About the Glada Hudik Theatre
Our story begins back in 1996. Theatre-founder Pär Johansson was working as a rehabilitation officer at a day-care centre in Hudiksvall, and suggested starting up a theatre group as one of the activities in which the mentally-handicapped could choose to participate. Despite a mixed response from colleagues, Pär was given permission to go ahead with the plan, but the group´s debut performance was made against a backdrop of protests and questioning from the actors´ family members. The response to the show was excellent, though, and together with trusted colleague Olle Hillström, Pär continued his diligent work with the group, each new experience gained making the pair ever keener to continue. The mentally-handicapped who took part also showed great enthusiasm to work with theatre, and slowly the project began to gain momentum.
Support for the mentally-handicapped is aimed at helping them to function independently; to live, insofar as it is possible "like everyone else". All too often, though, the mentally-handicapped in day-care centres like the one where Pär worked in Hudiksvall end up in their own closed-off groups, cut off from the world outside. Aware of this, Pär and Olle actively sought to develop the theatre´s ties with external companies and organisations in a number of ways.
Groups of high-school students were commissioned to the project, playing music, painting stage equipment and props, sewing costumes and working as stage-hands. Companies and professional organisations have also taken part, providing lighting, sound and make-up. Local commerce has provided sponsorship as well as coming to watch the group´s performances. Schoolchildren have met the actors in the classroom, and then later on stage during performance. The theatre can be said to have lived "a normal life" in no uncertain terms.
In tradtional care-environments, there can be a tendency to pussyfoot around the mentally-handicapped, as well as a reluctance to set goals and expectations. Pär and Olle, however, have never been afraid to set goals for their actors, challenging the group to provide committed, wholehearted performances to the best of their individual abilities.
Many of our actors can´t read, some can´t speak. Others have difficulty moving. And some find it hard working in group situations. It goes without saying that patience, dedication, and a sound educational approach is needed to guide a group like this towards being able to stage a fully-fledged theatre performance featuring dialogue, dance, song, and music. A key approach from the start was to base the productions on the group´s own ideas. "Who do you want to be? Who do you want to play? And how?" we would ask.
Simple stories began forming around an array of characters who slowly came to life. We never worked from completed scripts, or practised reading lines, but when the characters and story took shape, we worked hard to ensure the actors retained what they had learned. "Remember what you´re supposed to do now? Remember to answer me just as you did then." We developed a range of techniques to help the actors remember their lines. Our songs were composed spontaneously along similar lines, with Olle often shouting "Make up a tune" to the group, capturing a melody with his guitar and allowing the songs and lyrics to develop naturally. It´s easier to remember that way. "I am Zazoo the bird", Helena would suddenly declare, inspired by Disney´s The Lion King! With Elvis, ten years and eight performances later, the group has progressed to working with completed scripts and readily-composed music, even tackling song-lyrics in English. It´s fair to say we´ve come a long way from Santas in Space to Elvis.
The Glada Hudik Theatre´s maiden production, Santas in Space was made in 1996 and watched by an audience of just 400. In 1998, following two further plays, the group began gaining credibility locally and started to adopt a more professional approach to its projects. A further breakthrough was made in 1999 with Indians in the Jungle, a collaboration with the Gävleborg People´s Theatre, and the following year came The Great Bank-Robbery, which marked the first time the group used film in its performances, something which would later become a Glada Hudik Theatre trademark.
In 2001 the group staged Have a Wonderful Holiday, and with every new production found something new and original to appeal to its ever-increasing band of devotees. As the number of productions grew so did the theatre´s audiences, and the project steadily began to attract more and more attention both locally and nationally. In 2003 they performed The Best of The Glada Hudik Theatre, showcasing a medley of previous material, which was seen by a record total of 8,500 people. The group´s flagship production of Elvis was performed publically for the first time in 2005, and would shatter all existing audience records in Hudiksvall.
The last few years have seen the Glada Hudik Theatre out touring nationwide with Elvis, playing ever larger venues such as Cirkus in Stockholm and Lorensbergsteatern in Gothenburg. So far, a total of 110,000 people have seen the show, and a series of new performances are planned for 2010. Furthermore, In June of 2010 the group will travel across the Atlantic to New York, where they´ll perform Elvis for American audiences on Broadway.
In the pipeline
Swedish broadcaster SVT is currently filming a documentary about the Glada Hudik Theatre which is due to air in the autumn, 2010. In addition, a feature film inspired by the group´s story is also to be made next year.