a better place if we work together.
Text: Yeonwoo Baik