compared to the other literary ‘connoisseurs’ in europe, theatre is a very young art in iceland. it didn’t really begin to flourish until the early 1800s with iceland’s first prominent playwright, sigurður pétursson (1759-1827).
in fact, it wasn’t until after the island’s independence from denmark in 1944 that iceland’s theatre and drama scene began to thrive. that too, only because the icelandic people realized that this was a great medium to preserve their language and culture.
cut then, to 1950, when the National Theatre of Iceland was formed and with it, a real sense of professional theatre, allowing the country’s performing arts scene to explode like never before.
today the performances from the national theatre alone number an impressive 300-400 a year and has been attended by 80,000-100,000 theatre-goers, giving birth to many other professional and semi-professional theatre groups in the country, including 540 Floors Theatre Company, founded in 1997.
540 Floors Theatre Company consists of a group of professional actors, singers and musicians, who take their brand of theatre to the icelandic grassroots and beyond.
this community theatre performs year round for all kinds of groups, happenings and festivals.
at its core is a group of performers that proudly wave the flag of Iceland and its culture and at its helm is gunnar sigurdsson, the theatre company’s director. he is backed by a creative and funky team of writers, einar már gumundsso, valgeir skagfjörd (who doubles up as musical director as well) and the cast and musical director, gudmundur i. thorvaldsson
this team have been responsible for a slew of productions including “The complete story of Iceland in 45 minutes”, “Fantastic Fairground” and their highly successful youth play “What If”, a cabaret-esque play that address drug abuse problems amongst youth.
“What If” premiered in 2005 and to date, has toured extensively around Iceland in 87 shows to audiences of up to 13,000 people. it has also made its presence felt in the UK theatre scene with sold-out performances staged by an all-UK cast.
quite a mean feat for a tightly run ship, so we thought we’d get the low-down on 540 Floors straight from its director, gunnar sigurdsson.
1. how did 540 Floors come about?
we started as a group of actors and singers with the purpose of introducing iceland domestically and abroad. we travelled to many countries with plays, storytelling and entertainment. we then developed into a theater and film company with an emphasis in putting up plays that would both entertain and educate at the same time. we also concentrate on making documentaries about life and various issues commonly experienced in modern iceland today.
2. how many performing and non-performing members are there in 540 Floors?
we are a full scale film company with a freelance crew that varies in numbers depending on the project.in our theatre division, we have eight people, all trained professionals.
3. what is the arts scene like in iceland and how has 540 Floors helped to grow it?
with only a population of 320,000 in iceland, running a theater company is a difficult task so we have to take on all kinds of other jobs to keep our artistic and creative minds occupied.
540 Floors has helped grow the scene by specializing in educational entertainment in theater. in that area we collaborated with the biggest theaters in iceland, such as the national icelandic theater. http://www.indiegogo.com/540floors
4. the shows done by 540 Floors run the gamut from traditional icelandic fare to edgy plays that deal with drug addiction and other teen-related issues. Which show is your favourite and which one the most challenging to perform?
“What If” is by far our most challenging project to date. our documentary, “Maybe I Should Have” about iceland’s bankruptcy woes was also another challenging project. Watch “Maybe I Should Have” below http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFXE7OB_3II.
5. what is the most challenging thing in the iceland arts scene today?
it depends on what you are interested in, but there is a group called Vesturport, a theater company that is doing very well internationally.
6. what’s next for 540 Floors? will you be doing any shows outside of iceland?
right now, we are excited about our plans to take the “What If” methodology to other countries and see how audiences will respond to that.
it definitely sounds like a great plan to us. best of luck 540 Floors troopers.
find out more about 540 Floors by visiting their website or if you’re interested in bringing the company’s “What If” methodology to your local community, you can contact gunnar sigurdsson directly on the site.