ABOUT VERK

The Norwegian theatre company VERK is known for its epic and vaudevillesque style* of acting, characterized by satirical and political undertones. They seamlessly shift between storytelling, acting, and improvisation. VERK's approach is to embrace diverse avenues of acting styles, blending various styles and methods together to establish a strong connection with the audience, creating a solid sense of presence and immediacy.

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. In 2012 VERK received base funding from the Norwegian Arts Council aiming towards developing innovative and exciting performances.

VERK was founded in Oslo, Norway in 1998 by Saila Hyttinen, Fredrik Hannestad, Anders Mossling and Oskar Skulstad. They started pretty much from scratch focusing on a collective working process and proximity/lucidity on stage. VERK collaborates with artist across the field of performance arts. People they are working with and have worked with is: Signe Becker, Solveig, Laland Mohn, Per Platou, Håkon Mathias Vassvik, Tilo Hahn, Pernille Mogensen. Espen Klouman Høiner, Jakob Oredsson, Felipe Osorio Guzmán, Lea Basch, Kjersti Alm, Eriksen, Ida Andersson, Ane Reiersen, Amanda Steggell, Camilla Eeg, Anders Paulin, Runa Skolseg, Jon Refsdal Moe, Vilde Jønland.

VERK has always been interested in exploring new ways for the actor to inhabit the stage, avoiding the imposition of strict psychological interpretations. Instead, they encourage actors to be present in the moment, attuned to emotions and impulses as they arise, alongside the audience.

“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" Antonin Artaud, The theatre and its double, Alma Classics LTD Januar 2013, Great Britain

There are two aspects or terms in VERKs work that are of uttermost importance in developing their pieces and their presence on stage:

1. The social situation
2. Listening

 

THE SOCIAL SITUATION

VERK's strategy at the beginning of a process is to find common ground for the participants, creating a space where they can exist without the need to "act". A significant part of the work involves engaging in dialogue, listening to the echoes of their conversations. The participants gets involved in the paradoxes and questions of the performance, and slowly they build up experiences, forming a “new language" that corresponds to the material they are engaged in. One can call this "material" a problematic field, a  field that encompasses topics, themes, acting styles, space, content and form. The problematic field resembles a virus, an infection that continuously poses questions and problems, enveloping the participants, creating new and unexpected shapes and reactions. The questions develop into problems which then becomes the content of new questions.

There is a significant acceptance of failure, perhaps because it is closely tied to the human experience, and within failure, many secrets lie. VERK seeks to accept failure and find enchantment in it. This generosity towards the space and the social situation generates a lot of material with varying degrees of meaning. Very little of this material is used in the performance; rather, it is about gathering common experiences and references. In a way, one could call these experiences a means of building a subconscious layer 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, discussions that ensue, time and space, actions, costumes, props, text, music etc. In short: everything outside of the actor. The dynamics of the social situation provides tools that allow the participants to do something, «means-whereby». The actors begin to respond to the material, associating, making actions and equivalences, exploring improvisation as a method of organization. In a way we are waiting for reasons to act. This method of organizing a performance differs from directorial montage because it allows the encounter with the material to drive the expression, rather than forming it through interpretation based on empirical memory. These fundamental encounters with the material are initially challenging to recognize and categorize because their nature is unfamiliar. However, as you develop a language that corresponds to the material you are working with, you begin to sense and recognize these encounters.

VERK endeavours to expand the field of signification, which is understood as "meaning in process," for the participants. They seek to extend the boundaries of what constitutes material for the actors to generate and organize their work. In doing so, the mechanics of the "social situation" announce an event that enables a rapid proliferation of meanings.

 

LISTENING

The term "listen" holds significant importance in VERK's improvisational work. For them, "listening" involves transitioning from conscious acts to reactive responses. Cultivating the ability to "listen" within a performance situation allows the spontaneity of everyday life to become present. While actions and texts are prepared beforehand, in the moment they occur, they are the consequences of listening rather than intentional actions. They can only be rediscovered or uncovered through attentive listening.

Behind most of the scenes in their 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 fostering the possibility of creating new meaning with the audience. Additionally, it cultivates a general feeling in the room that "anything could happen."

The question at hand is how to imbue the performance with vitality and authenticity. Improvisations serve as experiences in the pursuit of meaning, but one could also view them as experiences in failure. Therefore, when the actor faces the audience, they have the freedom to invent new meaning through experience and failure, facilitated by attentive listening. We actively encourage failure as a valid option. When an actor finds themselves on uncertain ground, the audience immediately senses it, infusing the performance with vulnerability and a sense of being live and present in the moment. This serves as a reminder to the audience that what they are witnessing is "here and now," alive and real, prompting them to contemplate reality versus fiction. We continuously strive to strike the right balance between fiction and reality. When one successfully navigates between these two realms simultaneously, a certain ambiguity emerges, and ideally, the performance begins to transcend. This transcendence is our primary goal in our performances.

 

*  Vaudevillesque style: The term "vaudevillesque style of acting" refers to a performance style that is reminiscent of vaudeville, a genre of variety entertainment that was popular in the US and Europe from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. This style is characterized by a diverse mix of acts, including comedy, music, dance, and dramatic sketches. In the context of acting, a vaudevillescue style typically includes the following elements: exaggeration, physical comedy, quick transitions, audience interaction, variety and versatility and improvisation.