Next weekend Act Alone, Iceland‘s solo performance festival will be held in Suðureyri in the Westfjords. Elfar Logi Hannesson founded the festival in 2004 and is now the artistic director. Culture Smuggling contacted him to ask about solo performances, the arts and the Westfjords.
What made you so interested in solo performance?
Good question, just singular. What happened was really that the form chose me. When I moved here to the Westfjords at the turn of the century I was the only professional actor in the area, so the only thing to do was to act alone and that’s what I’ve done ever since.
Favourite solo performance (and you’re not allowed to mention something that’s showing at the fest now)?
Wow, a tough one. I’d like to mention a hundred but I’ll say A Metamorphosis (Umbreyting) by and starring the great master Bernd Ogrodnik.
It’s a tough form – and many stories can be tought to portray with just one actor. Can you share some thoughtful solutions you’ve seen over the years?
The solo performance is so simple it either works or not. First and foremost, it’s the story, like in any art. With a good script you get away with everything. The main challenge is always to find the way to do it and that can take months, but when you’ve found the way the play tends to find it’s way quite easily. Yet it’s the simplicity that always charms me the most.
What do you find most fascinating with Suðureyri?
The poople living there. Best hosts in the country.
The festival has been going strong for a few years now, just like Aldrei fór ég suður (I Never Went South, a music festival in Ísafjörður during Easter) and Skjaldborg (a documentary festival in Patreksfjörður during Pentecost weekend). What effect have they had on the art scene in the Westfjords during this time?
If it wouldn’t be for those festivals the art scene would certainly not be as lively as it is. This festival trio has certainly strengthened the art scene on the Westfjords a lot. They’ve all been a big success and proved that life isn’t just bacalao, not even in the Westfjords. The quality has improved, as well as the variety and there is more professional art now. People have long known the countryside is very good to create and particularly here in the west, with all this budding nature. And lets not forget all those people who have been tirelessly coming to those events and they want more. If anything, we can add to the art scene, add more festivals and strengthen the professional arts in the area. I’ve often encouraged the authorities here to bet on culture as our economic golden egg.
Is there anything in particular you would want to do to strengthen the cultural live in the countryside?
That those in control of the money bet on the culture because that’s where the future is.
Entrance to the festival is free – how do you make it all work?
Act alone is a good example of a successful cooperation between the art world and the local industries. Many companies have been with us since the start, all the way from the first festival in 2004, and every year a new idealist company takes part. The town of Ísafjörður and our development fund has also supported us.
Tell me a bit about this years festival – what are the main solo performances?
This years schedule is very varied, from theatre to dance and everything in between and around. Among the solo performances this year are Sanctuary (Griðastaður) with Jörundur Ragnarsson and The Godmother (Guðmóðirin) with Ebba Sig. The dance show FUBAR has been a big success and it’s great to get it here. And lets not forget the unique children play Vera and the Water (Vera og vatnið). This year there is a certain emphasis on solo music and we offer concerts with Helga Möller, Siggi Björns, Pétur “Jesus” and Jón Jónsson. Not to forget Ómar Ragnarsson, who’ll be showing both the soft and funny side, singalongs and all.
As you’ve mentioned it’s not all theatre, even if there’s usually only one person on stage – on what criteria do you chose the other acts?
Every year we’ve been adding art forms. The only rule is that there is only one artist on stage at once. So Act Alone has become a singular art festival for the solo scene. And finally, did I mention it’s all free – like it has always been?
Interview: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson