The new storytelling tradition with Erik Axelsson. Foto Moa Axelsson

From laughter to Selma – The new storytelling tradition

Many years after giants such as Selma Lagerlöf, Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding the storytelling traditions of Värmland live on in the county. Although in a slightly different form.

At places such as Krokstad Herrgård in Säffle and Clarion Hotel Plaza in Karlstad, the inhabitants of Värmland have been able to laugh at comic stars such as Josefin Johansson and Emma Knyckare over the past year. This has been thanks to Erik Axelson, who arran ges standup evenings around various locations around Värmland.

Bungy Comedy stage

“Kristoffer Appelquist and myself have said that in ten years 20 percents of the country’s comics will be speaking in the Värmland dialect!”, he says. The reason for this is the Bungy Comedy stage that I operated in Grums, a stage where people could try out standup for the very first time under condusive conditions The idea was that there were certainly a lot of people from Värmland who were very funny but who had not found their way into standup because the threshold was set too high.  Today there are a lot of comics who speak in Skånska because they have their student spectacles, standup clubs and student radio stations there, but in Värmland there was nothing if you wanted to try out.

Erik’s standup event was a success (40 people tried standup for the first time in Grums) and he now has the whole of Värmland for his bookings. According to him the storytelling technique is the very foundation of standup.

“You need to convey an understandable story to the audience that they buy in some was, or take the audience with you into a pretend world. There is of course a strong tradition of storytelling here and everyone has memories of family who told tales, made-up stories, of hunting stories, gossip about the neighbours or whatever they encountered. There is naturally some attachment in most of the people who grew up in Värmland and now this has just come to additional venues. Standup is really just another platform from which to do your storytelling.

Storytelling in Värmland

What is it that makes the people of Värmland so good at storytelling?

“There is of course a perception of people from Värmland as a happy-go-lucky person whose dialect is sometimes used in popular culture as being a little corny. We are seen as being quite harmless. I notice this when I drive to clubs out in the countryside. Then I will play on my dialect a bit in order to establish the cliché of myself as a harmless and good-natured person from Värmland. If I tell a bad joke, it is easier to get away with it in the Värmland dialect.

Leif Stinnerbom is the artistic manager of Västanå Theatre in Sunne, which has specialised in allowing storytelling be at the centre.

“A storyteller never tells a story without a recipient. The performers of our style of performing often turn to the audience and want to draw them into the action taking place on stage and get them to feel that they are also involved in this. If two performers have a conflict on stage they will both try to win over the audience with argumentation and rhetoric.  For me storytelling is an attitude towards the audience, that you want something from your audience and drawn them into the action.

In the summer we will be able to see the Västanå Theatre’s version of the second part of Selma Lagerlöf’s Charlotte Löwensköld suite in Berättarladan (the Storytelling Barn) at Rottneros Park, just outside of Sunne. Berättarladan is the largest barn in Värmland that has been converted for theatre. They have shown sellout performances since 1999, such as Nils Holgersson and Romeo and Juliet that attract 2500 visitors every year from the whole of Scandinavia, but this probably has something to do with the local Nobel Prize recipient.

Remarkable and fascinating

“Our greatest successes have of course been our Selma Lagerlöf productions. Some people certainly have other favourites, but I believe that it is just as true that Selma is the heart of Västanå Theatre. Selma such a storyteller. her stories are as remarkable as they are fascinating and are worth amazing at when you hear them. She said once that she wanted to weave a golden thread through the grey fabric of everyday life. This is something that Västanå often quotes”, concludes Leif.

Text: Fridah Jönsson