IETM Mobile Home CONFERENCE 9.11. 2006 HELSINKI
Transmission- In From the Margins
NIINA NURMINEN, actress
is a well- known and respected Finnish actress, who has performed both on stage and on TV. For the past years, she has also given a lot of her passion and artistic creativity to the project Transmission, and found new and exciting work opportunities as a socially aware artist in different communities.
I graduated from the Finnish Theatre Academy 1989 and since then I have been working as an actor in Helsinki. Beside my traditional work, mainly theatre and television, I also use theatre based methods in communication training for work communities. I’m highly interested in how art and artists can take an active role in developing the society’s well being. At the moment I study at the Theatre Academy’s postgraduate training program called The Multi-skilled Artist. Does the initial art training today prepare the young people for work tomorrow? Do the graduating artists know that their skills, knowledge and experience from the arts are in demand in society?
I didn’t know that. In 1985 when I started to study at the Finnish Theatre Academy, it was known as the most expensive higher educational training after fighter pilot training. At that time, and even now, actors are trained to become stars and if you count how many feature films there are released annually in this country (15) or how many open positions there are at the theatres at the moment (1-2) and how many working actors there are in Finland (1500), you see that there aren’t enough spots on the stage or the screen for everybody to shine on all the time. When I studied we where advised not to collaborate with each other or work in different sectors. Actors were encouraged to isolate from everything that was considered average. Today this kind of attitude is not durable. The reality in the theatre world has changed a lot during the past few years in Finland. Until the end of 90’s we used to have so called “gravestone contracts” that was a work guarantee for life at the theatre. Now the contracts are made for 1 or 2 years at a time only, which make us actors all freelancers and the demand for multiple skills, collaboration, creativity, life long learning and broadening our field of work is essential.
In the year 2000, after a few fairly successful years as an actor and being for 2 years at home with my second child, I hadn’t the slightest idea what I would do with my career. Almost by accident I got involved in the international Transmission project for performing artists and a whole new world opened up to me. I felt I had been living in a box with hardly any knowledge of the reality people were living in and still I had been performing in plays like Jim Cartrights “Road”. I didn’t have a clue what art can do to those people who have never been to theatre or art exhibition, seen any kind of dance performance or heard a classical concert in a fancy music hall. Creativity, beauty and culture are our birthrights. They don’t belong just to artists or people who can afford to enjoy art and cultural events. They are fundamental needs of life.
Transmission is a research-action programme for practising artists that has been examining ways of increasing the mobility and employability of the performing artists. The pilot training took place in London in the year 2000 at the Royal National Theatre Education Department. I had my placement in the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) Business Performance Department where art based methods were used by actors who train businesses in communication, creativity and presentation skills. I was introduced to a communication coach, actor Roy Leighton who has been my mentor ever since. In the beginning we did training projects together in Finland and in the UK for school teachers and hospital staff using Augusto Boals forum theatre method. I learned the method by watching and acting in Roy’s workshops in the UK and in Finland. Very soon we had a small ensemble of professional actors who started to learn and practice the forum method in Finland.
Forum theatre is an interactive method that raises difficult questions and makes important and current issues visible in the community. The purpose is to provoke the audience to discuss about the key issues that concern them and to deal with those through different role characters in the fictional situations. Actors have a professional role as artists, never therapists, consultants or pedagogues.
The forum theatre group creates fictional scenes about the topics given from the community, rehearse them with the actors and run the workshop in the community. The audience has an active and important role. They advice the role characters to behave and communicate better with each other and to solve difficult situations shown in the scenes. Then the actors run the scenes again using improvisation and provoke the audience to look at the new situation or attitude from a whole different angle without giving any right answers. At some point someone from the audience comes in, replaces the fictional character, and tries out a solution himself. We never put the audience to act a character but encourage them to show how they would behave in the given situation. It depends on the audience how close the forum comes to the solution. The focus is not necessarily to solve any problems but to make them visible and raise an open discussion about the issues.
Forum theatre is a safe way to look at different situations without a risk of pointing out anyone in the audience. We work only through the fictional theatre scenes and characters never with real situations or people. The audience decides how deep they want to go with the discussion between and after the scenes. The “joker”, forum spokesman, leads the discussion and directs the scenes in front of the audience. It is necessary that the person who leads the forum is sensitive and skilled enough to know where to and how to lead the forum. You have to know your environment and audience, and also, be well aware of your motives and ethics.
I use forum in the work communities and the issues there today can be leadership, change, learning styles, creativity, team work, customer service and different languages and cultures. Most of our clients come from non commercial settings that have usually emphasis on common well being at work. They can be nurses, doctors, priests, clerks, teachers, social workers or library staff. In the commercial companies the main concern is often raising profit by motivating and engaging people to work harder for the company. That will bring up important questions like whom do we serve.
When working in other sectors, it is vital that our ethics, motivation and quality of work is clear. These are some of the issues that artists need to be aware of. Also: recognising our skills and transforming them to other settings, understanding different languages, needs and fears both of the clients and artists, marketing our “products” and understanding the power and responsibility of our work. Artists need also to be encouraged and see the value of their work. Postgraduate training can be a good start to prepare an artist for work in other sectors.
Since The Transmission I have been learning many new skills like the forum- method, writing, directing, facilitating and project managing. Theatre based methods are my unemployment insurance for life. When I’m not working on stage, I can still make a living by using my professional skills and even employ some of my colleagues.
Stretching professional limits and crossing borders requires a lot of courage and energy but we can gain a lot by broadening our view of life. All the stories that we bring to people will come back to us multiplied. We will hear and see and feel things we would never do from the stage. Our audience will be closer than ever before. I would say that it can make us better actors or, at least people who have a broader perspective and a better understanding of life.
Bringing the arts in to everyday life, down from the institutional pedestal, we can shed a spot light on people who deserve to be seen and heard, increase well being, creativity, joy, courage and self reflection. Art can have a crucial role in renewing and developing the society tomorrow.