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Cross Country, by Geddy Aniksdal

Our theatre group is on tour with the Norwegian State Touring Theatre. It is the
first time I take part in a performance with actors I have not met before. My
group made the performance for an outdoor audience two years ago. Now
some of our freelancers are not with us any more, and they are replaced by
actors and musicians from this theatre institution of Norway.
We have co-produced before, but then we made the arrangements,
chose the ensemble and planned and carried out the tour. Now we are
travelling with them, on their route, with their organisation. They tour and
perform regularly all over Norway.
We will rehearse the play with them and go on tour from September
to December, performing fifty-two nights in almost as many places, travelling
from the deep south to the far north of Norway. The distance is 2,500
kilometres. Mostly we will travel by bus, sometimes we have to fly. The play is
The Imaginary Invalid by Jean Baptiste Molière. We have never been on a tour
quite like this before. In total we are twenty-one people travelling. We all have
to make it work.

28.9.2001 – ELVERUM
We arrived yesterday and had a general rehearsal for nine spectators. Luckily
one of them could understand Norwegian and was blessed – or blessed us –
with her generous laughter that carried us through our two hour performance.
The other spectators were from Ethiopia and had not been in Norway long
enough to understand our language, especially not my Norwegian dialect. They
also laughed sometimes, but never at the point where people usually laugh.
The team from the other theatre that joins us on this tour are sad
today; one of their colleagues has just died. We are trying to arrange all the
practicalities so they can go to the funeral.
We are so different. Are we going to survive together? Sometimes I
think that at least many of us like beer and they seem nice. They have done
these tours numerous times and are very settled into their own routines. We do
not understand their work ethic and all their union rules. They probably think
we are a wild disorganised bunch with no real order to us.
During a rehearsal Lars, our director, asked the musicians to
exclaim three words in response to something funny happening on stage. They
replied, with stern faces, that they were not allowed to speak words, as this
would mean that they were under direction and thus had to be paid more. We
all laughed and thought it was a good joke. It wasn’t.

Today we bought aprons and a money-box for our two girls, Anna Andrea, my
fifteen-year-old daughter, and Marie, my colleague Anne-Sophie’s thirteen-
year-old daughter. They act in the performance with us and they are going to
sell programmes at the entrance and in the interval. They get 20% of what
they sell and they are thrilled to help improve our economy. They would
probably be more thrilled if they could keep all the income themselves, as they
are at the age of fashion awareness. We try to instruct them in other values as

2.10.2001 – RENA
Whatever day it is, things are already settling into some kind of routine. I am
mixing up places and dates and days, not to mention room numbers at the
Today we have played in a tiny little place where most of us failed
to find the centre of town when we went for our obligatory walk after checking in
at the hotel. It is a very fine hotel and our new royal couple stayed here two
days ago, something the girls knew all about and I nothing.

The technical rig took so long that we did not get to do our training, I swam in
the swimming pool in our last hotel so it doesn’t matter.
We never know what audiences to expect as country people never
order tickets in advance. As it turned out we had a great house and, as some
in the audience laughed a lot even before we had started, rumours went that
they were drunk. They laughed so much that the performance took a longer
time than usual.
We did the quickest get out so far which earned smiles from the
technicians. We are still not accustomed to the fact that they would like the get-
out to be as fast as possible. My colleague Anne-Sophie and I like to sit down
after the show, talk a bit about how it went, take time to calm down, have a
smoke, in a relaxed way. Not so here. We walk back to the hotel to hang up
wet clothes, wash the ones that are too dirty to use, and count the days until
we have a free day and get to have the costumes washed properly. My jacket
smells so bad that I have asked people not to get too close. I am also one of
the ”runners” in the performance and I get soaked each night, which I use as
perfect excuse to have a beer after the show. Others are having beers as well,
it has nothing to do with sweating.

The girls have gone to bed – told not to watch telly and have a good night’s
sleep, as we are leaving early tomorrow. Some of the boys have been great
today, helping with their homework, sorting out the maths exercises. I am
relieved not to have to do it all. Even though they are older they still need a lot
of care and attention. Anna will not plait her braids before the performance.

And now what? After a beer or two like tonight, we have our small discussion
about the performance, about other performances, sit together and get to
know each other. One by one we go off to our rooms to sleep or read, or write,
or phone friends or husbands or wives.
I phone home just to find out that both my husband and son are in
bed sick from food poisoning. I text mail my son and he tries to explain that
they think they ate some old pesto sauce and so became sick. And at the end
of the message ”I miss you”. Hm. I think ”I miss you too”, but it will be a
time before we see each other, so maybe it is better not to get too much into

It had to happen and it had to be one of us. Usually we are all ready early at
the bus, to load our luggage and take the last sip of coffee and fill our lungs
with enough nicotine to get by for the next hour.
Today someone is missing. One of our lot. The tour leader had to
go and look for him. He was in the bathtub peacefully relaxing. He thought
there was another hour before departure. He was damp and sweaty all over on
entering a very silent bus. We were catching a ferry. We did not get our
smoking stop, or time to go to the loo. But we made it.

3.10.2001 – RØROS
We arrive in Røros, after a three hour ride in the bus. Our tour leader has more
than enough to do, busy on the phone all the time. He has to take care of all
the things concerning our travel, our stays in the different hotels, our
performances in the different cultural houses. All complaints go to him, he is
under a lot of pressure.
Some of his people think we are too crowded in the bus, and that it
is wrong that technicians and actors have to depart at the same time. They say
that this tour should have had a bigger budget. We don’t really know what to
say since to us this is comfort.

Anne-Sophie and I walk down the streets of old Røros, one of the oldest cities
of Norway. We mingle with the tourists and look like them, yet we have another
reason for being here. We find a place to eat and Anne is thinking of ordering
the local dish of elghakk (moose-stew), until she sees it served to the person
in front of her. She opts for something less challenging to the stomach.
Our girls are pleased with the stay here, not that they care about
the place, its history, architecture or anything they could learn or get to see,
no – the hotel has a swimming pool and this is where they will stay until we do
Kung Fu or get ready for the performance.

We speak about work amongst ourselves in the bus, we challenge each other
to improve our work in the performance, to tighten and get it sharper every
night. We wonder, yet again, about this mysterious thing called timing that one
evening has the whole audience roar with laughter and the next evening is
gone, is flat, dead, nothing. We agree to give our new lines some more goes,
and if anything is not working we will try to be hard and just throw it out. After
all, we made these additions to the script written by Lars. We all agree on the
importance of keeping our work alive.

5. 10. 2001 – SUNNDALSØRA
How come we have arrived at a hotel where they don’t serve food Friday,
Saturday or Sunday? How come only fifty-six people came to see the
performance? How come?
Hanto, who has debts and tries to save money, cooks his meals on
the hotel roof on a cooker he brought himself. It is just as well since they don’t
serve any food here…
Only forty-five performances left. I have arranged to have breakfast
in bed with my daughter tomorrow. That is a treat. Fawlty Towers is just a
kindergarten compared to this. I wonder what Molière and his troupe would
have done?

7.10.2001 – MOLDE
We are in the most luxurious hotel, the girls have a room bigger than our first
floor at home, and they think that Molde is fabulous, but we know their ranking
system by now.
Anne-Sophie and I have been asked by the technicians to make
coffee; it is to be taken as a privilege to be given a task by them. We have
helped them sew as well.
I agreed to go swimming with the girls at 8.30 a.m. This hotel can
be as luxurious as it wants, I have no time to contemplate or even use it. I
have a bath and put my clothes to dry on the hot floor tiles.

8.10.2001 – ÅLESUND
Everybody is tired today after our day off in Ålesund. All the fabulous things
people wanted to do; have a massage, go to the hairdresser, go shopping, sit
in a library, climb the mountain…
We ended up looking for the shoemaker and the laundry and then
washing our own dirty clothes in the bathroom; trying in vain to find an internet
café, and the rest of the time we did nothing, lying in bed, not tired nor rested.
But we did all meet for a glass of wine before we went to a famous expensive
seafood restaurant where Anna got to hold a live lobster and carried him
through the room. We had to pay three days per diem for the meal, and we
witnessed that some got very, very drunk. I went to bed at a very Christian
time, just to toss around restlessly for three hours.
Anna has started her on-tour schooling with the teacher, the Oslo
actors are back from the funeral and we are on our way down south and

12.10.2001 – FØRDE
What day is it today? Friday? Then this must be Førde.
We have started to make charts and statistics in the bus. We have
to give a percentage number for how happy we are, what we thought about last
night’s performance, and what we thought about our own contribution. The
results are read out loud, and we have to try to comfort or give away some
points to those feeling most low.
Jokes apart, we are tired. It is raining all the time, our costumes
are dirty and smelly and some of us are not well. People are swopping
medicines and good advice.
Last night my parents came to see us and Anna and I had a good
time with them afterwards and most of the group ended up around our table.

On the way here we make a stop and look at a glacier. We all stand there open
mouthed and stare – like real tourists.
We are not.

Shit again! The performance was not very good. It reminded me of what
Dashiell Hammett supposedly said to Lillian Hellman after reading one of her
early plays, ”It is worse than bad, it is half good”.
I wonder about the audience as well: they clap, laugh and seem
content. But I did spot some sceptics like myself among them. We had the
biggest house so far, and we did not play well.
All the other dissatisfactions add up: why do we, from the so-called
free theatre group, stay behind and clean up when the others hurry off,
because they cannot stay longer than they are paid for, no matter how much
there is left to do?
As we walk the rather long way back to the hotel, in the rain, I clutch
the money box from the programme sale in one hand, and the flowers given to
us in the other hand, and a bag with the wet and dirty clothes on my shoulder.
I am angry and happy at the same time. Angry, because they do not show
solidarity with our needs and with the work that has to be done. Happy, that I
don’t ever have to think that way.

I also nearly quarrelled with my love on the phone, since I found out that on
the only two free days I have – when I am going home to see my family – he
has to go away for work. I must have sounded rather terrible on the phone
because he called back to tell me he had been able to cancel one. I am
usually the one to have other commitments on my free days, and he is always
furious with me. Now he starts too? He is not supposed to be that way!
Today I was ready to quarrel with anyone I came across. Some days
are not fun!
It is the end of October, and south Norway is cold and beautiful, low sun on
yellow and red leaves, made for brisk walks in the countryside. My brisk walk is
to buy the newspaper and more cigarettes and it is in town. I have excuses for
not being out much, the cold, and the fact that I have lost my second scarf, a
must in this country after August.
I often think of the man I met in Buenos Aires who told me that his
theatre had played The Mousetrap there for thirty years and that he had been
in it since the beginning. I thought it was a joke. Little did I know.

Anna and Marie take part in the Kung Fu sessions, as well as practising their
scenes before the performance. Anna has days when she says she is no good
and will never be an actor.

Some days are just days, they need only to pass so I can start on another one.
There is seemingly nothing wrong, nobody talks rudely to me, the weather is
okay, all the practical arrangements are okay, it is just this sudden draught of
melancholia passing through me, where if I am not careful, I am tempted to
start doubting everything. These are the days when, instead of finding
something playful to watch on television or making an appointment with some
of my joyful friends, I engage deeply in William Styron’s book on depression.
And it works.
Reading about other people going through difficult phases of their
lives, helps me sort myself out. I go from wanting to move to the country and
grow vegetables to thinking about how fine I am, and how lucky I am to do
what I do. A book is a good hiding place, a place to be alone, I remember my
mother telling me about my disappearing act when I was a child; I used to
take a book and hide under the kitchen table, to have some room of my own
in a family of seven.

Days, nights, how come the smiles and jokes from the others that I enjoyed
and laughed at last night don’t interest me at all tonight?
How come the food is dull, the rush before performance is almost
gone, I can feel time, and feel myself go cold between scenes?
How come no-one else notices? How come when the spectators at
the end stand up and clap, looking so happy, I am bewildered that they do?
I know all the sensible and rational answers to these questions, but

Night comes, and I can go to bed. I think of what city we are in, and where we
are going tomorrow. I listen to the hailstorm outside, it calms me. I go to sleep.

I join the tour again after a day off. I return from my uncle’s funeral and reach
the tiny village. I cannot see any posters for our play, the rain is pouring down
almost sideways, the waves are coming up on the pavement, and I seem to be
the only person out. I find the venue, and a woman there confirms that we are
on – tonight.

The others start to arrive, we find our costumes, prepare props, the musicians
start to exercise, I make coffee – someone is missing: the guitar player.
We have to rehearse and make plans for how to do the
performance without him. Five minutes before we start he comes running in. He
grabs his guitar to fine tune it, grabs his costumes and says: ”I will explain
I am the one to do the pep talk before we start. Tonight I feel so
tired and uninspired I ask my colleague Henning to do it. He starts
out: ”Today, when we might be tired and uninspired…” I could have said it
myself. Luckily one of the others protests and says, ”What do you mean, I am
totally the opposite, so full of energy and ready to go”, and we go to prepare,
people are coming in – where do they come from? – the orchestra plays and we
sing our opening song. Henning starts his first monologue, and it is like
thunder and lightning has filled the man, he is electric, and the audience is
there with us right from the start.
I hide among the audience, I fall onto the lap of a spectator, as I
usually do. I find a man – I think – and I am about to say so, in my lines. Just
before I do, I bend down over this person, I feel a hint of perfume, I look
down and cannot decide whether it is a man or a woman. Quickly I alter my
text to say that this is a good place to stay, not a good man to find, and
Henning looks hesitant up on the stage, but we are off and just carry on.

We do one of our champagne performances as we like to call them. It is like
sparkling wine, and we are blessed with this woman who laughs like forty
people and all the time. We are carried on her waves of laughter. After the
show we go to the hotel in the rain. Nobody is out; we eat dinner and meet
amongst ourselves, and then on my way to bed I have a little chat with the
woman running the hotel. I have met someone in civilian life today too.
And we were in the right place.

29.10.2001 – KRISTIANSAND
The tour bus rolls into Kristiansand and parks in front of the biggest hotel, we
go to the reception desk and get our room numbers, I find the elevator and
finally my room. Outside the door it says ”Business Class” and I am sure
it is wrong, but no, this room is meant for me. I am not used to all this luxury
so my first reaction when I enter the room is pure embarrassment. At least four
people could sleep here.
I have my own desk and leather chair, and an enormous bed, and
bathrobe and slippers. In these surroundings I drink coffee with an upset
Henning who has been to check the stage where we are playing. We have two
full houses of 450 spectators awaiting us, and the technicians have placed our
stage as far from the audience as is possible.
We have the usual quarrel with the authorities, and there is nothing
to be done whatsoever, because of fire regulations, house rules and a very
uncooperative boss somewhere, so we find ourselves drowned in luxury, but
with no real influence on how and where we play.

Our tour leader comes and tells us that tonight we have played performance
number twenty-six and we have twenty-six more to go. Thinking of that I go to
Telford Pub to meet up with the others and have a beer.
Tomorrow we have rehearsals during the day, because we are going
to replace a role. My husband is coming in – he is also the director of this play.

We have been up north a week now starting out in Vadsø. You can’t get further
east. Then we moved on to Kirkenes, only a few miles from the Russian
border. We had been warned of the cold, and we came prepared – that is, we
have enough clothes, but we are not mentally prepared. When it is twenty
degrees below zero, your nostril hair freezes every time you draw breath and
melts again when you exhale. The snow sings under your feet.
The sun is only up a few hours a day, when it is around one p.m. it
starts to get dark and you feel like going to bed. No wonder light therapy was
invented up here, some people suffer severe depression because of the lack of

Cold outside, warm inside, especially if you don’t get too close to the outer
wall. We played in Kirkenes, and in a little break I leaned against the outer wall
and almost got stuck!

The distances are so great, that we can’t reach our next venue by bus. We had
to send the gear off in the night and then travel by chartered plane. We got up
early (which is a big hassle for some people in the other company), and we got
into this little seventeen seater plane, took off, saw that the wheels did not
fold, heard from the captain that something was wrong. And down again we
went, to wait for someone to find the right screw so we could take off again. We
had a free lunch in recompense.

Sometimes we meet someone, for a talk, for a beer. Someone is helping us,
someone is having a romance, someone has friends or family, most of the
time it is us, and the audience. We get along quite well, I feared it would be
more difficult.

23.11.2001 – TROMSØ
Some of us went to the movies to see the Agnes Varda film The Collectors.
The girls have their teacher back. She flew in to Alta, and she will do
the Christmas exams with them at the end of the week. Anna will celebrate her
15th birthday on Sunday, and has invited the whole ensemble for coffee and
cakes. I will have to find the cakes. We will be in a tiny little place I had not
heard of before this tour.
We are in a real city today, and we read the papers and get
longings to do things that other people do. There is an interesting lecture
tomorrow, about Shakespeare.
It is mild here, only minus five, we can wear normal shoes. We will
meet early tonight and go through some scenes that have strayed a bit lately.
In my mind I think, is it worth it or not? We have only a few more
performances to do. Then I force myself to do it, afraid of my natural tendency
to get lazy.

28.11.2001 – BODØ
We are close to the end of the tour and it is noticeable on many levels. My fear
is that the work is getting sloppy. It is still respectable. But people are tired
and bored in a way.
Long travelling distances, short time for the technical crew, no
daylight at all, when we are done with breakfast and some writing or washing or
talking, we go out for a stroll and it is like late night. I lose the sense of time,
and that sense is already in bad shape from odd working hours anyway.
Being in a city helps, people can log on to the internet, do some
shopping, see other people, go to the movies.

One of our actors and one of the musicians gave Anna a trip to the movies for
her birthday, and yesterday a taxi pulled up in front of the hotel to take all
three of them to Harry Potter and his world. The taxi driver found it strange
that they could not walk the 200 metres to the cinema, but they insisted that
she should arrive in style ”Nutters”, the taxi driver said, but drove them
anyway. We are like foreigners. They call us southerners, it means we know
nothing of this world up here. It is probably true.

For the first time on our tour we have had a critic who has written seriously and
with insight about our tour, the troupe, the attempts to work in the spirit of
Molière and his troupe. Our work has been seen in the context we tried to
make it for.
Our last day off yesterday, we play six performances in a row and
then we fly back down south. I look forward to seeing my son (hope he feels
likewise), I look forward to being able to have some more space to walk in; to
walk from room to room in pyjamas in the morning.
Even my daughter’s fascination with hotel rooms and foyers has
faded, she confessed last night. They have often been admitted to Business
Class lately where they have Pay Television for free, and we have had to teach
them how to close their eyes and switch quickly over the soft porn channels. In
addition to this they get a newspaper dealing with the latest changes on the
stock market for free! They laugh, and we take them swimming in the local
swimming pool. I buy them cakes, shaped like hearts.

Everybody now talks about what they are going to do next. We, in Grenland
Friteater, go home to prepare our 25th anniversary, where we also will play this
performance for the last time as a gift to our town, as a final celebration. The
State Theatre has given us the performance as a gift as well. We are grateful
for it, but for their own actors involved, it means a lot of extra work since they
will already be rehearsing for their next touring production.

Our girls only look forward to Christmas.

In this week, and quite contrary to what I would have expected, a kind of
melancholia sets in. We have only two performances left, and people are
mentally packing. Last night we also had an outburst of anger during the
performance, which we have been spared so far. We wondered where one actor
went; it turned out he was very angry because one of his cues was overlooked
and he did not get his ”share”. If everyone walked off stage like that it would
be empty before the interval, with all the alterations and improvisations we
usually make.

I sat by myself the other night thinking about how this tour has influenced my
children. Especially my son at home, he has grown into an almost independent
young man, not necessarily too eager for us to come home.
Anna, fifteen years old now, lives by herself on tour, deciding when
to go for meals, and when to arrive at the venue each night.
I had not planned their independence to come all in one go like
this, but it has. Something outside ourselves creates a need and a necessity.
Soon they will be off and gone.

And again, as with this tour now, when it is nearing the end. Already? So soon?

Geddy Aniksdal
Publisert i The Open Page