Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing on and around the Public Square

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

Playing on and around the Public Square

Article excerpt

Sergeis torg, a square in the middle of Stockholm's modem city is surrounded by banks, offices, department stores and the large House of Culture (Kulturhuset). In the middle of November 2007 about 50 middle-aged and elderly women were gathered on the big square, a part of which had been sealed off. Within the demarcated area one could see that a lot of timber had been brought into the city. One could also see chainsaws, axes, saw horses, chopping blocks and a gigantic dart board. The women were dressed in functional clothes more suitable for outdoors in the country or forest than for city life. They made their entrance in a procession, bearing axes on their shoulders, and descended the stairs from the House of the Culture to the lower level of the square. In this way they began a three-day long occupation of Sergeis torg, during which they generated 30 cubic meters of chopped wood.

This was not merely a spontaneous event; on the contrary it was a well-organised dance performance and produced in complete awareness of the cultural context. The group had all the necessary permits from the city council and the police. They also received financial support from the Arts Council. And it was not by chance that the choreographer had chosen Sergeis torg as venue for their performance.

In order to examine Sergeis torg as a public square in a city at the start of the 21st century, I will begin with a brief history of this square, which is a landmark in Stockholm. This will be followed by an analysis of Bakhtin's propositions for a square as a centre for a yearround carnival. Analyses of, and discussions about, public spaces in the city, and the concomitant tensions between urban public and private spheres shall be raised. The article will end with a description and analysis of four organised playing culture events, including the wood-cutting women, which took place in and around Sergeis torg.

Background History of Sergels Torg

Sergeis torg was constructed in the late 1960s. Early in the 1950s a reshaping of central Stockholm was undertaken. Old buildings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were demolished. The reasons for this weighty - and in our view, strange - decision, were due to the perceived needs for constructing the underground, car parks and highways. Another reason was that this part of Stockholm was perceived as a security risk and as socially under-developed, with inadequate living conditions, a lot of prostitution and drug dealing etc. Because it was possible to rent cheap flats, many artists, writers and musicians lived in this part of Stockholm.

The new city is dominated by banks, office buildings and parking lots. Early in the planning phase it was decided that a big square should be constructed in the middle of the city. At first it was named Sveaplatsen, which seems a rather nationalistic name (Rörby 2003). One of the functions of the new square was that of a place for state festivities. Admittedly it was hard for the architects to incorporate the many diverse visions of politicians with regard to the square. Architect David Heldén's solution was to separate traffic from all other activities by creating a sunken pedestrian plaza. This solution has been a subject of controversy ever since, and every now and then proposals emerge to raise the square to the same level as the traffic.

The name of the square was finally fixed as Sergeis torg, after the sculptor Tobias Sergei who had his workshop in this part of the city in the eighteenth century. I find the name appropriate, because Sergei was not only a highly acclaimed sculptor working at court during the reign of Gustav III (the theatre king), he was also a very fine cartoonist who satirized life at court. Sergei worked in a camevalesque spirit, acutely aware of the social and political constraints of his period.

One of the architect Helldén's drawings shows a dance performance on the square. The audience is sitting on the big steps and ramp along one side of square. …

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