Västanå Teater

Västanå Teater: A barn filled with stories

Visiting Västanå Teater is like stepping into another world. A tumultuous world teeming with creativity and music, where stories are given a new life. All housed in a beautiful old Värmland barn that feels almost like a sacred space in its simplicity.

Adjacent to Rottneros Park, Värmland’s largest barn houses Sweden’s smallest regional theatre company. Berättarladan, the Story Barn, became the summer home of Västanå Teater in 1999. Since then, the theatre company has been delighting and enchanting audiences every summer with performances of plays by authors as diverse as Shakespeare, Ibsen and Selma Lagerlöf.

“We offer audiences a unique holistic experience, where staging, live music, narration and acting, coupled with good food, ambience and costume exhibits, are all equally important,” explains producer Emma Hultcrantz as she shows us around the barn.

Lagerlöf at Västanå Teater

At the time of our visit in summer 2016, Selma Lagerlöf’s Löwensköld Ring is about to start its run. Some last-minute fine tuning before the Midsummer opening night is under way as we visit the barn. The cast are wearing costumes and make-up, and the live orchestra is standing by. The ghost of the retired general Bengt Löwensköld brings misfortune and death to anyone who comes into possession of the eponymous ring. Västanå is presenting its version of Lagerlöf’s story, with a focus on narrative, music and dance.

“Selma and Västanå have a shared view of art – that what is portrayed is not necessarily realistic, but rather elevated and stylised and preferably beautiful. Selma Lagerlöf wanted to weave a golden thread into the fabric of daily life. And that’s also our approach here at Västanå,” says Leif Stinnerbom, the theatre’s artistic director, who is also directing this production.

Inclusive all-round theatre

Västanå may be Sweden’s smallest regional theatre company, but it puts on more performances a year than any other. Between Midsummer and the season’s end there are to be over 50 performances of The Löwensköld Ring. Audiences return year after year to experience the summer version of Västanå’s unmistakable storytelling, which is inclusive to say the least – both during the play and at the interval, when the actors join the audience for dinner.

“I like to say that we’re a sort of all-round theatre company – a musical theatre company that doesn’t sing. Our style is outgoing, and we have constant contact with audiences,” Leif Stinnerbom continues.

Live music plays its part too. Effective and powerful, but not entirely simple to work with.

“Working with a live orchestra is fantastic. But it’s both challenging and helpful for us as actors,” says Jakob Hultcrantz Hansson.

“We have to know exactly what point the musicians are at in order to deliver our lines at the right moment. This is not background music, but rather an absolutely integral part of the narrative.”

With a Värmland twang

Västanå Teater likes to add a local touch to its productions. This year the dialogue is being spoken in Värmland dialect – a new initiative that has not proved entirely straightforward.

“We’ve had constant coaching throughout the rehearsals,” says Leif Stinnerbom with a laugh. “Our distinctive ‘ö’ and thick ‘l’ sounds are quite hard for anyone who’s not from around here.”

Västanå is run by a close-knit gang, but the company’s ranks are bolstered in the summer by freelance actors, stagehands and musicians. In the winter the company tours Sweden, performing in a yurt. The goal is always to add value for audiences, and audience engagement drives development.

So much impetus

One section of the barn is currently under renovation so that it can be used to full advantage. The barn is being winterised, and a second stage of equal size is being added. The renovated barn will also house a sewing workroom, a music room and office space, totalling 1,000 square metres. The new stage is expected to be inaugurated in August with the Västanå Folk Festival, a new event this year.

“Västanå Teater was designated as a regional theatre company in 2009, but at our core is a small, independent team who pursue development projects on their own initiative. There are so many visions and ideas, so much impetus. We’ve succeeded in creating something that appeals to most people – audiences, critics and performers alike,” notes Emma Hultcrantz.

The Story Barn
Photo credit: The Story Barn
The Story Barn
The theater
Photo credit: The theater
The theater
Västanå Teater
Photo credit: Västanå Teater
Västanå Teater
The show has begun at Västanå Theater
Photo credit: The show has begun at Västanå Theater
The show has begun at Västanå Theater