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Peer Gynt in the Redwoods: the Prequel

"To understand me, you must understand Norway." Henrik Ibsen's famous observation about his own work was taken to heart by a team of researchers from the Arts this summer.


And their visit to the land Ibsen immortalized in Peer Gynt took them deep into the extreme landscape of Norway, from fjords to mountains, through midnight performances and across haunted bogs. There, accompanied by experts and Ibsen scholars, they gained in-depth experience of the folkloric forces that permeate Ibsen's works. 


This field work served to deepen production plans for the Gynt Project, an upcoming multi-venue production, conference, and gallery exhibition.  The Gynt Project is a collaboration among Theater Arts, DANM, and Music faculty, international scholars, professional artists, and DANM and Theater Arts students that will bring Ibsen's work to the UC Santa Cruz campus.


The experimental production of Peer Gynt will play on multiple stages and sites in conjunction with a three-day conference of top Ibsen scholars from around the world. To prepare for this ambitious multi-disciplinary venture, researchers joined the Gynt Project director Kimberly Jannarone for an unforgettable week of trekking, discussion, festival-going and transformative insight into the world of playwright Ibsen and his mythic inspiration.


Accompanying Jannarone were Theater Arts faculty member Brandin Baron-Nussbaum, dramaturg Michael Chemers, actor Danny Scheie (who will perform the lead role), theater scholar Jim Bierman, as well as DANM designer Eve Warnock and Theater Arts undergrad Jen Schuler. “Peer Gynt is considered Norway's national play,” Chemers explained, “and Ibsen is the country's most famous playwright. Every year in August there is a Peer Gynt Festival high in the mountains, where the historical Peer Gynt lived.”


On the Road in Ibsen Country


The group first convened in Oslo where they met with prominent Ibsen scholars and toured key sites, like the Ibsen Museum and the Grand Hotel, where Ibsen spent every afternoon of his last few years. They met with the Ibsen museum’s director Erik Edvardsen, as well as the head of Ibsen studies at the University of Oslo, Vgdis Ystad, and the preeminent folklorist and historian Sverre Mørkhagen.  Edvardsen personally took them through Ibsen's home in Oslo, answering all their questions about his writing habits, literary rivalries, and interpretations of his work. Mørkhagen led the UCSC research group to many actual sites that figure prominently in Ibsen's life as well as the tales of Peer Gynt. "We got the tour," Jannarone admits appreciatively.


Another feature of this field work was the melding of life and art.  Professor Danny Scheie, himself half Norwegian, tracked down the ancestral Scheie farm.  It turns out it is right next to the historical Peer Gynt farmhouse.  No coincidence that this son of Norway is the perfect fit for the role of Peer.


The two-year collaboration between DANM and Theater Arts will culminate in the conference that brings such major Ibsen scholars as Mørkhagen, Freddie Rokem from the University of Tel Aviv, Sarah Bryant-Bertail from the University of Washington, and famed Ibsen translator Brian Johnston."This amazing project is excitingly cross-disciplinary," says Chemers, "with an international reach, and will culminate in a unique performance event.”


For more details about the research journey to Norway, and the upcoming production, see The Gynt Project website.


The summer 2012 research tour to Norway was partially funded though grants from the Arts Research Institute, Vice Chancellor for Research Bruce Margon, the Academic Senate Committee on Research, Porter College Undergraduate Research Grants, the Norwegian Consulate, and Arts Dean David Yager.


[Photo: from left: Michael Chemers, Jen Schuler, Danny Scheie, Kimberly Jannarone, and Eve Warnock listen to Sverre Morkhagen discuss Peer Gynt in the Rondane Highlands of Oppland, Norway.]