16th - 28th August 2013


It was in June 2012, more than a year before the beginning of the tour, that the first contacts were made. A Danish agent had the mad idea of organising a street theatre festival travelling around the whole of Denmark: the "Gadeteater Festival". 7 professional companies from 5 different countries were scheduled to perform in 18 towns over 14 days.

The companies involved were: Les Grooms (France), Claire (Catalonia/France), Corpus (Canada), Ole (Spain), Infiorata (Italy), My Way and The House (Denmark).

And the towns involved were: Randers, Gentofte, Gladsaxe, Odense, Langeland/Rudkobing, Svenborg, Aero/Marstal, Middelfart, Herning, Bogense, Assens, Sonderborg, Faaborg Midtfyn, Nyborg, Kerteminde, and Aalborg.

Prior negotiations were long and complicated; over a period of months each technical term in the contract was argued over and each detail was picked over with a fine toothcomb. The talk that was going around about the Danish agent was not very flattering and we had the impression that we shouldn't really trust this person. It's important to try and anticipate in advance when things might go wrong! Several times we threatened not to make the trip, and the agent went as far as bursting into tears while telephoning to try and make us change our minds. 195 emails were exchanged before we set foot on Danish soil!

We were even more worried when we didn't receive the names of the towns we'd be touring to until just a few days before our departure...we had absolutely no idea where we'd be sleeping or how the festival was to be organised. 2 days before we left, we realised that the touring mini-bus would be too small and that we needed to hire another one.... The agent also informed us that we would have to use our own bankcard to pay for the transport and that nobody would be able to meet us at the airport... We were really worried about being ripped off, of having to pay for all the transport ourselves without being reimbursed, and of never being paid....

In addition, we learned that the airline company didn't accept musical instruments in the cabin and logically we would have to pay baggage charges for each instrument. In the end, the trip went OK and we didn't have to pay any excess charges. We were really keen to meet the infamous agent so as to get things straight between us.

No sooner had we arrived in Denmark than we had to set off again and travel 300km north (to Randers). We were excited to see this new country: there were immense bridges to cross, several kilometres in length; there were toll-free motorways where the frequent road-works slowed down the traffic; there were panoramic views of the northern lights; and above all there was the ever-present GPS to which we were glued so as not to get lost...

We arrived in Randers without any major problems. The town was a bit like a wild-west outpost. Our clarinettist Axelle had brought along some French sausage and we organised an aperitif in front of the local sawdust factory. We were delighted to find that the hotel was comfortable and that breakfast was enormous.

The agent had warned us that since the accommodation booked for us was deluxe standard, the deal was that we had to perform for 15 minutes extra in front of the hotel. In the end, this mini-set was cancelled at the last minute, and we never found out why....and we still hadn't seen the agent...

Most of our first performance took place while it was pouring down. Initially (and this was often the case during the tour overall) the space was deserted and there were no posters to advertise the performance...But as soon as we started, the audience arrived and we soon had a crowd in front of us. We sensed that they were very surprised by what they saw; street theatre doesn't exist in Denmark and so everything was new for the spectators.

The festival was organised by just 2 people: the agent and the assistant Peter Romer Halby. Peter is a very friendly man in his sixties but he's not always on top of things. Only the agent seemed to really be up to the job. But since they didn't have any additional help, communication and advertising were poor; many spectators complained that they didn't know in advance that were coming, and they found this a pity. In mitigation, it's true that we were encountering all the teething troubles of a type of festival that had never before been tried in Denmark.

However, the agent did a pretty good job of organising: the majority of the spaces we performed in were well chosen and we stayed in magnificent hotels with sumptuous breakfasts...

On the second day we had to return to Copenhagen (another 300km of travel). At last we met the mythic agent who turned to be nothing like we had imagined; she was a young, pretty woman with a charming, soft voice. So much for our preconceived ideas!!!

We were pleased to be able to spend a day of tourism in Copenhagen. Performances were scheduled to take place in the suburbs of the city. Once again we found our audience both enthusiastic and attentive.

We were still concerned that we wouldn't get our travel costs back and so we organised a company meeting to work out the best attitude to adopt: either we said to the agent that we refused to play if these costs weren't met immediately or we demanded that she pay car rental costs directly. We felt very stressed since we didn't know what this woman was really like. Other companies were having similar problems to us, notably the dancer Claire who was very angry with the agent...

Claire and her assistant Quique are from Catalonia and really are very nice people. We'd often come across Claire in festivals over the years without ever having spoken to her. Claire and her friend had not managed to negotiate reasonable daily expenses, and had resorted to making their lunch sandwiches out of the food available at breakfast. Several of the Grooms decided to do the same so as to be able to save their expenses (in the company we called that econo-penses).

After several none-too friendly exchanges, the agent promised us that she would come with us to the airport and pay for the hire cars with her bankcard. We were partially reassured but were still wary of some kind of fiddle that we hadn't spotted.

The towns we visited were often very small and it was usually the same routine: the pedestrianized street where we were scheduled to play would be deserted and we would say that there was no chance of anyone turning up. Then as soon as we made our appearance in the street, spectators would come out of hiding and follow us till the end of the show. Often schoolchildren or groups of disabled people would be in the audience. We felt lifted by their enthusiasm and warmth.

The daily schedule was to play in 2 different towns that were often 100 – 200km apart. We had to be very well organized, and there wasn't much time for preparation or warm-ups. Often we had to get changed in the car and jump out to play immediately without any rehearsal or any possibility of checking out the environment.

We would usually give the same explanation to the audience as to why we were there. We would explain that we had come to Denmark for one reason alone: though we lived in the most beautiful country in the world, with the best scenery, the best food and the best wine, France came only 47th in the table of the world's happiest countries.

Whereas in Denmark, where the countryside was flat, the food horrible, where it rains all the time and where the winters are awful, the country is ranked 1st in the league table of the happiest countries.

We didn't understand how this could be, so our "mission" was to comprehend the secret of Danish happiness and take this secret back with us to France...

We would question the spectators as to where this happiness comes from: one of the best and most frequent answers was that the Danes trust each other and that their happiness is based on that.

In any case, the Danish audiences seemed to appreciate our sense of humour, and eagerly joined in with the shows.

We were constantly busy; we didn't spend much time socialising and the group became a kind of very efficient sporting outfit. Some people were at the swimming pool at 7 in the morning, while others went running or walking by the sea. Bruno turned out to be the champion of swimming in the freezing ocean!!!

There was a good spirit in the company, and that come through in our music; because we were playing often, our sound was tight and full of nuances. The fact that our team had been enhanced by the addition of several former students from the national music Conservatory helped a lot. It was funny, because these "upstart youngsters" were the ones showing the way to the "old farts" of the company... and for us it was quite a turnaround to welcome such accomplished musicians into our group that had been playing together for some 30 years and where we had had rotten tomatoes thrown at us on several occasions at the outset!!!

For many years our set-up had been 7 men and 1 woman. For the Danish tour, we were 6 men and 3 women. This evolution towards parity of the sexes had some very beneficial effects.

Our new saxophonist Axelle decided one day to organise an aperitif in the garden of a hotel. We all ended up a bit tipsy from the schnapps and agreed that we were very happy to be part of this wonderful festival. The next day, another Groom did the same thing. And this became a ritual up to the end of the tour.... the accompanying snacks became more and more copious, until in the end the aperitifs had become full meals which we shared with our Catalan friends Claire and Quique.

As our stay continued, we started to get to know the other companies involved: there was the Corpus company from Canada with their show "Sheep", and the Spanish company Olé with "Flyers", featuring their crazy singer Paul Mauroco. The last day of the tour, in Aalborg, the agent organised a meal for all the companies, which culminated at 5 in the morning with a massive jam session.

Denmark is a very rich country, where we didn't see any people living on the streets, very few high-rise flats (most people live in houses) and no policemen...The Danes live in architect-designed huge, light houses. There are wind turbines everywhere and loads of solar panels. All the forests have been cut down and the whole country is cultivated; there are no mountains to speak of, only fields stretching as far as the eye can see...During our stay we were hardly ever able to eat fish. It seemed to have literally disappeared from the sea!! And the Danes are very keen on contemporary art; there are many impressive works on display in hotel rooms and other public spaces. The light in the north is unique; we saw many gorgeous sunsets and were constantly bathed in a soft, gentle glow. We'll never forget the many long walks along Danish beaches...

In the end this tour turned out to be very positive, and full of wonderful experiences. the agent was charming and generously hospitable. We made new friends and our shows were great, with good weather over a 2-week period. Street theatre has a potentially rosy future in Denmark. It's an unknown art, but the Danes seem ready to welcome it with open arms...


Christophe RAPPOPORT, trumpet player


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