Art and Stoicism

This is incredibly hard for me to write about.

I was 14 when my grandpa died. By good fortune we were able to be there when it happened, blessed to have a chance to say goodbye. I remember feeling unexplainable grief mulling around in my body but became ever frustrated with my inability to produce actual tears. This is what we're supposed to do...what our bodies are meant to do when we lose a loved one...right? It's what I've seen in movies and television time after time...but why isn't it happening to me? Did this mean I didn't love my grandpa enough? No. No... I was sad, I loved him dearly, I was devastated...I was...but how would anyone know if I couldn't actually cry?  I sat through the beautiful service saltwater free...despite moving eulogies and beautiful music...there I sat. Feeling...but not emoting. It wasn't until we got to the snow covered gravesite and watched the coffin lower into the ground that I was finally able to release one lone teardrop.

As I got older and began to have more experiences with death and love, in my explorations as an actress and now as a mother I have found ways to access my emotions a little more freely. Yet the most basic and natural reaction for me in moments of intense feelings is and always has been suppression and distraction. Stoic Kirstin.

It wasn't until I joined Akvavit Theatre last January that I realized this stoicism was ingrained in my blood.  Before joining Akvavit I had never heard the term "Nordic Stoicism"....apparently that's a thing...and I've got it. And here in my new found artistic home I've found a place where this strange trait is not only understood, but actually appreciated.

It's unbelievably hard to find the words to express what it means to have an Artistic home...
to have ownership in collaborative art, and not just any art...but art that defines my soul.

I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of Akvavit Theatre as a Norwegian American, as a collaborator, as an actress, as a company member. I am so proud of the work we create together because I believe we're redefining what people come to expect from theatre.  I love that we can read a script that sounds impossible on paper and instead of shying away from it we plunge forward with reckless abandon.

Our current project: Gjenganger: 3 Plays by Jon Fosse is no different.  In Autumn Dream, A Summer's Day and Winter (the 3 plays we are presenting) Jon Fosse writes about "everything and nothing. " In a sense he pours out truth onto the page and extracts everything that we'd believe is important to plot and what you have left is raw human behavior. Between the vastness of Fosse's words lies the truth of the human condition.

I am so blessed to have been asked to play a pivotal role in Autumn Dream.  Never in my career have I worked on a more challenging script, and yet I am drawn to it with such fervor and longing.  Perhaps it's the script or perhaps its the intensity of working with devoted and inspiring collaborators, perhaps its both.

But yesterday, amidst this play about death, I found myself working alongside an actor who somehow managed to channel the stoicism of Nordic Gods worthy of the highest praise. Had I known that this actor's father had unexpectedly died just hours before this rehearsal I never would have had the courage to say to him this line: "And now your father's dead."   But this collaborator, friend and actor, whom I now hold with the highest of respects, chose to power through this run-thru without letting any of us know about his father's passing beforehand.  The fact that he allowed us to perform as we would, without knowing his troubles (and was able to hold it together beautifully) was the most selfless gift I think I've ever received from a fellow actor.  He mustered through this play (which takes place in a graveyard, dripping with talk about death) order to give us the peace of mind that we needed to make it through a week of rehearsal without him as he left to bury his father.

After a year of collaborating with Akvavit Theatre I have learned to embrace my stoicism and understand that this trait runs deep not only through me and through my whole family but in all humans in various forms, at different times.  And that is why I feel so connected to this company and to these plays. I am learning to acknowledge the absence of outward emotion as both a blessing and a curse...but more of a blessing.

Press Photo for Autumn Dream by Jon Fosse one of the 3 Plays presented by Akvavit Theatre in Gjenganger: 3 Plays by Jon Fosse

And if you've managed to read this far into this rant you might now understand why I cherish this work with Akvavit Theatre so much. I hope you will consider checking us out the next time your near Chicago. Gjenganger: 3 Plays by Jon Fosse opens in rotating repertory at the DCASE Storefront Theatre in downtown Chicago (66 E Randolph St) running Februarty 28th-March 24th (Thurs-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm). More information can be found here:

I also implore you to become a part of this production by helping us complete funding. We have a kickstarter campaign running until Friday. Any and all donations are accepted and are tax deductable. PLEASE CLICK HERE.

You can also check out the webseries I created to bring attention to the importance of Jon Fosse making his Chicago debut by subscribing to our YouTube channel.


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