Gígja Sara Björnsson | Iceland
Meet our New Nordic Voices playwrights
PLAYWRIGHTS IN FOCUS:
”Being translated into English means the world to me, just the feeling of somehow, if even just a little bit, taking part in the extraordinary English speaking playwriting world! This also means that my ideas and thoughts will be accessible to a far more diverse and larger audience which not only feels humbling but also absolutely thrilling.”
-Gígja Sara Björnsson
New Nordic Voices is a new translation programme for emerging Nordic playwrights. The scheme aims to enable Nordic talent to find an audience overseas, gaining further recognition through the translation of their text. The selected texts from the participating countries, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland form part of a showcase 29 March – 2 April 2021, hoping to give the contemporary Nordic voices a platform.
As part of our article series, we want to shift the focus to our amazing playwrights.
Get to know them better through these interviews, and what theatre is like in their country, before the showcase of the first ever translation of their play. For our second one, we zoom in on Icelandic playwright Gígja Sara Björnsson and her play ‘Stuffed’.
How did you get into writing, and what’s your journey been to where you are now?
I started life severely dyslexic, so when I was able to write, I binged. I rediscovered writing when I was at the Academy of the Arts through a few courses. There is something quite tempting about putting your thoughts, words, hopes and ideas into characters, and this feeling has led me to playwriting, where I am now.
How would you describe yourself as a writer?
I think I am quite a chaotic writer. I think that I see the connections and absurdities in the world and really want to talk about them. I think that somehow my very vivid dreams seep into my writing. I have taken these dreams as a gift and a good starting point. That, in turn, tends to add a flavour of magic realism to my writing.
Tell us about your play and your starting point for writing it.
I wrote a shorter version of this play while at the Academy of the Arts in Iceland. I have, for a long time, been interested in how people view animal rights, but also just in very simple family dynamics. ‘Stuffed’ follows a very normal family, but the father has been absent, and the children are both full of problems and tensions. The father brings home a stuffed cat, a sort of peace offering, but it's a stuffed cat – who wants a stuffed cat as a peace offering? The cat seems to have some form of magical abilities.
How would you describe theatre in Iceland, what are the main styles and themes?
I feel Icelandic theatre rocks between two main styles, one is the more classical theatre productions, remaking and reworking classic pieces, but also a very open and free theatre form. Iceland is very small, and so our independent theatre scene is tiny, but I feel like it's an interesting dynamic between the many forms of creating performances. I believe that there are very few people who stay in one specific form of performance making, but that is also very Icelandic. Being a national footballer as well as a dentist is the Icelandic way, so I think that is a characteristic of Icelandic theatre – people seem to float between many styles and roles, which I think gives it a very rich culture. The performance and theatre course at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts is a testament to this: everybody seemingly needs to know how to do everything to keep theatre going.
How do you feel about your work coming to the UK?
I'm extremely excited about my work coming to the UK, I'm hoping it will resonate with people.
How has your translator supported you throughout this process?
My translator is amazing! He is not only brilliant at translating; he is very supportive of my ideas and has brought some new ideas to the piece. I really enjoy working with him. The play involves a lot of word play to do with animals, and he has been very creative in trying to find ways that convey the feeling and message of the play into English.
What do you think Nordic plays can bring to theatres and audiences around the world?
I think there is a culture in the Nordic countries that can be quite specific, and there is a soft harshness to the seclusion of these cultures. I think Nordic countries have a tendency to be viewed as feminist and social paradises, which fails to show the tensions and problematics within our cultures. For this reason, I think Nordic voices can bring an interesting twist on social issues. I'm not sure if I'm imagining this, but I feel like there is a tendency for poeticism and interest in nature that I think can be interesting to bring into an international setting. As well as this, I believe it’s important to have international voices in English, the most accessible language.
GÍGJA SARA BJÖRNSSON
Gígja is a French-Icelandic playwright who has lived and breathed the fresh Icelandic air and all of its quirks, for a decade. She trained as a Theatre and Performance maker from the Academy of the Arts in Iceland, which ultimately sparked her interest in playwriting. Her play, "Stuffed" will be her first produced and translated play. Gígja's writing is characterised by a fondness for the social fabric of Icelandic culture and the absurdity in the mundane.
written by Gígja Sara Björnsson, translated by Brian FitzGibbon
A typical Icelandic home; a mother, a father, a teenage son, an adult daughter and her newborn baby. They are a very regular family, leading very regular lives, well mostly. Omar spends his day playing video games, Daisy as a lawyer, Henrietta manages the house and Buck, well Buck just brought home a very peculiar gift, a stuffed cat. As the play unfolds, we peek into the emotional turmoil that lives in each character, but we also begin to see the very strange effect the new gift has on the family. The cat brings out the animal in each family member: Henrietta the mother hen, Daisy the milking cow, Omar the depressed messy pig. Only Buck remains the sole survivor of this mystical feline inspired transformation. ‘Stuffed’ explores the animal within our most human traits, what it means to be a “happy family”, and if we truly are what we eat.