Teater NOR

Teater NOR is an independent theatre company based in Lofoten, Nordland.

The company was established in 1990 under the name of Lofoten Teater, and has been led by Thorbjørn Gabrielsen from the start on. In 1997 Lofoten Teater split, and the one company took the name of Teater NOR, while the other kept the name of Lofoten Teater.

Teater NOR always develops its projects from scratch. The company’s work is characterised by its close attachment to the coastal culture, its examining, genre-crossing expression and a strong anchorage in a poetic audio visual tradition. The past decade the company has toured all of Europe with its productions.


(Objekt ID 34)
Object type Organization
Organization type Theatre company
Main focus Performance, Multidisciplinary art, Theatre
Established 1997
Email teater.nor@online.no
Website Teater NOR
Expressions Performance, Theatre

Contact information

Address J.M. Johansensvei 97, 8340 Stamsund, Norway
Email teater.nor@online.no
Telefon 76089880

Other information

Legal entity Limited liability company/AS or ASA
Org nr. 979 555 636
Member of The Norwegian Association of Performing Arts/NAPA

Teater NOR is located in the small fishing village of Stamsund, in the municipality of Vestvågøy in the Lofoten islands, North of the Arctic Circle, 4 hours by boat from the mainland, towards the open Norwegian Ocean. Stamsund has about 1500 citizens, most of whom are connected to the fishing industry in one way or another.

For centuries the spawning cod migrating from the Barents Sea each year during February, March and April has been the very basis for existence in these Arctic islands. During the traditional Lofoten fishing season in the winter, people from all over Norway come by boat to participate. The entire local society is organised around fish and fishing. In Lofoten there is a thousand-year-old tradition for catching, drying, processing and exporting fish. Life near the sea, at sea, and the dependency of the sea, has contributed to the development of cultural traditions colouring our history, mythology, folk music, storytelling techniques, architecture, thought processes and life style.

Teater NOR finds that the fisherman’s life describes the Lofoten mindset: "We know that the fish are out there, but we are never certain we’ll haul in a catch, or how much we will catch. We have good years and bad years, but our optimism and expectations are as great each time. The generosity and whims of the sea have been among the prime movers for this small society’s existence at any given moment, as well as its prospects for the future. We live in direct symbiosis and continual dialogue with Nature."

The traditional way of life has always been a combination of fishing and farming. Cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and chickens, as well as a small vegetable garden, were often the women’s responsibility, while the men were fishing at sea. The Arctic climate makes agriculture difficult in the Lofoten islands, but the Gulf Stream, green mountainsides and abundant grazing land have made it possible to survive from the fishing-farming way of life.

Teater NOR began as a project for young people in February, 1990, led by Thorbjørn Gabrielsen and using the name of Lofoten Teater. The fishing industry had collapsed; unemployment and depopulation had become critical problems. The public authorities started projects designed to offer young people hope for the future, as well as belief in the possibility of a life and career in the local community. Lofoten Teater received grants from Nordland County, the children’s protection services, and the office of employment opportunities. The municipality of Vestvågøy allowed the company to use the old community hall in Stamsund, with a theatre accommodating 300 spectators, a traditional stage and good rehearsal rooms. It was here that the theatre created its first production, with the help of experienced artists from the region. The performance was about being young in Northern Norway, and the show toured the whole region by boat.

From this fundament, Teater NOR has developed. The development from being a group of young people threatened by the future to becoming a regionally, nationally and internationally acknowledged professional theatre company has been a long road to travel. The theatre company describes it in the following manner: "Maturation has been painful. One consequence of continually wanting to go one step further is that one never has both feet on terra firma, and thus finds oneself in perpetual flux, leaving friends, colleagues and, at regular intervals, even home base."

Even at the very beginning, the company was conscious of the fact that it had started an activity far from traditional in local society. Theatre in Lofoten at that time was synonymous with a solid amateur revue tradition, coupled with sporadic visits by The Norwegian Touring Theatre and the regional institution theatres from Tromsø and Mo i Rana, Hålogaland Theatre and Nordland Theatre. At the time, these companies generally staged regional variants of the same repertoire that was shown in the capital, which in turn consisted of reflections of theatre being performed in the larger European cities.

Lofoten Teater began its work by trying to learn as much as possible about coastal culture. Several of the company’s members at that time, among them the performers Bjørg Arntzen, Barbro Laxaa, Andreas Eilertsen, Geir-Ove Andersen and the driver/set builder and technician, Atle Johansen, had all grown up in Lofoten or other coastal communities along the coast of Nordland, and they all carried coastal culture with and within them. Without the benefit of this cultural connection, the company’s work would certainly have been much more difficult in the initial stages, and perhaps even impossible.

The first performances were proving grounds, in the sense that the subconsciously harboured a need to show that it was in fact Lofoten’s theatre ensemble, a part of the coastal culture and with an understanding of it. Thorbjørn Gabrielsen describes it in the following manner: "Although we used modern methods and forms of expression, the subtext was of the romantic variety; look at these exceptionally beautiful people who have lived here from time immemorial; see how strong their cultural traditions are. We have never since had so much local success as that experienced through these performances. When one tells the public that they are beautiful and strong, audiences become very appreciative, as a rule. We learned much from these first performances. A socio-anthropological approach to our own culture, or to the parts of it with which we choose to work, lies at the base of our endeavours, as a natural point of departure for all of our further work processes. The magic in retrieving something from our own local society and reworking it so that it communicates on a subconscious plane in a universal way is something we continually strive for today, even though both the work processes and the goals have become more nuanced."

The process of developing the actors’ techniques and tools of the trade began with abundant enthusiasm and otherwise blank resumes. The path to development has led the members of Teater NOR through studies at university colleges, courses and seminars, but first and foremost, diligent personal training, trying and failing have been means of progress. At the outset, Teater NOR produced two performances per year, touring wherever possible and for humble salaries, in order to learn by allowing the productions to meet a live audience. This synapse with audiences was, for a very long time, our most important reference in the learning process. Slowly but surely, Teater NOR built what is described as a fragile, yet personal, professional platform allowing the artists to think forward and to dream of a contemporary professional theatre company in the Lofoten islands.

Thorbjørn Gabrielsen describes the development like this: "In the attempt of creating something new, rather than mimic older revue traditions or make feeble attempts at recreating the productions of the heavier institutional theatre troupes in a small place like Stamsund, we stood entirely alone. This did not owe to local conservatism or lack of accept; on the contrary. The point is that the general audience totally lacks a frame of reference for understanding what one is trying to achieve. It is understandably difficult to grant financial support to a project when one hasn’t the faintest idea of what the project entails. There were no traditions for this type of work in Lofoten, so that we had no one with whom we could discuss or compare our experiences. It was especially difficult in our early apprentice period, when we sought answers to basic technical and methodological questions. Outward we projected failure, because the distance was between what we wanted to show, maintained we were able to show, and what actually appeared on the stage turned out to be too long. When one works in a concentrated and goal-oriented manner for years, without reaching some degree of recognition, or without being able to point to satisfying results, it affects one’s self-image as well as the image perceived by others. One loses one’s youthful charm forever. A large dose of personal integrity is needed to survive this process without giving up or turning to simplistic and safe solutions. The world outside, as well as the public authorities who were initially enthusiastic and co-operative, begin time and again begin to doubt the theatre company; has it lost its sense of direction? There is a limit to how many failed attempts a company can withstand before being abandoned. This period of our history was tremendously difficult, and from time to time it caused colleagues to give up and abandon us in despair. However, the process was also educational, as the same mechanisms are needed in order to conquer new territory.

When the situation began to improve, and the performances no longer collapsed because of the simplest technical failures, we discovered that people throughout the country don’t expect highly polished theatrical quality from Lofoten. People associate North Norway with spectacular natural surroundings, fish, mountain reindeers and natives who use a lot of foul language. The general belief in this myth or truth, we have had to accept to face constantly, in our contact with funding authorities and with the media. Even today, when the media in the capital city write about us, the articles more often deal with where we work, rather than the content of our work."

Lofoten Teater and Teater NOR also have faced economic struggle, before and after the split. Thorbjørn Gabrielsen describes the challenges in the following manner: "In Norway, to establish a private professional theatre troupe stubbornly going ways of its own is not a good business idea. No one commissioned us to found a new company, and the consequences of and responsibility for our actions are exclusively our own. It can be said that Norway, for as long as Teater NOR has existed (and long before that, as well), has made a concerted effort to prevent constellations of this type from being established. In this country, there has always been an oracular belief in the politically directed institution’s well regulated superiority. Hence, cultural authorities have never made room for permanent theatres outside of this framework. (This is perplexing, since it would seem that opening for alternative theatre would be in the very best social-democratic tradition, granting the most noisy elements sufficient funds and space in which to cultivate their genius and work off their aggressions. In addition, such co-operation would open for a clearer and more fruitful dialectic between the seekers of a new expression; those who wish to stretch the limits of art - and the firmly established theatrical institutions. Both sides would gain from this tension, and the harvests would be reaped by the cultural nation of Norway.) In addition the fact that the troupe is located in the remote Lofoten islands means that public funding remains marginal. One must assume an additional burden of proof; if the authorities are not continually informed of activity, they quickly forget that one exists."

At the same time, just as the members of Teater NOR have had to learn all aspects of running a company of their own, they have considered it important to look forward, to create a place and environment that is inspiring to work in and also offers possibilities for development in the future. They consider the county of Nordland’s establishment of Nordland Visual Theatre, located in Stamsund, as one of the most important factors in Teater NOR’s being able to continue to work and develop in the community.

Nordland Visual Theatre is a publicly funded project inviting different groups and organisations to use their facilities to work through and develop projects. NVT produces several projects annually, providing a steady stream of theatre colleagues throughout the year, as well as high concentrations of theatrical personnel during peak periods. NVT has a small resident production staff of five persons and supplements productions with outside expertise on a per project basis.

Likewise, the newly established project organisation Stamsund International Theatre has a similar function. SIT arranges courses, seminars and conferences, and functions as an organiser or producer for international collaborations. In addition the organisation plans and produces a large international theatre festival in Stamsund each year. SIT serves as a network builder on an international scale, and attracts a steady stream of artists to Stamsund. From them Teater NOR can learn and with them Teater NOR can compare experiences.

The company was among the founders behind Stamsund International Theatre Festival.

The way Teater NOR sees it, they would have met many of the same difficulties they went through the first few years if the company had been established elsewhere. Being situated in Lofoten also has had its advantages. Teater NOR always has had its own theatre building with a stage, wardrobe rooms, rehearsal hall and workshop; plus access to the huge empty industrial plant on loan from local business people. In the beginning the company rented the theatre building from the municipality of Vestvågøy for one Norwegian krone per year. In addition, the municipality has generously helped the company to cover the costs of operation and upkeep for the theatre building.

In 1998 Teater NOR was granted the option to buy the building for a nominal sum. Nordland County gave the company a touring bus cost-free when it went from being organised as a public youth project to become a privately registered firm. The County also has also allowed the company to use sound and light equipment at a favourable cost. These practical amenities, and the basic premise of being welcome and needed, is described as one of the main factors in equipping the artists with the ability to go on during trying times.

Besides important inspiration is found in the surroundings. Thorbjørn Gabrielsen describes it as very motivating to be able to work in a vibrant, authentic environment. "The coastal culture is a horn of plenty, in terms of the past and the present. The centre of gravity for coastal culture is so strong in Lofoten that one cannot avoid using it as a source of reference and materials. A consequence of this is that one cannot avoid the natural connection to the world outside of the theatre; regardless of how deeply focused one may be in theoretical constructs of art. We believe that the environment contributes to our finding unique, original and authentic solutions, rather than developing pale copies of productions people have created before us. Working with limited resources also has its positive side. One learns to make the best use of what one has at hand, and how to maximise opportunities in order to reach a goal. The effort often leads to original solutions, indeed, to solutions that are often completely different than one would have chosen if resources were readily available. One also becomes very conscious of the value of collective human resources. A person who has been formed in such a collective learning process is invaluable to the group, and cannot be quickly replaced. Because of this, the personnel learn to appreciate one another. They become dependent on one another in order to reach a common goal. At a time when most of the permanent free theatre troupes in the rest of the country have practically disappeared, and when a flora of new projects dominate, with continual overturn of personnel, Teater NOR and a few others stand out. In our case, we rely on our roots and our history. We have painstakingly learned things together, and thus we, the individual members, are the collective heritage of each other and the common grounds for success. It would have been extremely difficult to run a project-oriented, locally-based theatre company in Lofoten. The freelance market is far away, and with our geographic location, we do not have the access to the freelance network that would permit us to import personnel from production to production", Gabrielsen writes.

The mindset of being an ensemble is important to Teater NOR: " We have an indomitable belief in an ensemble in which everybody knows one another, develops together, and continually seeks to increase the options within being a functioning and dynamic whole in order to reach an artistic goal. We believe that we have better opportunities to achieve this in Lofoten than elsewhere."

Prior to the split from Lofoten Teater, Teater NOR made the productions Querinius (1996), Rik og berømt* (Rich and famous, 1995), Midtsommernatta* (The Midsummer Night, 1994), Tykjes Tivoli* (The Devil’s Tivoli, 1994), Alle sju sortene* (All seven kinds, 1993), Ei strålendes natt* (A splendid night, 1993), Synnan i havet* (South in the Sea, 1991) and frihet, likhet og valium* (Freedom, Equality and Valium, 1990). Since then they have made productions including Biomechanics, Mass for Bad Weather, Knut is dead, Lost on purpose, Pants and Bass, Hunters of Happiness, Delete Delight, Demons, Let's fall in love and Narcissus.

Teater NOR emphasises flexibility according to wishes and needs from local venues and arrangers. The company is happy to discuss developing or adjusting projects and productions to special events.

Sources: Gabrielsen, Thorbjørn, Mass for Bad Weather, (2002), Teater NOR forlag

E-mail from Thorbjørn Gabrielsen, 10.11.2010

Jens Harald Eilertsen, the book Polare Scener, Nordnorsk Teaterhistorie bind to: Fra 1971 til 2000* (Arctic Stages, Northern Norwegian Theatre History volume 2: From 1971 to 2000) the publishing house Orkana Forlag 2005, page 364.

Contributors (4)
Sissel Helgesen – Actor
Øystein Reksten Sanne – Actor
Thorbjørn Gabrielsen – Director
Thorbjørn Gabrielsen – Artistic director (fra 1997)