Hanne Trap Friis is the founder and artistic leader of Teater FreezeProductions. The theater works in Greenland and in Denmark and produces pieces that are critical towards white mindsets and the conception of history. The performances often have a look towards a broader and more inclusive world as well as a more vivid and visual way of exploring new narratives through theater. The theater creates both site-specific, text and performance–art pieces.
This interview was conducted to speak about her collaboration with Acting for Climate directing their newest performance RIPPLES.
How did you start working with Acting for Climate?
It all started in 2019. My theater, Teater FreezeProductions, and I were producing and directing a huge site-specific production at the Nuuk Nordisk festival. And there were five performances and one of the performances was a dance performance. Some people from Nordiskt Ljus Festival (Sweden) saw it and decided to buy it. And so we went to the Nordiskt Ljus Festival in Sweden in 2021. Acting for Climate was also at that festival doing BARK and we just loved each other’s work.
I liked the way that they challenged the site-specific work, and they liked the way that I told stories through dance and music. This year, when I was producing and showing a new piece at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, they contacted me and said that they were starting a new project.
So we had a meeting in January, and they got to see my performance around the same time. We found that we correspond a lot in ways of looking at what to use art for. So when we met again I said I would like to work with them, and they decided they would like to work with me.
So it started as a personal connection, a click.
Yeah. It was a personal click and an artistic click also. They were looking for someone who could express what they did in a poetic way and place a narrative into the circus performance. Another thing they wanted to try was a structure where they invited in a director, a leader of the process.
The term ‘director’ is used in so many different ways at the moment. And what does that role mean in your collaboration with Acting for Climate? What did that role look like?
It was a decision-making role. Usually, I’m the leader of my own theater and the boss. I hire people and I direct. So I’m very much used to being the boss. That was my role here as well – being the artistic director. But of course, there were things that they wanted me to incorporate into the piece that they already had in mind.
Certain parts of the piece were already decided. This was very interesting to me. I love challenges. There was this narrative of climate grief and climate hope. So there were things I had to consider and I had to incorporate, and there were some demands. Besides those parts, I was to create and put the piece together. All in a devising process together with the group through discussions and improvisations.
The process was not collective which was new for them.
Of course, I had discussions with them, especially with Emma [Langmoen] and Abigail [Winsvold]. There were parts that were devised. I would ask them to do something, they would do it as a group. They also offered a lot of ideas, but I was the person who said yes or no.
Was this your first time working with circus on that scale?
Yeah, I had done something a very long time ago. but there was little circus and it was with students. I had not done it on this huge scale before now. There were seven circus acrobats, dancers, and performers from several different countries.
And what’s the difference between working with circus artists, dance artists, and actors?
When you work with theater, it’s another artistic process. They have another skill. They have a psychological background. It’s a whole other way of speaking. Circus artists still need the same thing, but they also have this whole other parameter of safety. Rigging, warming up, you know.
Circus artists, dancers, and actors are all disciplined. That’s the same all over the scale. When you’re professional, you’re disciplined.
Yesterday, you mentioned the process of understanding the mind of a circus artist and understanding the mind of a climate activist. And I want to ask you to elaborate a bit on those two.
One thing I find in circus is the love of challenging your body. Challenging the level of up and down.
The earth takes you to the ground. Through gravity. And the circus artist is actually developing new methods to turn the world upside down, which is so amazing.
They have so much courage. I asked them to do things such as balancing on certain parts of the ship and do things that I almost thought would be impossible. This is one thing. And then the inner wisdom of a circus artist is how much they need one another. It’s life or death.
And that is so, so beautiful. To understand that. In the theater, you need each other too, but you don’t die. A circus artist can die. If the partner does not do what they have to do. Or they can get very hurt, so there’s a huge aspect of trust among circus artists. That I learned.
And then there is this anarchy somehow within them too. They are people on the road. I know a little bit from my own family background, as being a circus family. Being on the road, you know, there’s a little bit of anarchy in them. And I like that.
If you travel on a train or a ship for two weeks, with seven people, you gotta have a lot of guts. A lot of letting go of control. So they have this boundary of control & non-control, which is very, very interesting to work with as a director. It gives another road, another passage to work with.
They’re very dualistic. There’s a lot of dualism in them. Control, discipline, non-control, letting go.
One thing that has stood out to me about Acting for Climate and their art about the climate crisis is that they focus a lot on the narrative of hope. You were talking about the trust that they need to have with each other. Do you think that the need for trust translates into hope for a future because there’s a need to trust in that as well?
Yes. The way we worked with trust in the group was that the trust was transformed into the narrative of hope in the piece. We actually used that as part of the piece. Coming from grief into hope. Coming from grief into hope. That was the piece’s narrative. And it was very interesting as I also had to incorporate music and soundscape, that the composer made in the process. She too worked with some of the same narratives, so it was all one big collaboration.
Acting for Climate as a group has this inner narrative, this inner way of being that is all carried through by love and trust. There’s always time to talk about something and you try to solve things. This was also part of our great process together. A way of working where there is room for trust, talking, and caring. That was so very nice.
Emotions were allowed, and personal, private emotions were also allowed in our talks within the work. That love and trust go into the way they look at climate.
You asked me how it was the in my generation. I’m almost 60. When my generation was younger, we were concerned about the cold war and Apartheid amongst other things. I was very political as I still am. At that time, we were not so aware of the Climate Crisis. We talked about pollution, but we didn’t talk about the climate. But of course, I was aware of it before we started the process. A lot of the world’s news today consists of the Climate Crisis. Not enough, though.
It is so interesting for me to understand that climate grief is actually a part of the young generation of today. That it has to be taken seriously. That was a new world for me., but I’m reading books about it now, and am becoming much more aware.
The question is how to take that seriously. And I think that that’s the transformation of the world. Acting for Climate talks about the personal journey through it all. For me, it’s political, and for them, it’s both political and it’s also very personal. It goes together. The personal and the political. The constant question of: How do they keep hope? Which was very beautiful.
RIPPLES is described in part as “a mourning ritual for the past”. And this role of grief seems to be a very strong narrative guideline throughout the piece. What has changed in your perception of this journey of grief and hope in climate change through this process?
Of course, it’s made me much more aware. In general.
This work is different because we also lived it. I mean, we lived the way we talked. It was not going home in the evening and eating all your beef and then talking about climate change. We lived the talk. We tried all the time to save, not to buy new stuff. To dumpster dive, reuse clothing, and so on. That’s very close to how I live also in my private life, but it was a part of the process for the whole group.
And on top of that, we also included the part of the awareness, called climate feminism. It’s where people give each other power by expressing how they feel. Everybody is worth something in their expression of how they feel about climate. Not externalizing the climate, but making it a part of us, our souls and lives.
Because in today’s society, the climate has become a thing detached from us all.
And for me, and I think for Acting for Climate as well, we are attached to each other and so we should not detach climate. But we are detaching ourselves from it. And that is a perspective that I am already working in because of my work with indigenous people and colonization in my theater. Some of the processes are the same in changing your mindset.
So we actually grew together in changing mindsets. Since Acting for Climate are already there mentally, and so am I, just in another way, I just had to build bridges. I was very impressed by the engagement they had in their own lives.
What was the most surprising bridge that you had to build between what you already do and what Acting for Climate does?
It wasn’t necessarily a bridge, but how we lived together. We shared many things, and at the same time, I was the leader. So that was quite interesting. Can we find the trust in them trusting me as a leader at the same time, as I’m also cleaning the bathroom for them? You know what I mean?
This collected living and then a hierarchy within the work was interesting. It worked because we had so much trust and because I’m extremely experienced in my job. So I was never scared. They were never scared that I would not do it well. The interesting part for all of us to understand was that now this is the lady who also cooks breakfast for us, and in an hour, she’ll come and be our boss.
And then it’s the way they live. Some of it was the way I lived 30 years ago. It’s nice to feel it coming back. The feeling of connectedness of collectiveness, not individuality. It was very giving.
A lot of different dynamics to navigate through.
Yeah, a lot of different dynamics. But we did well together. We’re still in contact with the tour. It was just a very interesting new area to get into.
And in a way, it’s not that different from what I’ve done before. I mean, a narrative is still a narrative, a dramaturgy is still a dramaturgy, a story is still a story, a space is still a space, and music is still music. It’s art!
I wanted to return to how circus and climate work together in RIPPLES. How did you use the two separate topics?
I used it as a narrative. I had a story behind the whole thing: grief going into hope, going into fear, going into anger, going into letting go, and into hope. And those pictures were very interesting to use in the circus. With quite some humor also.
There are a lot of physical feelings in fear, and anger. How could she walk on a line transitioning from one state of mind to another? You can actually use that narrative within the circus because they already go through it. They do change in the process. The boat itself is a traveling thing, a mindset of traveling.
Circus is like poetry, poetry can be used when you have to say very big things. In normal words, it can easily become boring. Circus and dance and poetry are alike in some matters.
What I can do with the circus as a theater person and also a dance choreographer, is put dualism into the piece. If you only show circus with no explanation or transformation within the piece, it just becomes pieces of circus, you know, physical pieces. So my job was to implement a narrative, even though it was not much with words. So that there would be a narrative the audience can relate to. That’s what I worked with a lot and I think we succeeded in that.
I think that’s why they hired me – to have a person who’s not only a circus artist because they needed a narrative and they needed the poetry. And I could bring that. They’re very good artists. So I didn’t have to worry about expanding their understanding and demanding more from them.
Has this experience changed your relationship with circus?
Yeah, of course, it has. I do understand it now. Like, why it is called rigging. Why is it called a harness? I knew some circuc.. But this experience changed my understanding of how much you can use circus. In many ways.
Circus not only became circus. It became performative circus. But so much changed, probably more than I know right now. The trust with one another, all the fucking puzzling, figuring out who’s doing what with whom, who’s taking care of what, when we change scenes and go from one part to the other in the performance.
That was amazing. I’m so impressed by that. So it’s changed my view on the beauty of circus and all the possibilities of circus. I would love to incorporate it with some of my stuff now. My mind has been opened up quite a lot because of them, which is great. And I would love to do more of that kind of work. I hope it’s not gonna be the last time I do something like that.
Circus has a way of pulling you in. There’s a lot of heart in it. You know, we’re all the same, because if you don’t have somebody who can hold you in the air, you can fall. I think that’s important. That is circus. There’s no star. We are all stars. That is really cool.
You work a lot with political topics and RIPPLES is also a political piece. So I’d like to ask what would be one piece of advice that you would give anyone who’s interested in making political work?
Within political art, always have parts that are poetic and fun. And never underestimate your audience, never, ever talk down to your audience. But do challenge them, and do not be afraid. You must always remember that the audience is your friend and is smart. I think that is important. Also remember to have fun. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can be fun. It can be both heavy and fun.
You can reach an audience through soul and poetry, but also through laughter or fun, or surprising elements. And I think we did that.
Interview conducted by Alise Madara Bokaldere, Cirkus Syd Communication and Content manager
RIPPLES CREATIVE TEAM
Director: Hanne Trap Friis
Artists and co-creators: Abigael Rydtun Winsvold, Emma Langmoen, Heidi Miikki, Lucie Piot, Ole Skovgård Dampe, Marie Binda, Max Behrendt
Project leaders: Abigael Winsvold & Emma Langmoen
Producers team: Federica Parise, Ronja Tammenpää, Irina Pleva, Ania Lewandowska
Composer: Annelie Nederberg
Costumes designer: Michiel Tange van Leeuwen
Rigging design: Matt Horton
Recorded voices and text contributions: Samwel Ojijo (Kenya), Daniela Cubero Murillo (Costa Rica), Makau Jonah (Kenya), Yeonjoo Lee (South Korea), Zeineb Chermiti (Tunisia), Abhijith Nag Balasubramanya (India), Kenneth Owino (Kenya)
In collaboration with Hawila Project & Festival Norpas
Special thanks to our volunteer tour manager Isabella de Judicibus and to all the volunteers!