From behind the desk and the sewing machine | From inside the process and the pandemic | Being with Oblivia in 2020

Still life from Theater Rampe, Stuttgart, 3 February 2020. Photo: Tua Helve.

Tua Helve | 15.11.2020

February

We celebrate at Theater Rampe in Stuttgart, Germany. We celebrate my birthday and we celebrate our magnificent new work, the music theatre performance Verdrängen Verdrängen Verdrängen that has been created in collaboration with Yiran Zhao, our new partner. We celebrate the premiere at the ECLAT Festival on 7 February from wherever we are: I am back to Finland and Anski is in Finland, too, and I recall the rest of the team is in Stuttgart in flesh and probably celebrates a bit more than Anski and I do.  

March

Verdrängen is still being performed at ARGEkultur Salzburg, Austria, 6–7 March yet the world around has already changed. Although we hope for the best and keep on planning the Finnish Premiere of Verdrängen in Espoo in late March it is as if we were not able to see the whole picture – and we were not, I assume very few of anyone in the world was. We are thrilled about the interest for Verdrängen. We plan the Oblivia Festival for the autumn and the whole following year, 2021, and we work hard on an application for a large-scale project for 2021–22 Annika and Alice have just discovered. We wait for the news from Anski and Meri, both in the final weeks with their new family members, the new Oblivia crowd.

If the pandemic in late January and early February for many was merely a strange feeling that materialized in an extra bottle of pocket-size sanitizer and a habit of more punctual hand wash, no matter what we do, during March, it becomes crudely concrete in the forms of remote work and ‘social distancing’ that turned into ‘physical distancing’, city lock-downs and close-down of countries, postponed performances and cancelled festivals, a fear of and actual losing of jobs and lives.

April

The pandemic forces us to re-organize and re-invent ourselves. By the end of the month, we decide to start regular Oblivia Zoom meetings. First, we stumble but we manage to gather and establish a new routine. We make jokes online, we report the current situations in Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Brussels, Helsinki and Espoo. We miss each other. We welcome the new family members to this strange world: two healthy babies that we all adore online. 

May

We become professional in our weekly Zoom meetings: we actually work together, again. We create and plan content for the Oblivia20 blog. At the end of the month, we hear news from the Big Project: we need to work more on our application, and it feels exciting. We spend much time together online and I feel a strong connectedness. The world around is crazy but we have aims, hopes and dreams. 

June

First, we work hard to finalize the June blog. We are inspired by the theme, Trust, and the collective way of addressing the theme – we create the first Oblivia Play, a funny all-encompassing multisensorial online piece of art. Once our internal Blog Master Anski has made our effort public, a smaller team of us continues with the Big Project to support Jenny, Annika, Alice and Yiran presenting our proposal for the jury. By the end of the month, we receive the information our application has been successful and Oblivia has been selected to the Big Project.

July

Annika and myself mini-celebrate in Helsinki over glasses of chilly cava in a chilly afternoon on a city centre outdoor terrace (safety distance: yes, masks: no). We muse about this amazing opportunity but also discuss other things. Once again, I realize the strangeness of life, how the past months have been just absurd, how great victories always entwine with great loss and vice versa, and how often either one or the other remains in the shadows of the other.

It is time for the summer holidays.

August

Now the Big Project news is official and we are free to shout it out loud that Oblivia has been chosen as the NRW NOperas project for the 2021–22 season. This means the Obsessions project will premiere in Germany, in Theater Bremen and Oper Wuppertal, in the spring 2022. We are thrilled. Annika establishes a new WhatsApp group for the NOperas communication and we gather back to work. In the yearly strategy meeting, many of us meet each other in a real physical place, face to face since months. We Finns still fumble with the masks but master the integration of participants via Zoom and present. With the NOperas project in mind, we outline a 5-year strategy instead of a more commonplace 3-year plan. We are busy. While the spring babies surprise us with their new tricks, we hear there is yet another baby member joining the gang. In parallel with all this joy, we – at least I – feel insufficient in the attempts to support Annika whose mother is fading away.

September

We start bi-weekly coaching sessions with Elena Polzer from ehrliche arbeit (GER) to strengthen and develop our collective working methods. Annika’s mother dies. Following the series of postponed and cancelled gigs, Verdrängen is being performed at the SPOR festival in Denmark: Alice, Annika, Meri, Timo and Yiran meet in Aarhus. Part of the team continues their travel to Wuppertal and returns to home cities with yet again stricter COVID-19 restrictions. The Verdrängen Finnish premiere approaches yet the related practicalities seem totally uncontrollable.

October

Verdrängen Verdrängen Verdrängen premieres in Finland, at Espoo city theatre as planned, six months later and with only one show. On the premiere day, I enjoy joining the rehearsals, joking and chatting and sharing remarks in Louhisali (live comments: with Yiran, Timo, Annika and Alice, via WhatsApp: with Meri). In the evening, the lobby is full. This is the evening I have awaited for so long – any night like this, and this night in particular. Although in Finland the cultural life has had better conditions than in many other places to bear the situation, being present with so many people from the field and beyond feels incredible. Maybe it is just me but I sense a buzz in the air and I am happy, proud and satisfied and I want to seize the moment.

November

We have started tomake Obsessions in the studio 3 at Eskus, Helsinki. We have crafted schedules and planned live and online sessions for the whole project timeframe to be held so that everyone is present. All we have experienced since last February is becoming material for us, both in artistic and practical terms.

In a weekly meeting, I watch myself in the Zoom window and I recognize lines in my forehead. I wonder if they have been there for long or if it is a memento from the year of the pandemic or a more general signal that another year has already passed. In a few months, if the Oblivia plans develop in the anticipated way, we will again be together in Germany. In February, we will celebrate my birthday and we will celebrate our magnificent new work that we create in collaboration with the local artists in Bremen and Wuppertal. The premiere will be a year ahead and who knows what the world around us will be like.

Epilogue

I have written this reflection about the past months, February–November 2020, as a costume designer and artistic team member of Oblivia. It felt meaningful not only to document the pandemic itself, how I experience it professionally, but also to remark how it has instigated changes – many good ones – in how we work within Oblivia. Most of all, these events simply materialize the omnipresent contrasts in the human life, the enmeshed shades of the everyday. Life and work, shared and private, massive and minute: all is material.

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