Noisy Oyster reports from FiF 2023
Written by Sarah Rowland-Barker and Nik Palmer
Having spent some weeks as Artists in Residence at Fossekleiva in 2022, we were excited to be invited to return, to attend Figur i Fossekleiva (FiF) 2023 and present our finished installation - ‘The Noughty One’. We were given a beautiful space upstairs in the gallery in which to display it.
The festival was hosting eleven companies from Portugal, UK. Israel, Slovakia, Denmark, Brazil, Norway and Netherlands, as well as students from Oslo Met University, young professionals from Ukraine and volunteers from Norway and Czech Republic. But for the first couple of days there was only ourselves and Cat Smiths Company from the Netherlands present, which was a nice way of easing into it. We had met Cat during our earlier residency so it was lovely to get to know her a bit better. She encouraged Sarah to finally take a dip in the fjord, something Sarah had always wanted to do but had so far managed to avoid.
After a few days the festival was really gaining momentum with more groups arriving, lunches getting busier, and creative conversations happening in the cafe area. Boxes of breakfast necessities were given to each accommodation. Lunch and dinner was a social event every day in the festival café.
It is always lovely, but sadly doesn’t always happen, when a festival has its central hub where everyone can get together to share stories, information, and generally chit-chat. FiF did not let us down here. The cafe area provided a warm, relaxing place for everyone to gather.
Foto: Henning Photo
A program with something for everyone
There were performances most days and the first weekend was for children and family audiences. Our performance of Plain Bob started proceedings, christening the new second performance space - a lovely wooden building on a nearby farm. We were followed by an afternoon performance of The Nosey Little Troll by Garlic Theatre, UK, back at the Culture Centre, a really sweet family show with a lot of charm.
The festival had a diverse programme, with something for everyone.
‘Aurora’ by Marionetas de Mandragora of Portugal was an ecological piece, developed from the answers given by many school children who were asked what they thought most important to save in a forest area devastated by recent fires. The effect was an ethereal piece with a conservation message. At one point the fire, made from plastic sheeting, engulfed the whole audience, which was a nice touch.
It was the second time we’d enjoyed ‘Big boys don’t cry’ by Opposable Thumb, UK. As the theatre was full we had the pleasure of watching from the balcony, adding a new perspective.
We then all headed up to the farm for ‘Glamour in the Dark’, a musical cabaret performance with Yael Rasooly and Iliya Magalnyk. The accordion play was phenomenal, and Yael’s voice was really lovely with an old time feel to it. Her ability to switch languages between at least five languages was something us English can only dream of. She also treated us to an exert from her forthcoming new performance featuring a life size Edith Piaf puppet.
The following Saturday was the busiest day of the festival with three performances taking place as well as a meeting of the Norwegian Unima.
First off the audience was wowed by the virtuoso marionette skills of Alex Barti, Denmark. His single puppet captivated everybody with its wide range of expressions and abilities.
‘Happy Bones’ by Teatro Matita, Slovakia, was next. A very clever performer, at times improvising and creating an unsettling sense of risk, madness and fun. Yael’s second offering ‘Paper Cut’, a fun, strong one-woman show completed the day’s performances.
The festival ended with ‘Luna Park’ from A Tarumba of Portugal, which was a fun shadow performance which began with the audience being handed a golden bag containing chocolates, and being told to prepare for blast off into space.
Foto: Henning Photo
The highlights for us
We really enjoyed all the performances, but three in particular stood out for us.
Cat Smits Company’s ‘Dis Order’ was one. The performance included video of interviews with her parents and therapist, and was a strong insight into the life, trauma and conflict of someone living with this disease, and educated the audience in how easily it is for people, especially girls, to fall into this trap. The puppetry was excellent and a testament to Cat’s puppet making skills. All the technical aspects worked well in conjunction with the puppetry, music, and hard hitting script to really put the message across.
Another was ‘Antropophagic fables for fascist days’ by Pigmaliao Escultura que Mexe from Brazil. The theme was an exploration of the political and fascist state of the world today through Aesops fables using marionettes with animal heads and humanoid bodies set in a macabre and dark world. The result was very brave and competent piece of theatre. The marionettes were beautifully constructed and very well manipulated by the four operators, the use of red strings was a very nice touch. The narrator for the piece sat at a desk at the side of the stage and his delivery of the broad range of character voices was reminiscent of superhero cartoons. This instilled a humour to the piece which balanced well with the horror and gore of the action.
The third was a much more lighted hearted show ‘QUBIM’ by Trupe Fandanga from Portugal. This was an outdoor show performed in and around the back of a van. The van was situated against the stunning backdrop of the fjord and the horses on the farm, and the weather, cold, sunny and fresh. The performance was a well executed piece of object theatre with a beautiful aesthetic of old wooden drawers and boxes inhabited by the quirky characters made from found objects, often with a sculpted, cast resin head. The begoggled operators who became part of the performance were playful, and at times clown-like. The sound track, which had been translated and rerecorded in Norwegian felt warm and comforting and the music, recorded with acoustic toy instrument sounds, fitted the piece perfectly. The audience wrapped themselves in blankets and were offered hot cups of soup … what a treat!
Foto: Henning Photo
Party and ice bathing
There was an end of festival party at Franzisca and Niels’ which was a lot of fun.
One really nice thing about puppeteers is there isn’t the same battle of egos which can occur within other artistic disciplines. Everyone was welcomed and it felt like one big happy family. New friends were definitely made.
Many festivals we’ve been to are packed with several shows a day so you find yourself rushing from one venue to another in order to catch as many shows as possible, often missing some you really wanted to see. There are puppet friends whose performances we still haven’t seen even though we have been at several festivals together. FiF however was slower paced with mostly one show a day which was really nice because we were able to watch everything, which was a real treat. Sarah finally got to see Iklooshar of Garlic Theatre perform, even though we have been friends for many years, and have been at several festivals with them over the years.
Sarah continued ice bathing with new found friends one of whom presented her with a home-knitted hat and scarf. The final time her feet were the coldest they have ever been, but determined to keep it up, she’d already planned a swim in the sea with a friend the day after returning home. We even had an outing to two hardware shops which was very exciting for us much to the amusement of some of the others. Norwegian hardware shops have so much more choice of everything than English ones.
FiF managed to create a special space bringing artists together to chat and even collaborate. Nik asked Trupe Fandanga if they would like him to make a soundtrack for the end presentation of puppets made at their workshop. He spent some time collecting sounds by banging, scraping and rattling the many junk items the company had brought, and spent the morning sculpting the sounds into various strange sound scapes. He really enjoyed having the opportunity to be a little part of this. All the participants obviously really enjoyed, and were inspired, by this workshop and some lovely little characters emerged. There was also good range of other well attended workshops which participants enthused about over mealtimes.
We have returned home with a warm feeling, inspired, and with an invitation to return to Fossekleiva. So now we need to try to raise some funding - not an easy task in UK these days, but we will certainly do our best. Fingers crossed we will be back.