Wild, daring and sharp, Unga Klara is now performing in the same league as the big players, the Royal Dramatic Theatre and the Royal Opera – Sweden has obtained a national theatre for children and young people. But what does it mean in reality and what does the future look like?
Why has Unga Klara in particular been designated a national theatre?
-Well, you start by having 40 years' experience of child and youth theatre," says Gustav Deinoff, who is artistic director at Unga Klara together with Farnaz Arbabi.
That's probably the more important argument, and it is Suzanne Ostens life's work. She has done a massive amount of work for children and young people! Suzanne has brought up a whole generation of child and youth performers and influenced what and how we now do children's theatre in Sweden.
Unga Klara is distinguished by the fact that the child's perspective is always in focus and that a dialogue is conducted with the audience in each production. Or as Minister for Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke put it when making the appointment as national theatre:
-Unga Klara is known both nationally and internationally for its explorative and innovative way of working.
When Unga Klara was set up, Suzanne Osten was alone in illuminating difficult issues for children. She perceived children's need for art, theatre that is not about education or upbringing. One of the first plays was Medea's children. It concerned divorce – and the adult world was furious, it was unsuitable for barn.
-Children deserve to be taken seriously," Gustav emphasises. "We work with important dramatic art, about the world, life and death. Simply entertainment is not of interest for us, or for our audience. Almost all material is newly written.
From having been a part of Stockholm City Theatre, Unga klara became an independent free theatre group in 2009. However, Unga Klara was threatened with closure.
-It was serious", Gustav recounts. "At the same time, the Swedish Arts Council conducted an enquiry where it concluded that Unga Klara was a ”national and international priority”. The seed of a national theatre was sown.
The work of building up the theatre started again in 2010. Unga Klara was restructured into a limited company, owned by a non-profit association, and received some support from the City Council, the Government and a number of other actors, but it was constantly applying for funding.
-We tried to continue being Unga Klara and collaborated with county theatres, free groupsand the Swedish National Touring Theatre. But we were living from hand to mouth.
Finally the politicians realised that Unga Klara was about to go under and created a national theatre for children and young people.
-Our finances are better, but not significantly. The major difference is the continuity. We are now able to plan and purely formally have a position in the theatre landscape.
So what is the national theatre's remit?
-The Directive roughly says that we should continue to develop children and youth theatre as a specific art form on our home stage, but also that we should be active throughout the country as a whole. So it is now important to find a form for how we should tour. The next production is a co-production with Scenkonst Sörmland, and we are hoping for further collaborations with theatres around the country. At bibu we are holding a seminar where we report where we are and what we want to do in the future.