Thursday, March 27, 2008

What's It Like in Iceland?

David Cote gets an invitation to the Lokal festival in Iceland and gives us a preview of an article which will appear in the Yale Theater journal:

It was interesting. Farty-smelling water from sulphur. Wickedly expensive. Insular. Nordic. Beautiful people - if you like the translucent-skinned elvish type. Scary, depressing hard drinking on weekends. Local theater is both slick-Euro and about 15 years behind the avant-curve. Reykjavik is a small Scandy town with one main street full of overpriced boutique stores. Men who look like rugged, homicidal Vikings but turn out to be exceedingly polite. Four-dollar hot dogs with crumbled onion rings and three types of sauce…very popular. And delicious. Dank, cold, dark.


But globalization and the enduring appeal of American pop culture means that Reykjavik is no longer a quaint, hardscrabble town but a burgeoning, eco-sensitive, hip and highly commercial tourist destination. On weekends, its young residents pour onto the street and pack into bars in frightening displays of binge drinking after a week of hard work. Everyone speaks English, since so few visitors have mastered the ancient Viking tongue that natives speak. It’s the most sophisticated hamlet you’ll ever visit.

So the country is stable, affluent and educated. There is a healthy theatergoing culture, but a self-sustaining experimental scene still needs to be nurtured. Iceland has not produced its Robert Wilson, its Wooster Group, its equivalent of Off-Off Broadway, or even its own exportable mainstream playwrights. Its productions hardly ever make it to the Brooklyn Academy of Music or Le Festival d’Avignon.

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