Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer Theatre Summer: Conclusions

Summer greetings from Finland! I'm now finished with my Summer Theatre Tour. In my first entry, I promised I'd return to the subject in English and let you know what I learned during my summer of outdoor plays.

Let's go.

What on earth is this, and why is Batman involved?

It was only after a comment I got on my first summer theatre entry that I fully realised the idea of theatres closing down for the whole summer isn't familiar to everybody. Indeed, here in Finland, every theatre closes its doors for the summer months. Even if a theatre keeps producing plays during the summer, they'll take them outdoors.

There are a couple of reasons why it's like that.

Firstly, us Finns are big on summer holidays. The average Finn in permanent employment gets 30 days plus public holidays off each year, and according to the law, 24 of those 30 days have to be during the summer. So theatre staff takes a break during the summer like everybody else. (You can still see your favourite actors during the summer, though, since many of them work in outdoor theatres during the vacation.)

And then – the Finnish summer is fleeting, while the winter is long and very very dark. Even if the theatres cancelled their vacations and kept their doors open for the whole summer, I doubt anyone would see the indoor plays. We want to spend our time outside while we can. If you can combine that with theatre, it's even better. Outdoor shows are a tradition by now.

What kind of plays do the outdoor theatres perform, then?

We just don't know.

In a way, the Finnish summer theatre play is its own genre.

The most traditional summer shows are set in the countryside and have plenty of jokes about bare butts, drinking moonshine and getting laid. You couldn't stage stuff as lowbrow as this inside, but during the summer, it's what especially many older people seem to want.

Even the smarter summer plays are all comedies. July sunshine and tragedies simply do not match. When it comes to outdoor musicals, there are a couple of options – a jukebox show based on the music of some popular and nostalgic Finnish artist, or Fiddler on the Roof or The Full Monty. Nothing too serious or modern on that front either.

I had the honour of seeing one of those classic butts-and-booze shows. I didn't much enjoy myself. I hope that part of the genre will slowly phase itself out. None of my friends of my own age enjoy those plays, so maybe the new generation of audiences and artists will develop the summer genre to a bit more sophisticated direction... I'll keep my fingers crossed. It'd be horrifying to notice, in 30 years or so, that I'd suddenly have started enjoying that kind of humour!

It'd also be nice to see more non-jukebox musicals during the summer. However. I did see a lovely version of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change... But I'm afraid I have to confess my best theatrical experience of the summer 2014 was a jukebox mashup where the story of a popular Finnish duo of singing brothers met the story of Blues Brothers. Just the sort of stuff I couldn't stand if it was produced indoors during the winter.

I suspect that partially, summer theatre is about shutting down your critical brain and just enjoying the ride. For some, it's about laughing at butt jokes. For me, I guess it was about enjoying a silly jukebox show.

A favourite actor or two may have been involved. That always helps.

Not that I didn't watch anything smart during the summer months. I saw some really fun, clever comedies, too – and even some Shakespeare. I saw nine plays in total. All in all, almost 300 plays premiere in Finland each summer, both amateur and professional productions. 300! In a country of 5,4 million inhabitants, I'd say that's a lot. I really cannot call myself an expert based on my selection of nine. I barely scratched the surface.

But I can say this: I think it's amazing we have this much theatre in my home country during the summer. It's fantastic there are so many amateurs willing to share their talents, and so many professionals keeping us entertained during the summer. Sure, I wish the summer theatre repertoire in general would be a tad smarter. But still... We sure love theatre in this country, and I think that's fantastic.

Did I get rid of my prejudices concerning summer theatre, like I beforehand hoped I would? Only partially. But did I see some good shows, have fun with my friends, and in general have a good time? You bet!

See you on the Summer Theatre Tour of 2015.

Photos: Mikko Vihervaara, Heli Tiensuu, Robert Seger

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