We don’t give a damn about what happens in other countries, it’s none of our business. We have enough of our own problems! - We have too many foreigners in Sweden, we can’t accept them all here. Send them back home!

These are some of the opinions that brought Teater UNO together. One could say that statements like these are one of the cornerstones of our work - one of the reasons why we exist. Our goal is to replace these opinions with a set of values - values based upon knowledge. And, conversely, these attitudes have proved well-suited to crushing themselves. It was an interest in what are called developing countries and Sweden’s not-always-so-perfect international face that brought us together.

The year was 1977 and we had found some homesick friends from Chile, Uruguay, Argentina… In short: we were engaged with international problems and had some knowledge that we wanted to share with others. We were looking for an audience with the ability to understand the global perspectives and, of course, we wanted to reach as many as possible. We chose pupils in the final year of lower secondary school - the last stop before the serious segregation starts. We also found the most efficient tool - theatre.

Unfortunately, neither developing countries nor theatre are particularly subject with Swedish 15-16 year-olds. In some respects they are a very ungrateful audience, especially if you’ve been expecting a hopeful crowd in front of you. (Yes, we have been able to to make comparisons throughout the years. We have performed for hope-filled children and often shown our plays intended for youngsters, to interested adults.)

Some years ago a couple of Cuban theatre workers came with us to a school. Whilst they were still applauding after the show, about half of the audience had already seated themselves in the canteen. Our guests were very surprised; they found the pupils very impolite considering that they hade been invited to the theatre during school-hours, in htheir own school!

The way we tour with school-theatre for Swedish youth which has been our main occupation for over ten years - could be compared to a game of football where we are always the away-team. Sadly enough, we are often loosing by a couple of goals even before the match has started - sometimes it is even worse - and at other times it’s more like the logical 0-0, which we very much appreciate. It’s essential for it be a draw before the break, and preferably to be in the lead.

Is this a piece on “The importance of masochism in Swedish youth-theatre?” Not at all. You know yourselves how much an away win is worth compared to the expected victory at home. Generally we like to play youth-theatre. You can’t perform for an audience that you don’t basically like!
Young people’s natural resistance is fruitful: they answer you back. The meeting between audience and actors becomes, to a large extent, alive. Their response is immediate: they dare to be inquisitive; they allow themselves to be absorbed by the story and they are not afraid to laugh loudly.

We always flavour our brutal stories with a good measurement of jokes. Humour opens the way to profundity. Sometimes when applause and encouraging remarks are scarce - when the Cubans were for instance - one still detects a response, but a different, Swedish teenage nature: “Well done” somebody says; somebody else says “Thanks” secretly in the school corridor; a third nods appreciatively from the queue in the canteen.
They have their manners and customs - and their armour. Sometimes the armour is so impenetrable from watching TV, videos, cinema-screens and using headphones - that they can’t comprehend that we are alive. They are used to talking and fidgeting - it has never disturbed Clint Eastwood!

They are susprised when, by different means, we get them to understand that to a large extent, it’s up to them what the performance is going to be like.
To reach this usually elusive but rewarding audience, once has to choose tactics carefully. Our method (based on practical work amongst youth) is to come to them. In our case this includes meeting the audience as individuals before the performance; and afterwards following up the theme of the play by drawing parallels with our own reality - often with the help of statue theatre in the spirit of Augosto Boal.

We consider a number of around 75 as a manageable audience, not at least because of our extreme closeness to the audience. We don’t always let them remain spectators. They participate by becoming everything from furniture to named characters, taking into consideration where we are in the actual scene. This participation from the audience - often of a transient nature but always there as a concept - has proved to be what the youngsters appreciate the most. There is another advantage: one can more clearly rememeber what one has been a part of.

Whilst form is important, it is probably more vital for us to remain an independent theatre group with a defined purpose. We have no employer. We perform what we ourselves find is valuable to pass on to others. Teenagers will always notice when adults offer false moral lectures. If they are to listen they have to see that our engagement is personal and deep.
Finally, our subject are international but our target-groups is primarily Swedish. Our goals are, amongst others, to reduce the usage of the language that introduced this article.

Carl Harlén 1990