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Karen Toftegaard: #Danish Digital

By | Published on Friday 30 July 2021

When it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe, I always like to hear about strands – or collections – of shows. I feel as though it’s something to get one’s teeth into, like an elaborate dinner, with different courses to be devoured.

And I often get quite excited about them when they come from outside the UK – it’s always fascinating to see what’s happening artistically around the world.

The latest such strand to come to my attention is ‘#Danish Digital’, a collection of three works, brought together online by The Danish Arts Foundation in association with Wildtopia, and hosted by ZOO TV.

To find out what to expect from ‘#Danish Digital’, I spoke to Wildtopia’s Karen Toftegaard.

CM: Can you start with a quick overview of what to expect from ‘#Danish Digital’ – what type of shows will we be seeing and on what basis were they selected?
KT: In Denmark, there has been an open and curious approach to digital opportunities over the last eighteen months.

What started as an immediate response to the pandemic – a scramble to film shows in empty theatres with an iPhone and stream it on YouTube, so as not to entirely lose all hope of an audience in lockdown – has evolved into a new understanding amongst theatre makers and a discovery with regard to how a digital medium might be used in truly creative ways for theatre making.

This has resulted in ‘digital first’ productions with a very high artistic quality, and also resulted in developing new ways to create digital showcases. This means that digital adaptations of existing works really work on the premise of the digital stage.

‘#Danish Digital’ has curated works that showcase the great opportunities of both digital first live works and digital adaptations that can be experienced on demand.

CM: What prompted the creation of this strand? Why at the Edinburgh Fringe?
KT: Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been the high vibrating centre of international performing arts for decades. The national showcase #DANISH was supposed to happen in-person like so many other things – but international travel restrictions have prohibited that, so when it couldn’t be done in-person.

However, we still wanted to perform to Scottish and international audiences: the magnificent digital stage at Zoo Venues – ZOO TV – has made that process an enjoyable one.

CM: We’ve seen digitally delivered cultural projects burgeoning and innovating over the last year, and currently there are still lots of them, despite the fact that restrictions have eased for most people. Do you think the use of this medium to create theatre is now here to stay?
KT: Yes, I do believe that innovative digital work – the kind that completely embraces the opportunities and premises of the digital stage – will be attractive to a lot of people beyond the pandemic.

In addition, the travel restrictions will be slow to ease up – and people will probably be more conscious about the environmental aspects of traveling as well.

Digital performing arts is a great and inclusive way of meeting the world – with curiosity and openness – without risking being exposed to different variants.

Digital theatre has evolved so fast, there is now a luxury in attending a live show wherever you’ve got great wifi – and you can actually connect with people in other countries – as you do in the Danish digital first work ‘Avatar Me’ by Fix & Foxy. Here you can overtake the life of a person in India, Croatia, South Africa, Malaysia or Brazil for 45 minutes – it’s very much live, moving and even sensory.

Many artists have been ready to explore the digital stage for a long time – and during the pandemic the audiences have grown more ready for it. As using digital tools for connecting has been embraced by necessity in the work field, audiences are coming to realise that we can use these digital tools to access inspiring arts experiences as well.

CM: What are the benefits of producing digitally? What are the challenges?
KT: The benefits for the producers/artists are that you don’t have to travel physically – getting visas, exposing yourself to health risks. You can work slower and be close to your loved ones at home, even though you’re in the middle of a big international production.

Working digitally also has several sustainable advantages. You can produce a lot of digital work before you even begin to reach the level of CO2 emission for just one flight. You can connect and collaborate with people in different countries.

And for the audiences – you actually get to connect with people from all over the world through the arts – a digital stage can open up the world when it is unfolded at a high level – with sustainable care.

CM: Can we talk a bit more about each of the shows you are presenting, now? Can you tell us a bit about ‘Champions’? What themes does it explore?
KT: ‘Champions’ by Himherandit Productions is a deeply touching performance installation that deals with universal issues of parent-child relations, loneliness and individual resilience. A story unfolds of a strained relationship between a gay man, his homophobic father, a stern mother, and a lonely individual who is facing his deepest vulnerabilities. In this version, which was recorded at the Danish festival CPH Stage this year, performer and artistic director Andreas Constantinou shares his feelings and thoughts about performing again for the first time after the death of both his father and his mother.

CM: Next, ‘Two Men & A Plank’ – sounds interesting! – what’s that all about?
KT: Danish physical theatre and film company Don Gnu [pictured] are phenomenal in their way of playing – and making dance light and fun while maintaining a very high physical level. Maybe you have seen some of their works at edfringe as they have been playing there regularly since 2016? ‘Two Men & A Plank’ is the digital adaption of their very popular outdoor show – you cannot help smiling and enjoying this energetic duo.

CM: Finally, can you tell us a bit more about the aforementioned ‘Avatar Me’?
KT: ‘Avatar Me’ by Fix & Foxy was created specifically for a digital platform. Unlike many other digital shows this is live: happening when you watch it. You cannot see it on demand – as your connection with your own personal avatar in India, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazil or Croatia is happening one-on-one. When it premiered at the Danish digital festival Re:Locations this year it changed people’s expectations and understanding of what digital performing arts can actually be. Suddenly it became obvious what the grand potential in working digitally really was. This is definitely due to the fact that Danish director Tue Biering is so great at hitting right where it makes sense. He was recently honorary awarded for his brilliant work, including ‘Avatar Me’.

CM: Do you plan to return to the Edinburgh Fringe in person next year?
KT: Yes – and I cannot wait to come back! We’re already planning a #DANISH in-person showcase in 2022 – presented and curated by the Danish Arts Foundation and produced by my company Wildtopia. I’m so much looking forward to that – and to hang out in this lovely city.

CM: Are you planning to deliver these plays elsewhere – digitally or in-person?
KT: As I mentioned, the shows have already been presented at Danish festivals like CPH Stage and Re:Locations, and the aim is definitely to meet as many audiences in different countries as possible. So, we’re definitely ready to tour – both digitally and in-person.

CM: Do you have plans for other, similar digital projects? What happens next?
KT: In Denmark the digital stage is being nurtured. There was actually an award dedicated for digital productions at the national theatre award show this year in Denmark. It was Sydhavn Teater, a small metropolitan theatre in the City of Copenhagen, that won this. Audiences can catch digital shows at the new digital theatre festival which takes place in the spring and is supported by The Danish Arts Foundation and produced by Wildtopia.

‘Champions’, ‘Two Men & A Plank’ and ‘Avatar Me’ were part of the ZOO TV programme at Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: danishedfringe.com | zootv.live | twitter.com/zoovenues | www.himherandit.com | www.dongnu.dk | avatar-me.world | wildtopia.dk | twitter.com/miss_kato | twitter.com/wildtopia

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