How long have you been the head of the Tampere Theatre festival?
I’ve been here since 2007 but the festival was founded in 1968. Tampere also has a film festival, various music festivals, and other annual cultural festivals.
I was wondering about this year’s theatre festival in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia is your neighbour. Do your festival events reflect the underlying anxiety that the Finnish people feel about having the Russian nation so close, and all this implies?
Russia has been always there. We have 1,500 kilometres of common border, and we are really happy to be in NATO, it’s a blessing. But before this Ukrainian war we had many visiting groups from Eastern Europe and from Russia who visited the Tampere Theatre Festival. They have many festivals like the Golden Mask Performing Arts Festival in Moscow which we visited almost every year, our theatre directors and theatre managers.
But now it is clear. No Russians, no Russian anything. But I think we share the same feelings with the Russian people, the same melancholy. That’s why people here love Russian plays and theatre. Hopefully, after the war ends the collaboration will start again. Hopefully. Nobody knows.
How is the Tampere Theatre Festival organized?
This year, we have 279 events. Many in the Off fringe. We have an artistic team with three directors: Hilkka-Liisa Iivanainen, Tanjalotta Räikkä, and Taija Helminen. It’s a part time job for them. We have one new director, but the other two have been here for four years. The continuity is helpful.
I’m responsible for the funding. The artistic team have their ideas, but I have to be the bad guy who brings up the reality of the money side. They travel a lot in Finland, because two thirds of the festival is Finnish performances. Internationally, they travel to a lot of festivals. They also look at websites, because nowadays the videos are really good.
We try to make all the international selections before Christmas, and the main national performances are chosen by the end of March. It’s a really busy time then; we’ve only a month to gear up our marketing and organize everything.
The city of Tampere provides the funding for this festival?
Yes, and also the Ministry of Culture and Education gives a little bit more than the city of Tampere. And one third is our own contribution, from ticket sales.
Do you have an outreach programme for students?
Students can have reduced price tickets on the same day.
Does this year’s festival have a theme? Are there themes usually? For example, at the 2023 Almada Festival, there were several non-verbal performances that shared the theme that the world is very menacing but people manage to survive anyway. I noticed that you have not publicized a specific theme, but do you see a theme in the choices you made for this year’s festival?
First of all, the performances have to be of really high quality and somehow touch the artistic team. We suddenly saw the themes. They were there. It is subconscious. For this year, they are themes of loneliness and social inclusion.
But loneliness, that is an inner state – wouldn’t that have to do with melancholy?
Maybe, but I think it was because of the Covid time. It was horrible for the students and I think for everyone. You had to be inside your own house and you just didn’t see anybody. The loneliness has somehow continued.
People haven’t learned again how to reach out to others in the old way?
Maybe not yet. And then of course the students, people who had to study, had to be on Microsoft Teams for almost two years, and they haven’t had any student life. Mental illness increased and is still increasing rapidly.
Also, another theme, among the Finnish plays is nature and climate change, although we are not in the same situation as the southern European countries. Now it is not too hot, and it is raining; we have water and we have a lot of forest. But we have to work for it. We have to be sure that the trees are healthy.
Don’t you have to fight against your own national industry which is producing paper?
Yes. That’s true. There is the problem of cutting down forest to make paper. Climate change performances in Finland are reflecting this problem. The performance Out in The Woods is about the forests. These last two days we have shown Kemi – II Memo of Trees (both only in Finnish). Kemi – II Memo of Trees only allows four people in to a performance, and they had eight shows, so only 32 people saw it. These performers are climate activists themselves, and they have their tables and they meet their audience directly; they give a lecture. The younger Finnish people are really worried about climate change.