“It´s somewhere between a rep company and a theater school, a philosophy and a political position. It´s everything good theater ought to be.”
The enthusiasm of Artistic Director Brendan McCall in describing Ensemble Free Theater Norway, his new 30-week program beginning this autumn, is palpable. “The Ensemble synthesizes resources both in Scandinavia and the United States–professional, educational, and artistic. I can´t wait for it to start.”
After teaching at the prestigious Yale School of Drama for 6 years, American director and choreographer McCall moved to Norway in 2008 to serve as Rektor of The International Theater Academy Norway (TITAN) in Oslo. In just 2 years, McCall developed that NOKUT- and Lånekassen-approved fagskole in a variety of significant areas.
“TITAN´s student population went up 66%, I brought in three times as many guest artists, introduced extensive domestic touring throughout Norway,” McCall explains. “I also found it crucial to create more international opportunities for the students, to expose them to more theater, more kinds of work.” His direction of Ghostmachine performed at a theater festival in Holland last October, and he co-produced A Midsummer Night´s Dream with Gorilla Repertory Theater (New York) this past spring. After premiering the play in Vigelandsparken in May, the students performed in New York´s Central Park just days after graduating.
McCall admits that “those kinds of international collaborations are the ones that I enjoy working on the most.”
He is clear to note, however, that Ensemble Free Theater Norway is not ´TITAN Two.´ “I loved working as Rektor at TITAN these past 2 years,” McCall acknowledges, “but I´ve also had my own career for more than 25 years. My Ensemble project has its own unique, distinct identity.”
One difference is its Acting method, concentrating more on group-oriented process than just the individual actor “My artistic heritage is primarily informed by the ensemble tradition of theater, and not just Grotowski,” McCall explains, referring to the visionary Polish theater director. "That´s what I´ve learned to be the most effective, through experience and hard work.” McCall acknowledges being influenced by a number of past colleagues, including Kevin Kuhlke, Mary Overlie, David Mamet, and Ron Van Lieu.
“Theater, at its best, is a collaboration,” McCall concludes.
Another distinction of the Ensemble from other training programs in Norway is an emphasis on Playwriting. “There must be other authors besides Ibsen, right?” McCall jokes. “But seriously: where are the women playwrights in Norway? Where are the plays of those that live here, but are originally from Asia or Africa? Norway is in the middle of a lot of political and economic transformation. The Ensemble is just one way to pour this into our theater."
In addition to supporting the development of new student projects, the Ensemble will produce The Nora Festival in 2011, showcasing new plays by Norwegian women.
But perhaps the most distinct feature of Ensemble Free Theater Norway is its campus, which gives new meaning to the term ´university without walls.´ “This year we´ll be in at least 3 cities in 2 different countries, doing theater,” McCall explains with a smile. The Ensemble will perform with New York University´s Tisch School of the Arts in September, and then be in residence with the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship in Chicago until early December. Faculty include playwrights, directors, actors, producers, musicians, and entrepreneurs.
“We´re fortunate to be collaborating with so many diverse professionals this fall,” McCall states gratefully. “And their work comes from all over the map: site-specific theater, movement-based work, abstract, realistic. Ensemble students will come back to Norway this winter charged up and inspired.”
Because the Ensemble is so new, it is not yet approved by Lånekassen. The total tuition for the year is 55,000 nok–which includes international travel and housing.
“It´s a conscious philosophical and political position on my part,” McCall states matter-of-factly. “Ensemble Free Theater Norway is all about the work–whether teaching in the studio or performing onstage. This isn´t about making a quick buck off of theater students in Norway.”
Is there room available for an additional students?
"Absolutely," McCall says, "But contact me right away, as we´re performing in New York next month."