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Oslo's NationalTheater

The coolest place on Earth

The theater stands in Studentenparken in the middle of Oslo. If you stand facing the front door, the City Hall will be on your left with the University of Oslo on your right. The main office is open normal business hours, and there are playbills for the current productions and pictures of the current members. Like most Scandinavian businesses where people queue up, there is a "take-a-number" machine. The decor is greek...ish (nouveau-greek? Greco-Nouveau? Whatever. It's got a standard 1920s theater look).

The theater is bigger than you expect. Now, I'm no theater buff, but I did not expect five stories and three stages. I did not expect a foyer with walls full of art. I did not expect a personal tour.

Unlike me, my travel companion was one of those people who likes guided tours of things. I'm not against guided tours, I just don't go out of my way to secure them. Well, luckily for me, we chose to visit the Rådhus, Oslo's City Hall, the morning of our visit to see a play at the theater. City Hall is full of murals, and my companion decided it might be nice to get a tour of the Hall so we could get the background on the murals.

Our guide said her name was Britt although, she joked, she "wasn't one." She was an official, credentialled "Oslo Guide" in a blue suit and a crisp accent. It was a good thing she was interested in art because the hour-long tour was mostly discussions of the many artist who worked on the various murals within the Rådhus. It was a good thing for us that she mentioned in passing that she also did tours of the Nationaltheater. Upon completion of the tour, I sidled up to her and casually asked when the next tour of the theater might be. She hmmed and hawed, explaining that there were really no scheduled tours of the theater, she just did them on occasion at the theaters request.

Now, it could have ended there, but she asked why I was interested. I told her that my friend and I were going to see Tartuffe that night, and that we were actually meeting Sverre Anker Ousdal after the show.

"Oh," she said, "is he a friend of yours?" When I said no, I was just a fan, and she went on to say that she knew him not only from the Theatre, but she ahd also seen him around because her kids and his went to the same school. Then she dug around in her purse and fished out her business card.

"I'll be there to see a play tonight as well," she said. "Why don't we meet at 6:30 and maybe I can show you around a bit. Here's my card. Call me if you can't make it."

If we couldn't make it. Wild trolls on mooseback couldn't keep me away.

We met at the appointed time in the lobby, and she ushered us up to a locked door, which she unlocked with a key that looked at least 100 years old. She proceeded to take us through the foyer, into the (empty) auditorium, backstage, onstage, in the green room, in the royal box, in the royal room behind the royal box, on the catwalks, through the make up, wig and costume rooms, in the fancy dining area where all the hubbubs hobnob, up the old service elevator to the other stages, past the dressing rooms, through a maze of hallways, doors and staircases, and finally-- finally, culminating in the actors' cafeteria.

And yes, there sat Sverre, drinking coffee and reading the paper. "Ooh- there's your friend," she said.

It was an amazing tour. She regaled us with stories about the theater and the actors. She let us sit in the fancy fancy chairs in the green room. She told us stories about herself as a girl running about the catwalks-- as we ran about the catwalks. It was unbelievably cool. And she did it for no other reason than because we asked. I feel unbelievably lucky that we met up with her, and that she was so generous with her time. I found that most all the people I met in Oslo were like that: willing to help in any way they could. It was most impressive.

Copyright © 2000, 2001 Emily Slatten; about framheim; about the pictures