"It is good to see different places, and meet different people to exchange experiences and views on the world. When you are away from home on a residency like this, you tend to be more focused on your work. I am so grateful for this opportunity."
Swedish playwright Anna Nygren
Anna Nygren – Writer in Residence at the Royal Court
Dates in London: June 31 – August 20
Where are you based in Gothenburg and does the environment help your writing?
I live in Gårda, which is quite close to the big fairground Liseberg, and also next to a small river. I don’t know if this environment helps me in any particular way, but I like the river, and take walks along it when I need a break from writing. I like the water, it calms me down.
Did your school and university education help you in your career?
I went to a school called Biskops-Arnö, which has a special playwright’s program. That was very good, I learned a lot and I came into contact with some theatres and fellow playwrights. After that I got a master’s degree in literary composition at Linnaeus University. It was there that my professor became very engaged in my work. He also translated one of my plays to Greek, and put me in contact with a Greek director, which finally led to the play being staged in Athens and Thessaloniki. That was a really interesting experience - seeing my play performed but not understanding a word of what the actors said.
How easy is it to become a professional writer in Sweden today?
That's a hard question to answer. I believe that I haven’t really succeeded: I only work part time as a writer. So in that sense, and from a personal perspective, it’s not especially easy. But that’s not to say it’s impossible. I do, however, think you need to be prepared to live cheaply and work a lot. In other words, make sacrifices for the sake of your art.
Is it easy to be explicit and open when writing in Sweden?
I think the cultural climate in Sweden is quite open, at least compared to other countries. When writing for theatre, I think the most interesting work happens in the theatre for young audiences – since the 1980s there has been a tradition to make Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) that is about politically relevant subjects. But then, speaking as one who works in this tradition a lot, and despite Sweden being an open country that allows free speech, it still sometimes feels like there are conservative trends. However, overall, one can write about class differences, sexuality, queer life and feminism without being reprimanded, and there is an ongoing and sometimes heated discussions about racism.
What are the main themes that run through your writing, and why?
I would say that my favourite topic is “cruel kids” and young femininity. I like to write about girls and their relationships with each other and the rest of the world. I think that being a girl, even in Sweden, is not easy, and I think The Girl, as an existential position, is really interesting. I will also freely admit that I have a dark side within me, and often end up writing about violence and cruelty.
When did you find out about your success with the Royal Court Theatre? How did it make you feel, and how will the British experience help you as a professional?
I applied to the International Residency following a recommendation. It took some time until I got the e-mail telling me that I had been accepted. This e-mail arrived during the evening, so I initially thought it was a dream! I woke up several times that night and checked my inbox to see if it really was real. I felt very happy, I still feel happy. Happy and excited. I think it will be really helpful to work with the dramaturges, actors and fellow writers during the weeks in London. I have already started working with the translator, and just reading my own writing in English has been very good for my writing process: I start to see things that I wouldn’t otherwise in the Swedish versions.
Are arts exchanges and the chance to live and work in other European cities beneficial for young writers?
Yes, I think so. It is good to see different places, and meet different people to exchange experiences and views on the world. Also, I think when you are away from home on a residency like this, you tend to be more focused on your work. I am so grateful for this opportunity to concentrate on my writing for three weeks.
Are you familiar with the British theatre scene, and has it inspired your work in any way?
I am, of course, a huge fan of writers like Sarah Kane and Harold Pinter. But I’m afraid I am not very familiar with contemporary British theatre and I have not seen many British productions – of course I really look forward to doing that when I am in London.
How will you use your time in London?
The program for the residency is arranged so that we will mostly stay in London, apart from one weekend at Hawkwood College in the countryside. We will also see a lot of theatre in London and meet with UK-based writers and theatre workers.