Marie Bjørn | Denmark
Meet our New Nordic Voices playwrights
PLAYWRIGHTS IN FOCUS:
– Marie Bjørn
”I'm very proud to have Apocalypse translated, I’m thrilled to explore its international ‘afterlife’. I’m exited to meet up with other Nordic playwrights as well as English playwrights in conversation about our writing, theatre today and our inspiration”
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 a 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 first one, we zoom in on Danish playwright Marie Bjørn and her play ‘Apocalypse’.
How did you get into writing, and what’s your journey been to where you are now?
I’ve been writing stories ever since I was very young. Some of the best childhood memories I have involve stories. My aunt is a storyteller and I remember vividly how much I loved being with her, hearing her tell stories, especially from Nordic mythology. I can’t say how many times I’ve cried to the story of Fenrir, the monstrous wolf whom Odin takes care of in an old myth… but it’s a lot.
My parents recently moved from my childhood home, and I found several stories that I’ve written titled “once everything was normal”, “the sad monster Viggo” and “Samson the great fly”.
Kids are the best storytellers, and I guess the greatest discipline as a grown up (or assumedly grown up) writer is to keep the child’s curious and critical look on the world around us, and never take no for answer, but keep questioning everything around you.
I became a writer by following a childhood dream of becoming a storyteller. It led me down many different paths, and in 2019 I graduated as a playwright from the National School of Performing Arts in Denmark after almost ten years of various courses and trying hard and trying not to give up – which I’m still doing.
How would you describe yourself as a writer?
Emo but punk.
Tell us about your play and your starting point for writing it.
My good colleague and friend, director Niels Erling, who directed ‘Apocalypse’ in Denmark, asked me if I would like to write a play inspired by the religious apocalyptic tales in both the Bible and Quran. Of course I would! It was a dream job to write a modern apocalyptic play of how everything will end – but in the beginning I had no idea how to actually write it. I wrote the play in the autumn of 2019 where inspiration of chaos and madness was everywhere to be found, with the Amazonas burning just to pick one example of apocalyptic everyday stuff that we are so used to by now - so you could really talk about a collective need for healing (I haven’t even mentioned what 2020 brought us).
I remember starting writing the chapters with the lovers, who deeply want a child. Perhaps because I needed to insist on love whilst writing about a world where everyone seems to have forgotten about it. I’m kind of tacky when it comes to always insisting on love, but love is the only thing we have that can actually connect us to someone else, a friend, a tree, a child, and that is so powerful also to be reminded of in the theatre.
Speaking of connecting, Niels Erling and I wanted the actors to connect with the audience, by telling the story of the audience, who once witnessed a play called ‘Apocalypse’. In that way ‘Apocalypse’ was written for an audience, but told from the future, starting almost every sentence with ‘you remember’, stating that the apocalypse began just after the audience had been in a theatre, watching a play called ‘Apocalypse’.
Two weeks after we actual finished performing ‘Apocalypse’, Denmark went into lockdown because of the pandemic, and in that way reality and fiction always connects like the last lovers in the world also definitely will…
How would you describe theatre in Denmark, what are the main styles and themes?
In Denmark, we have a strong tradition of producing the classics, like Shakespeare, Ibsen, Euripides, just to mention a few. As a young playwright it means that I’m in constant competition with writers who have been dead for up to 2000 years. But the dead are surprisingly strong and still very popular… Not that they shouldn’t be. But I miss seeing more new plays, especially on the main stages in Denmark. I think my generation of playwrights are extremely inspiring, rebellious and conscious of the modern world with all its political questions and battles, identity policy and the need to reframe how gender, sexuality and race are represented. And I am looking forward to seeing more of that on stage.
How do you feel about your work coming to the UK?
Very grateful. I am very proud of ‘Apocalypse’, and I’m so thrilled about the possibility of giving it a new life with this translation and the possibility of reaching new audiences and networks. And in these challenging and strange times, I feel very lucky to gather with international co-workers in conversation about plays and the need and longing for theatre.
How has your translator supported you throughout this process?
Kim [Dambæk] has been very supportive, and he has a great intuitive understanding of the play, and how its written almost like one long poem. I really look forward to reading his finished translation.
What do you think Nordic plays can bring to theatres and audiences around the world?
For me, the Nordic countries and its inhabitants have an embedded and charismatic dualism. Being brought up in countries where for half of the year we have almost no daylight (or that’s how it feels at least), I think you can find a natural melodrama in Scandinavia. Not in a highly dramatic way, but it does something to people, being so used to darkness. It brings out both an enclosed nature in people, but also an absurdity and humour - sometimes you just have to look for it.
I think you can sense that melodrama and humour reading Nordic plays. I mean, everything is so globalised now - and you can be in contact with your sibling or lover or friend or dog on the other, sunnier side of the planet any time you want - but I assume you still can’t remove the cold, grey, dark environment from the Scandinavians, even though we pretend it’s not here.
Marie Bjørn, born 1991.
Marie graduated as a playwright from The Danish National School of Performing Arts in june 2019. She was nominated for a Playwright of the Year Reumert in 2020 for her debut play Apocalypse.
Marie is drawn to the grotesque and magical in her writing, and she believes that reality is greater than realism. Her language is a mixture of the mundane and the poetic.
Her characters are often burdened with deep sorrow from having lost something, but they are always written with an inherent sense of humour.
Marie studies scriptwriting on the alternative film school Super16 in Copenhagen, and is keen to write both film and theatre.
written by Marie Bjørn, translated by Kim Dambæk
Apocalypse is a play about the end of the world. It is told from the future and written in a form where it dictates the story of the audience who once witnessed a play called Apocalypse.
Apocalypse is a story about the last lovers in the world, who desperately wanted a child, but had to flee from their home because of demonstrations, fear and riots.
Apocalypse is written in seven chapters in a poetic, rhythmic language. Its form was inspired by apocalyptic religious tales of how the world will end. Thematically it circles around the fear of losing: A lover, a friend, a child, our planet, or hope as a phenomenon.