ØYSTEIN RØGER: SUCCESS IN HIS POCKETS (2002)
On behalf of the Torshov group, Öystein Röger (38) recently accepted the Theatre-prize in “Night & Day” for Best Show – “Vi Er Ikke Kaker”. Röger has had success on theatrical stages for many years, lately with “Stones in His Pockets” with Kaare Conradi.
In addition to being described by his colleagues as a man who constantly has new ideas, he is also said to be a excellent actor with his own opinions with a slight temper. He describes himself as ingoing, but secure about himself and what he stands for. But who is he really?
- I’ve always loved performing, but I’ve never been very outgoing, rather the opposite. Despite this, I enjoyed standing in front of class at school and reading a poem or singing a song. Besides, I used to be in a children’s choir, started with amateur- and school theatre that I did until I quit school at 19. After my A-levels I had no idea what I wanted, so I took a year at Romerike camp. Turns out this was the place where actors realised they wanted to be actors.
After a year here, he applied for the School of Dramatic Art, but didn’t get in. So instead he went to Bergen where he studied theatre science at the University. During this period he realised it wasn’t just a hobby, but something he really wanted to do. In 1984 he applied again and got in, and since that time it’s only been theatre for him. How did friends and family react when the shy boy who had never been especially outgoing decided to make a living of being an actor?
- Apart from the closest family, most people reacted with curiosity. I come from a family where good education was the goal, and as most of them are academics they probably wanted me to be something “real”. Despite this, they were happy when I finally got in, because it is very hard to get through. This phenomenon isn’t new in the family either, as my grandmother started the Narvik Theatre and was the artistic leader there, but they knew it was a hard way to go. There’s no guarantee that you will actually be an actor even though you want to.
”THE YOUTH ASSOCIATION”
After he had completed his studies, Öystein was offered a contract with the National Theatre, but instead he joined “The Youth Association” with six others. Eindride Eidsvoll, Gisken Armand, Nicolay Lange Nilsen, Guri Johnson, Maria Toming and Lege Bragli. Together with director Paal Överland they decided to start this free-group in the autumn of 1986.
- We got financial support from Oslo and Haugesund. The Haugesund Theatre had just started, and we were allowed to stay in a house and do a play called “It Is A Pity She’s A Whore” which is a 1600’s drama. Hana Band, a music group from Stavanger made music for the play. We had a joined thing every morning with breakfast, work-out for two hours then training for the play. We were received with mixed critics, for instance we were slaughtered by certain papers. When I look back on it now I can laugh at it, but at the time it wasn’t particularly funny. We hardly made anything, around £1200 in a year, so we all had to take on huge loans. Despise this, it was fun and something I’m glad I did.
Through the years he has met a lot of challenges, but what has been the biggest challenge?
- The current play I’m doing is always the biggest challenge. I start fresh every time, and have to get into something brand new. Some have been more difficult than others, but for instance at Torshov, “Stones In His Pockets” hasn’t been the most challenging even though it may look like it. Jon Fosse’s plays, on the other hand, are extremely challenging. I once did a play called “Mother and Child” where I said “yes” and “no” for 20 minutes. So I was saying two words until half way through the show, while Tone Danielsen did the rest. Just to know how to say “yes” in 30 different ways, demands an enormous presence and feel for the text. It can often be more challenging with a small role than a main role, because a main character often has a story to tell to make it easier to do the role convincing, whereas a small character may not be as obvious and you have to work harder to make it believable.
Some artists have a ritual before they go on stage, but Öystein Röger has decided to try and keep it as ‘normal’ as possible. What does he do in the last half hour before a show?
- We obviously need to change and apply make up, in addition to warming up our voices and bodies. Especially for “Stones”, when we usually get there an hour earlier to prepare our bodies for what’s to come, look through the hard parts in the script and mentally prepare for everything. I don’t think too much about it, at least I don’t do anything religious. Some may go into a mantra and stay there, but that doesn’t work for me. I try to be as ordinary as I possibly can.
THE NATIONAL SCENE and THE NATIONAL THEATRE
Before the interview I had a conversation with Tom Remlov who used to be the leader of the National Scene in Bergen when Röger was there. He described Öystein as a lead-character, someone who has searched and developed his talent, but thinks he left for the National Theatre too soon and wasn’t well enough taken care of. The actor himself has a different opinion.
- Already when I went to school I had an offer from the National Theatre, but declined and started ”The Youth Society” instead. In Bergen I got a lot of challenges from Tom Remlov and developed a lot. It’s hard to say whether I left too early or not, as it means so much who’s in charge and who makes the decisions. Maybe I wouldn’t have been offered a job at all if Ellen Horn hadn’t been the leader at the time. There are a lot of talented actors fighting for the jobs, you have to find a place where there are directors who want to work with you, because that’s not always the case. Some periods have been really good whilst others have been the direct opposite. I’m incredibly grateful for everything I’ve accomplished, and feel privileged. One thing is to get into the school, another thing is to survive afterwards, so I’m a bit humble. I’m just glad I was offered a job.
In a conversation with Kaare Conradi I was told that Öystein has always wanted to work at the Torshov theatre. But why?
- After being at the National Theatre for several years where we can’t really choose what we want to do, it’s incredibly nice to have an opportunity like Torshov where we can choose what plays we want to do, who we want to work with etc. It’s hard, but the challenge brings back some of the fun. When the choices are made, we will have to stand for those choices and if it goes straight to hell we can only blame ourselves. It didn’t go particularly well in the beginning, even though we don’t regret doing any of the plays, but the general interest for Torshov hasn’t been there for years. It’s this autumn that things started changing (“I Hired A Contract Killer” and “Stones In His Pockets”). We stand by the choice we’ve made regarding using more physical theatre, develop a stage language that follows the time. Take chances, basically!
The four actors in charge of Torshov are now Kaare Conradi, Kjersti Elvik, Öystein Röger and Ägot Sendstad. As this small theatre is a part of the National Theatre, all four have contracts there, but of all possible choices – why the four of you?
- Why not? he laughs. – Now the actors contact each other and put in an application for using Torshov, but earlier the chief executives made the decisions. We have been a group talking about it for a while and agreed, and due to some replacements for different reasons, it ended up being the four of us. It wasn’t done on the spur of a moment, we’ve prepared a couple of years by reading scripts and discussing the type of theatre we want to do. Besides, we like each other, have worked together before, trust each other and the fact that we make a good team. The actors have never been so close age wise before, and I guess that makes it a bit easier to agree on an idea. I think it’s starting to shape up quite nicely and I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.
As earlier mentioned, the four actors choose the plays themselves, but on what grounds?
- Choice of play is usually connected with the directors. For instance “Circus” we chose for various reasons, for instance because it hasn’t been played in Oslo since the 70’s. It’s about surviving as a person in a world where everybody’s after manipulating you. As a comparison, we have the theatre that’s trying to survive against other media. So we did that one first as it said something about the theatre, and at the same time we tried to make Torshov special again by bringing colour and life into it. To start over again we went back in time and looked at things that hadn’t been done for a while, but is still applicable in our time.
Who taught you to be a clown?
- A fantastic English mime artist called Nola Ray. She came over five times during the trial, and we worked hard on my movements that usually take years to learn. She taught me how to walk, how to move, special ways to use my gaze, small details that could spice up the performance. The critics can say whatever they want, but hey can’t take my love for August the clown away. I put my life and soul in the character, and I think we did a good job on it. Now, a year later, it’s still a part of me, which my seven-year-old daughter finds amusing.
”VI ER IKKE KAKER!”
”Vi Er Ikke Kaker”, the second play that was done at Torshov, impressed the leader of Studio Theatre in Poland so much that he wanted it done in Poland. This was supposed to happen during the autumn of 2001, but was postponed because of “Stones” until April, and now it’s been postponed again. The title doesn’t tell us an awful lot about the play itself, so why choose such a non-describing title?
- There was a group of Russian artists in the 1920s whose goal was to talk as much nonsense and bollocks as possible. They had shows in the streets, in bakeries and just anywhere. The point was that it wasn’t meant to seem like theatre, but daily events. “Vi Er Ikke Kaker” was one of the things they just came up with, that may not mean anything, but was rebellious against the supposed truth. They worked in a dictatorship where artists were forced to work in a way that the state could approve of. These people were, in their own innocent political way, rebellious against this, and they ended up being killed. It can be compared to today’s stand up comedians. On the surface it’s a joke, but it still has something, a critique against something that’s supposedly true.
The play itself is rather unusual. The first 20 minutes it’s just a lot of insane movements. After a while we meet four people who under no circumstances can adjust to each other.
- ”Vi Er Ikke Kaker” is very physically challenging. We had to leave a lot of us up to our sub-conscience and not try to understand what’s impossible to understand – just leave it to our bodies and the situation to understand. We had a lot of good response, and some just didn’t get a thing. There were a lot of reactions; anger, laughter, some crying from the strong impressions, maybe they recognised the weakness in themselves, how hard it is to adjust to others, not to be different, to feel trapped. The play has never been played in Norway before, as it wasn’t released from Russia until 1989, and these are things that were written in the 20’s and 30’s!
WHAT’S HE LIKE TO WORK WITH?
To put things in another perspective, I decided to talk to the two women he works with at Torshov. They both agreed that Öystein is a playful and fun guy to work with, and as an example of this they described a couple of episodes from the trial of “Vi Er Ikke Kaker”:
- He came up with one new thing every day. Like that time when he decided to use the shoes the wrong way around, Ägot Sendstad laughs. – He put the right shoe on the left and the left on the right. This resulted in a permanent ache in one of his toes.
- Yeah! Kjersti Elvik grins. – And a couple of months later when he still walked a bit funny, he said with a smile, ”It’s just something about my shoes...!” Oh, and do you remember that time he brought his daughter’s sunglasses that were way to small for him? He got real shrimp-looking eyes, and it looked so insane we just had to use it in the play.
At the same time I decided to talk to Kaare Conradi, as he and Öystein worked together as a team on “Stones In His Pockets”. On an earlier occasion Kaare said that they would either end up getting closer, or hating each other.
- He’s an incredibly solid actor, always works towards a goal and is always serious. Sometimes you get a wake up call that reminds you how good and dedicated he really is, and how much works he puts down in a role. He’s also a very good friend, great to work with, generous, but asks questions and lets us know what works and what doesn’t. It’s an almost perfect balance between being generous, but not letting things go with the flow. I think the both of us may have a short fuse from time to time, Kaare laughs and refers to the time they spent together while trying to figure out how to deal with almost 20 roles in “Stones”. – We can both get quite loud and direct at times, but it passes quickly. It’s never serious, but it often solves the situation and we get to the desired outcome quicker.
STONES IN HIS POCKETS
As we’re onto the topic of ”Stones In His Pockets”, I guess it’s suitable to get Öystein’s view on this huge success.
- We have already sold out the extra shows in May and June! It’s not every day you’re a part of such a success. I hardly ever get any attention on the streets, but lately it’s happened more often and I find that very uplifting.
Half way through the play they have a five minutes interval with Riverdance. This was something neither of them had done before, so Lee Otterhold (dancer) spent 16-17 hours with them to try and teach them this difficult dance.
- It took a while to get it in, I admit that, but it was good fun when we got into it. Kaare (Conradi) has done a lot of tap-dancing, which originates from Irish dance, but has been developed. The difference is how you use your feet, and I think Kaare had trouble adjusting to that. The Irish dance is so fast, and relaxing enough in your feet to let it go automatically was very hard in the beginning. Lee said that learning how to dance is like drinking coffee: It starts in your head, and after a while it runs down in your feet. It’s actually true, one day our feet just did it without quite knowing why. The secret is not to think, cause then you screw up.
Kaare and Öystein almost had ten personalities each in this play, and one can just start to imagine the frustration in the beginning regarding who you’re supposed to be at all times. The most fun, I thought, was to see them play women. I wonder how you can prepare for something like that?
- One has to think situation and how these people are. Aisling was a very fun character to do. She’s a hard lady; career minded and wants to make something of her life. I think she grew up being really spoilt. Maybe she was an only child? You see, we have to make up stories like this. She was probably used to getting a lot of attention from her director daddy, getting what she wanted, and is absolutely not used to persistent and stupid farmers. She doesn’t know much about life besides being driven to school and getting her way, is self-absorbed and has close to no humour or self-irony. Caroline and Aisling were definitely the most fun. The hard part was to prevent it from being too much, but here that’s in a way allowed, as it’s a comedy. Charlie and Jake are the main characters, and require more realism, while the other characters can be a bit over the top to make them noticeably different. It was like a game between two people, like kids do. A ton of fun! I’m lucky to be a part of a production like this!
THE DARK SIDE
During the trial period for ”The Shadow” by HC Andersen, Öystein was told by his doctor to take it easy and take time off. As he is the only one of the four with family and children, he carried an extra weight on his shoulders. When they needed him at Torshov at the same time that he had children at home that didn’t see daddy enough, it’s naturally a big pressure on both ends. He’s also the only who hasn’t had a break at all, while Kjersti and Ägot had time off when “Stones” was on, and Kaare had time off when “I Hired A Contract Killer” was running. It was his time to have time off after “The Shadow”, but after doing six major roles in a row, he just collapsed.
- To cancel a show is literally impossible, as the audience is waiting and have paid for me to entertain them. I’ve played with a high fever, which is probably not healthy, but they’ve paid and I’m going to make their money’s worth. I was very upset that I couldn’t even finish “Stones” in January, but was told that I had to stop immediately. It’s very important to listen to your body – at least that’s what the doctors say, he grins.
Öystein has never had this much time off before, and even though he’s a bit restless he’s glad to be home with his family.
- Now I can actually put on my jacket without getting to work. A lot of times it could be days between each time I saw the children, and now I’m there all the time. I can go skiing and playing with them… it’s a whole different life. I’m not going to do anything until “Stones” in the middle of May, so I have a lot of time to do things I don’t normally have time to. I’m even going to freshen up my French!
I wonder if he’d do something different, if given the chance?
(long break) – The only thing I wish I’d done earlier is to not have so much respect. A natural part of development is to trust my own intuitions, and I admire those who dare to trust themselves from the very beginning. There were times I should have trusted myself, but didn’t. You have to go for what you believe in – and know that you never stop learning.
What does he want to be able to tell his grandchildren when he’s getting older?
- I want to be able to tell them a lot of good stories about a colourful mix of good fun, he grins.
Something tells me he doesn’t have to wait that long to tell about a colourful life as an actor – as the first part has hereby just been told.