The Norwegian theatre-company VERK is known for their epic and vaudevillesque form of acting with satirical and political undertones changing swiftly between storytelling, acting and improvisation. Their approach has always been to open up for all the possibilities in their work, mixing different styles and approaches that establish a strong connection with the audience with solid sense of here and now.
In addition to touring nationally, VERK has gained international recognition in recent years, resulting in several guest performances in Sweden, Finland, Germany, England, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland and Portugal. On March 27, 2012 VERK received base funding from the Norwegian Arts Council. As of 2012 the company will receive annual funding aimed towards developing VERK as a production platform for the creation of innovate and exciting performances.
VERK was founded in Oslo, Norway in 1998 by Saila Hyttinen, Fredrik Hannestad, Anders Mossling and Oskar Skulstad. . They started from scratch focusing on a collective working process and proximity/ lucidity on stage, and are now nine artists working together: Signe Becker, Solveig Laland Mohn, Håkon Mathias Vassvik, Tilo Hahn, Per Platou, Espen Klouman Høiner. Originally the group was based upon Grotowski’s research, Odin Theatre and Ingmar Lindh. They all had slightly different approaches to theatre, but the actor’s work was their main interest.
“The actor is not aimed at solving social or psychological conflicts, but to express objectively secret truths, to bring out in active gestures those elements of truth hidden under forms in their encounters with becoming" The theatre and its double, Alma Classics LTD Januar 2013, Great Britain
There are two aspects or terms in their work:
1. The social situation
THE SOCIAL SITUATION
Verks strategy in the work is to open up for as many possibilities as possible in the beginning of the process, overloading it with different types of theatrical aesthetics and references in search of interesting juxtapositions and unexpected moments. Everything is allowed, and failure is a main part of this work, to accept failure, to enchant it. This generosity towards the space and the social situation generates a lot of material with varying degrees of signification (meaning). Very little of this material is used in the performance, but it is more a question of gathering common experi- ences and references. In a way one could call these experiences a way to build up a sub-con- sciousness in the performance. What you see as an audience is just the tip of the iceberg.
The «social situation» is a crucial element in improvisation and the making of a performance. The term implies considering «the whole context as material for work;» colleagues, encounters, dis- cussions that ensue, time and space, actions, costumes, props, text, music etc. In short: every- thing outside of the actor.
The dynamics of the social situation provides tools that allow human beings to do something, «means-whereby», that is, things to do. The actors start to respond to the material, associating, making actions and equivalences, responding to each other, exploring improvisation as a method of organization. This way of organizing a performance is very different from directorial montage or choreography.
Verk tries try to widen the field of signification understood as «meaning in process» for the partic- ipants. They want to extend the limits of what provides material for the actors to generate and or- ganize their work. In this way the mechanics of «social situation» announce an event that makes it possible for a rapid increase of meanings.
The term «listen» plays a key role in Verks work of improvisation. For us «listening» is when you start to make your act re-actions, instead of conscious acts. To cultivate the ability of «listening» within a performance situation as the means whereby the spontaneity of everyday life can be made present. Of course, actions and words are, to varying degrees, already prepared, but in the moment they happen they are consequences of your listening, and not of your wanting to act. They can only be discovered again or re-discovered through your listening.
Behind most of the scenes in our performances there are at least ten or fifteen variations of the same scene, and these variations and improvisations lie there as possibilities for the actor to choose in the «here and now» in the encounter with the audience. Verk believes that this keeps the actors alert and alive and opens up for the possibility of creating new meaning with the audience/ spectator. But also a general feeling in the room that «anything could happen».
The question is how to make the performance experienced and alive. The improvisations are experiences in the search for meaning, but one could also say experiences in failure, and to fail as an actor is more than ok because we are not interested in the flawless. So when the actor stands in front of the audience she has the freedom to invent through experience and failure new meaning by the means of listening, and we encourage failure as an option. When the actor is on thin ice the audience will feel it immediately giving the performance situation a vulnerable and live feeling reminding the audience that this is «here and now», it ́s alive forcing the public to consider the real up against fiction. We are always striving to find the right balance between fiction and the real. When one manages to ride those two horses at the same time, a certain kind of ambiguity starts to develop and hopefully the performance will start to transcend, which is our main goal in our performances.