Words Julie Ugleholdt Pedersen
Photography Maja Malou Lyse
How is it possible to reform the format of a festival, and at the same time challenge the perception of how people understand, interact and experience this phenomenon? This is exactly what the full-scale interactive performance festival Henry’s Dream aims to do.
In a secret location in Copenhagen, Denmark, Henry’s Dream intends to confront the conventional understanding of a festival by distorting the boundaries between life and art. I met up with one of the organizers from Henry’s Dream, Esben Weile Kjær, to talk about their revolution and the urge to shake up people’s minds.
The Birth of Henry’s Dream?
Being in the presence of Esben, you immediately feel his passion and dedication to this new revolution that Henry’s Dream is pushing for. With a cigarette in one hand, and the other waving wildly about, he describes how this eccentric festival was born. “All of us had been engaged with stage art in one way or the other, and we felt that there existed far too much habitual thinking and conformity on how you should establish a concert.” Yet they realized that criticizing what was already happening would not be enough. “If we really believe that there is a need for an alternative, well, then we have to create it”, Esben explained. With this as the motivating factor, the desire to revolutionize a new way of perceiving stage art grew. Esben and his partners decided to achieve it through the format of a festival. However, Henry’s Dream is unlike any typical festival. Rather, the creators prefer to think of it as a giant experimental artwork, which could lead to something original and unusual – thus, Henry’s Dream was born.
Towards a New Era?
The urge and the ambition to revolutionize were there, yet they realized that this experiment was just a minor step in the process of changing the conventional perceptions. “In the beginning we would not compromise anything, anything at all. We quickly discovered that we had to set our goals for the long term,” Esben explains. They needed to learn from the experiment in order to continue with the revolution.
One of these steps towards transformation was the shift away from being so dependent on funds. “In our society we wanted to try something different. We were thinking that everyone should contribute with something else”, he says. They wanted people to actively contribute somehow, rather than just pay the ticket and be passive. However they discovered that in order for their experiment to be realized, they were relying on both solid capital and the way society works. Thus Esben and his collaborators chose to focus on what they could truly reform at this stage in their progression towards a completely new era. They decided to target how people behave and how they let their social habits take control.
This aim is something that they not only require of the guests, but also of themselves as organizers. Esben explains how everyone, including himself, dwells in habits and structures from their everyday life. It is exactly those comforting zones that they are trying to revolutionize or remove from the participants at the festival. The goal is for the participants to let loose and allow their world views to be turned upside-down. The realms of reality and imagination are meant to become blurred. For instance, performers will be interspersed with participants. Esben explains, “By actively using 220 performers involved in the festival, whom the guests do not know are performers, it will be one giant total theatre.” You will not know who is performing and who is just taking part in the festival. You will not know the difference between what is real and what is fiction. You will not know what is art and what is life, and you will not know what is wrong and what is right. “It is the disturbance and chaos that we work with to create confusion and disorientation”, describes Esben; and it is in this chaos that you are pushed to navigate yourself.
The festival guests will not have the ordinary feeling of going to a concert, where audience and artists are divided into two separate groups. Henry’s Dream has distorted this, by having some of the concerts in utter complete darkness, creating total disorientation for the audience. The festival guests will not be able to see the band, nor to have the slightest chance of knowing where they are. The audience will therefore exist in a symbiosis with the music and the people around them.
To emphasize the distortion between reality and fiction, the organizers will place rumors inside and outside of the festival. “We take advantage of the fact and the manner that people communicate, in a way where we create different fictions”, Esben explains. In this way they are leaving it to the participants, to spread or even translate fictive statements into reality. (…)