In December 2012, Tessa Overbeek interviewed the director and artists of the performance Undermän. Their tour was coming to an end; a good moment to look back on a performance that had quite an impact. Below you’ll find the written report of the interview, which we’ll publish in four parts: on August 20 the introduction and a piece about the creation of the performance appeared. Today there’s a piece about the tour and reception of Undermän, on September 3 conversations about circus and realness, and on September 10 a piece about life after Undermän. Part one can be read here. If you want to react or have questions, just let us know!
Dit interview is ook beschikbaar in het Nederlands.
Part 2 – Life on tour and the reception of Undermän
I was wondering about the reactions you have gotten from the audience. I read that there were some lumberjacks crying in the audience and thanking the performers, but that’s all. So do you have any additions to that?
In Sweden it’s been hard with audience reactions because we’ve been dealing with the expectation of what Cirkus Cirkör is, and this is something else to what Cirkör has been. And I think that has been problematic because if we would have done it as an independent group, people wouldn’t have known what to expect really. Now they had an expectation of Inside Out, or Wear it like a crown or 99% Unknown. So it has been a bit harder. But internationally a lot of people were touched. Montreal for instance was amazing to play. We played there in Complètement Cirque this summer [2012, TO] and it was a huge success. They loved the theme and for them it was really new to approach circus like this. In England some of the reviews have not been the best we’ve had. But the audiences loved it. It was the first time that we played for people who have English as their native tongue. That was different, because all the songs came out in another way. The lyrics were much more important to them. And that was interesting, because it could have easily been a bit cheesy, but they seemed to be really appreciating it. In France it has been fifty-fifty; some people really like how this way of doing it really gives a lot to the audience: being honest, inviting people. And I think that some people have a problem with that as an artistic choice. I guess somehow they want something else, something (makes a face like he’s trying to describe the flavour of an excellent wine) French, you know.
You could also say that it’s nice that you are different from that…
Yes, well, I lot of people like that, but I know some people think it’s too easy. The show is quite straightforward, and I like that. But for some it’s so straightforward it’s not poetic to them. For me it’s poetic because it’s straightforward like a pop song.
Were there more people in the audience who came up to the guys to thank them or who maybe wrote to you afterwards?
Yes, we’ve had some people that have been writing and thanking us. They understood something about life, I think. People get touched because the guys are the kind of guys that they are, but they actually open up a lot; in a funny way, but also in a serious way. And we hear from people that that’s what they need to see, to take it into their own lives.
But did you think about that beforehand, when you were creating it? Or: how do we make sure that it doesn’t become too heavy, or at what moment do we have to do something funny so it doesn’t get the audience down, or…
Yes, I think that one of my big responsibilities was to play with the tempo’s. We work with the guys’ themes and topics, but it has a lot to do with creating an ambiance. I wanted to do a show for the audience, but I didn’t want to assume that the audience cannot handle some quietness, or some slower moments, and I think about that a lot. But there is also so much joy in it…to be honest, it is so great to juggle if you like to do that. And if you do that in this way with the music and with the guys, it’s amazing, let’s keep it amazing! But we’ve been thinking a lot about that: should it be fun or sad or…some things are sad, even when they are funny. Like the trio in the end, the acro-scene, for me it’s very beautiful, but it has really comical moments because of course they cannot handle each other perfectly. It’s a bit sad somehow. You also get reminded about the tragedy.
One reviewer wrote that the show was maybe made more for the guys themselves than for the audience; that the ‘therapeutic’ aspect of it became too important, and that it cost the show. Do you think there’s any truth to that?
No not at all. I think the show is really taking care of the audience perspective quite a lot: sharing something personal, but quite clearly with the audience, not only with each other. Showing both pictures and actions of how they have been working through it, but also in ways that invite people into their stories. To me, taking it to the cheesy point of doing the ring and feather act is very much an audience picture more than him [Mattias] just going into himself. He is not so introverted. So I read it, and I considered it a bit, but I don’t agree actually, no.
Mattias Andersson, Matias Salmenaho, Peter Åberg
I am always very interested in the ‘life’ of a performance and how it changes over time, because I guess performances always do, so I was really wondering how much this one has changed.
Matias: I don’t think it has changed that much. It’s also a choice from all of us when we are on stage. Because for sure, after you’ve played the same show for a while, you want to change it. But with this particular show we’ve noticed that it’s actually not so good for the show to change too much. Because when you have fun on stage, you can easily lose a little bit of the essence of it. So we try not to change that much in the actual show, but we have started doing extra numbers, like encores after the show instead, and then we get to freak out a little bit, it’s fun. We have changed some small things in the music so we play it a little bit differently. And for some mistakes we already have a solution, so it’s always the same. But sometimes it really goes wrong. Like I think the night you were there, we fell down three times. And I kind of enjoy those moments. As long as nobody gets hurt, it’s quite nice to see where the show takes us.
And does it happen a lot that someone gets hurt?
Peter: Once, in Neerpelt. That was the only time. And Matias broke his foot once.
Matias: But we finished the show then.
And how has the feeling of performing the show changed during the two years? Because when you first started, all the things that you are talking about in it were much more recent, and now it’s been a longer while ago and maybe the hearts have been mended…
Peter: We actually talked about it the other day. In the beginning you have a lot of adrenaline and you are nervous all the time, and now we have done it like 150 times and we are not as nervous. You get excited to perform but not in the same way, because you are so used to the show. Some things are much easier and some things are much harder. Keeping the show alive is tricky when you’ve done it so many times. Text-wise also (points at Mattias, who has the longest monologue in the performance). Maybe for you even more.
Mattias: Yes, the emotional part is the hardest. Because like you said: we are all more or less healed, so we have to dig much deeper. The first time we performed the show we were all really emotional. It was really hard. Now it’s almost the opposite, now we have to really try to look for those feelings.
So do you have any tricks or strategies that you use to get back to the feelings, and to keep it alive as you say?
Mattias: Before a show, I always try to think about my own memories, to get into it. But I have realized that it’s maybe not all bad if it has changed. In a way, people have an easier time to connect with the show now that it’s a bit more distant to us. But I’m not sure. That’s the hard part with this show. We tell a story that is very strongly connected to a moment, and when that’s hard, it maybe becomes too much for the audience. I think now it has become a bit lighter, the way that we speak about things and the way we tell the story. Through laughter people have an easier time to connect. But it’s hard for us to know actually.
What I read in a few reviews was that critics thought that the purpose of making the show was very therapeutic. Do you feel that way as well? Did it have that function and do you think that it helped you ‘heal’ quicker than you would have otherwise?
Peter: I think at least meeting and doing the show was great.
Mattias: Yes, that was very therapeutic. Because of the nightly talks in the sauna.
Matias: It was kind of our job to talk about it, and somehow that made it easier. And we also knew each other from before. So it was like a get together of old fat guys and we had to get in shape.
Were you out of shape before?
Peter: I was in better shape than I am now (smiles).
Peter: We were in different shape. I weighed like fifteen kilos less.
Matias: Yeah, I had to feed this guy (Peter) like five chickens every day just so he could lift me. He was really skinny before. (Pats Mattias on the shoulder) This one has always been strong.
This was the second of a series of four parts of the interview Tessa Overbeek had with Olle Strandberg, director of the performance Undermän and the artists Mattias Andersson, Matias Salmenaho and Peter Åberg. The next part, about circus and realness, will appear online on September 3. Part one can be read here.