This autumn’s performances explore feelings of being lost and comment on beauty standards

At the end of the autumn season, two productions by master-level directing students will premiere at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy. As the title suggests, “Simba” Siim Maaten’s LOST delves into the experience of being lost, while Hallveig Kristín Eiríksdóttir’s Spegelsalen brings the latest graphic novel by the Swedish Liv Strömquist to the stage.

The world is at the brink of destruction. Solutions to a more sustainable life are out there, but for whatever reason, people are not able stick to them. What is stopping us? “Simba” Siim Maaten will deal with this problem in a performance titled LOST, premiering in November.

The performance does not promise to give any answers – rather, it does the opposite. Maaten says that in his work, he has taken the freedom to not solve anything, and he also does not want to sprinkle any pretentious positivity on the audience. He does not need to, because the performance is a school project. That means that Maaten can delve into his art completely without having to concern himself with the pressure coming from the outside. 

In the same vein, the performance does not have to be sold to grant committees, theatres or even the audience. And yet, the resources for making the performance happen are entirely professional: a proper theatre venue, proper lights, sound, actors, all the bells and whistles.

These kinds of opportunities do not come up often. That is why Maaten wants to make the most of this directing work and focus on applying as much of the things that he has learned at the Theatre Academy.

It is difficult to explain what LOST is about. Maaten believes that if a matter can be summarised in a few sentences, there is no point in making art about it.

But that does not mean that nothing can be said: LOST is an attempt to process the feeling of being lost. It is also a performance that explores different ways of using a chorus, which was common in ancient Greek tragedies, to explain and comment on what is going on stage.  The performance contains no linear plotline, but there is still some drama in it.

“Then again, people can find a visit to a museum, for example, linear if they so choose,” Maaten points out.

The material for the work is mostly the result of a method called devising, in which Maaten has given his working group impulses that have prompted the group to produce material. That said, the premise for LOSTmakes the performance personal for Maaten, as is the case in all his art.

“I don’t know what people like or what they want to see. I can only open up myself and share what I find important. It’s up to the audience to decide whether they accept my invitation or not.”

When making LOST, Maaten has tried to work in a way that would not push him towards a burnout, but that would still foster a sense of intensity that is important for creative processes. That has required sticking to a schedule – something that Maaten has learned after becoming a parent.

Maaten is originally from Estonia, and he first graduated as a teacher. Children and childhood, sustainability, the sea and relationships between people are topics that he finds interesting. His future plans include creating children’s theatre, among other aspirations. But most importantly, after graduation, he hopes to create performances that excite the entire working group.

A performance about the impermanence of beauty

In addition to LOST, the Theatre Academy stage will see a production of Spegelsalen, which will premiere in December and is based on Liv Strömquist’s graphic novel titled Inne i spegelsalen.

Hallveig Kristín Eiríksdóttir, a directing master’s student from Iceland, says that she was impressed by the Swedish comics artist’s ability to analyse big and even theoretical subjects in an accessible way that normal people can understand.

Strömquist’s novel deals with the pressure that women feel to look a certain way. The book examines the topic from a Western perspective and touches on the history of beauty ideals and how they have shaped us and how they self-sustain themselves.

Out of the themes discussed in the comics, Eiríksdóttir has chosen to highlight the impermanence of beauty, in particular. People strive for beauty, even though they can never own it. Spegelsalen consists of fragments that feature both fictional and historical characters, including Snow White’s mother, Marilyn Monroe and characters in the Bible. The scenes are based on the situations and ideas presented in the comics. 

Eiríksdóttir is currently working on the material for Spegelsalen together with her working group. Even though the rehearsals have only just started, the director has already found it clear that beauty standards affect each and every one of us one way or another regardless of our appearance.

“All of us are victims of Western ideals of beauty. More or less,” Eiríksdóttir says.

The observation is depressing. Then again, Strömquist’s graphic novel has been described as being more pessimistic than her previous works. Eiríksdóttir agrees with this statement. 

“Some people have better and some worse success in chasing beauty, but in the end, everybody loses. It’s a game that you can’t win. It’s really dark and pessimistic.”

In the performance, the tragedy of the topic is made lighter by humour and music. Eiríksdóttir regards comedy as the most intricate genre of theatre and wants to continue pursuing it. Humour offers a context for dealing with painful subjects, and it can also act as a tool for emancipation.

“First and foremost, I want to continue with collective and team-driven practice after graduation. That seems more important than thinking about what kind of performances I’d like to make,” Eiríksdóttir adds.

Strömquist’s novel is thick. There is an abundance of text and characters, and the director has had to trim a lot of content when adapting the novel for the stage. The languages used are Swedish and English, but Eiríksdóttir assures that the performance is suited for everyone, because it has relatively little dialogue. The director wants the performance to be accessible, just like Strömquist’s comics.

The graphic novel Inne i spegelsalen has been published in Finnish under the title Peilisalissa (Sammakko, 2023).