Arlene Tucker & Juha Hilpas
Porttiteatteri is a Helsinki-based, professional theatre that produces artistic and high-quality theatre productions. The theatre produces 1-2 premieres per year and an annual prison arts Porttiteatteri festival, and organizes workshops in prisons.
Porttiteatteri presents Sovinto 1919/2019 (translates to Reconciliation in English) during Quiet Week 15th to the 17th of April 2019 at Suomenlinna Church. Sovinto is based on the community theater’s method of working and reaches out to over a century of inmates from Suomenlinna prison to the people who suffered from the Finnish Civil War.
Sidenote: ‘Portti’ in Finnish means gateway, port, entry and ‘teatteri’ means theatre. You can interpret what Porttiteatteri means to you.
Arlene Tucker and Juha Hilpas went for the theatre preview. This is their conversation about the experience. April 14, 2019.
Arlene Tucker (AT): Hi Juha! I got a lot of energy after the performance! How did you feel when it was over?
Juha Hilpas (JH): I did make a note after the performance about how positively surprised and refreshed I felt about it. Dealing with traumatic experiences in art and especially through theater falls very easily to some manner of moralism or tear jerking that I confess having a few prejudices about such play on entry. The fact that after the performance one found energy to walk around Suomenlinna and talk about the play and subject matter says a lot though.
AT: Yes, I remember that. I understand well what you mean. It has been a long time since I have been in the theatre and I forgot how strong of a medium it can be. I went there without any expectations, only with questions and and a feeling of excitement. I suppose that because the performance was on Suomenlinna it added the feeling that we were on a journey, in the process.
Was there a particular subject, scene or story that especially touched your own life?
JH: I experienced that even though the play was produced by inmates, who are serving or have already served their time, that fact no matter how real, took more of a symbolic quality to it. By this I mean that the real traumatic experiences of the performers were presented in a very human and relatable way. Even if I can’t draw absolutely direct comparisons to my own life experience I still find some sentences and sentiments very relatable. I find it important that in the play considerable weight is put on the fact that behind many prison stories there tends to be a long history of substance abuse and mental health issues. Subjects whose management still tends to feel like the elephant in the room.
AT: Everybody has been through trauma. I think that we can find our way to understand and to be empathetic about something or with someone, if we have the energy and if we have the motivation.
JH: Through trauma?
AT: Not necessarily through trauma. When the four actors chanted in a forceful yet slightly exhausted tone in unison, "Why do I not respect authority?" this scene brought up a lot of questions and feelings from inside. Where does this characteristic or personality trait come from? Where do I see it in my life at the moment? When does it go into hiding and when is it revealed?
JH: To be honest, my first reaction to that chant was: “Why should authority be respected anyway?” The next one was “What IS an authority?”
AT: Yes! Good question. For me, authority refers to when someone thinks they have power over me. It could be a teacher, a president, a bully, for example. It doesn't mean that right away I don't respect, I am just explaining what is my own simple hierarchy model or structure.
JH: I understand. I feel it’s more about the initial reaction that the concept of authority is triggering (in me), that which arises without rationalisations or justifications. The question is, what kind of authority figures have affected your life? And why authority has formed into a traumatic element in your life?
AT: I didn't mean that directly about myself. Perhaps these are better questions for the actors because of what they told were true stories. After the performance, I talked with Kari Vähä-Aho and he told me that the stories were real. The presentation became even more relevant! Kari said that they, the actors, wrote all the stories themselves, which were then put together. The script was really great, as well as the dramaturgy. I liked how they used the whole space of the church. Nothing was still. It was like a stream finding its way to the sea. The flow of the spoken word, written words, and music worked really well.
JH: Yeah. Now that I think about it, it’s somewhat confusing how easy it was to forget that the stories and situations presented were real experiences. In some ways one easily follows theater as a performance, or representation, not as reality. This of course already tells something about the technical quality of the play.
AT: Right and that means that you are an empathetic person. A sign of empathy at work. Isn’t that so?
JH: I sure would hope so. I must confess that when there was talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, I might have gotten choked up a little myself. Who of us wouldn’t want a second of peace from the clatter of their skeletons? At least the actors seemed to have received a bit of peace and mercy for themselves, which is something I found easy to rejoice for them.
AT: Maybe this is the reason why the performance was in the church! The begging of forgiveness. I don’t know. I always have something I would like to apologize for and somebody I would like to thank. Another question to the theater group.
JH: I don’t feel like the play was about begging, or even asking for mercy, or grace. For me it wasn’t even about regret, but about seeking to come at peace with the ghosts that one has carried or that have been imposed on one by others.
AT: I agree. It was their story and it's their time to tell everyone who wants to listen. It was their own decision to be real, vulnerable. Quite strong. I respect this!
JH: Yeah, it felt more like something was offered to the audience, as a food for thought. And like we found later at the stairs of a metro station, the producers of the play had no intentions to force feed the subject to anyone.
AT: Not at all. It was nice that almost the whole journey home, we bumped into different actors and we could thank them face to face and talk with them for a little while. It felt good to discuss this with them, even if just for three minutes. Three important minutes.
JH: It was somehow poetic that after the play the audience and the actors would find themselves on the same ferry home from the island.
AT: As a whole, I feel that the performance and group were really touching. Real, in real time, real life.
Juha, is there something else in your mind? I understand that feeling are always in motion, all the time changing. Good thing we have the moment.
JH: Like I already mentioned, I found myself leaving the island refreshed, despite the heavy subject matter of the play. In many ways, theater is about connecting to other people and their experience about life, with all their similarities and differences.
There are many changes over the years 1919-2019. Yet, the process of reconciliation and forgiveness has hardly changed. The performance is a story about forgiveness, short stories around that theme, and how reconciliation can be achieved.
Director: Tuija Minkkinen
Music & sound dramaturgy: Sanna Salmenkallio
Dramaturgy: Taija Rautio
Performers: Porttiteatteri members
Performances: 15.4, 16.4 and 17.4 at 18:00 at Suomenlinna Church
Tickets:15/10€ can be bought from: Tiketti (www.tiketti.fi)
Images: Arlene Tucker
Poster Image: Porttiteatteri