Finnish summer has many well known traditions: going to the cottage to spend the weekend, picking up berries in the forest and later baking cakes with them, etc. But there is also a deeply rooted tradition when it comes to culture: attending a show at the summer theatre (or kesäteatteri in Finnish).
In short, summer theatre shows are always organized outdoors, normally on a natural setting close to villages.
May is the month when the first shows may be hold, as the weather is warmer, the snow has melted in most of the country and the season continues until the end of the summer.
The data confirm that this is a cultural activity for thousands of Finns. According to the Theatre info's stats, all the shows around Finland collected more than one million spectators per year before the pandemic.
Why is summer theatre that popular?
“In Finland the winter is so cold and when the summer arrives we want to stay outside”, explains the chairman of Loimaa's theatre association, Jani Hägg. He has been more than 15 years volunteering in Kertunmäki's summer theatre and he has a remarkable experience on the field.
The shows are usually funny and rarely dramatic, they do not usually make the audience cry. “Finns want joy for the summer and thus for the summer theatre”, asseverates Hägg.
Jani Hägg, setting the stage. Photo: Pablo Morilla.
The point is also that “these are usually in great spots in the nature”. This may explain partly the fever for these performances: “I know that there is people that can go around more than 10 summer theatres per season,” says Hägg. Some of them are actors and actresses -amateurs or professionals- that enjoy both acting and watching the shows.
There is a clear preference for the public for the summer theatre:
“At least in Loimaa it is harder to have a sold out in the indoor theatre”, Hägg points out . However, in the kesäteatteri it is rare to have any empty seats, even where there is much more space available for the public.
What is the key to its popularity? Maybe it is the kind of performances.
It is quite common to see shows about some old Finnish television series. Tankki täyteen (Filling the tank) exemplifies this phenomenon: a comedy from the '70s that still can be seen in some summer theatres.
“This summer is coming up to Kertunmäki Puhtaat valkeat lakanat (Clean, white sheets), a popular national tv-show from the '90s”, adds Hägg. People recognize the title and then they have the idea that it might be interesting. Even though, from Hägg's point of view, the audience is every time younger, so that “the tradition will continue”.
Being outside also means that they are exposed to the climate conditions. “We don't have a roof on the stage and if it rains, the actors and actresses will be wet”, says Hägg.
To deal with this problem, they recently built a roof for the audience, something that cannot be found in all the summer theatres. “I heard that sometimes a show had to be stopped due to heavy rains here”, remembers the chairman of Loimaa's theatre association, but they have been “lucky” that since he is working in Kertunmäki it hasn't happened in any spectacle.
Anyway, a summer theatre gives more chances to set a difference comparing to an indoor theatre. The limits to build something on the stage are wider and they can bring cars or animals easily.
“It is a bit hard to bring a real horse to the indoor theatre”, mentions Hägg laughing.
A summer theatre sign. Photo: Foreigner.fi.
There is also a curious phenomenon around kesäteatteri: the power it has to unite a village.
Even in smaller villages without many basic services, a summer theatre is still found. Hägg explains that it is because the spectacles can be mainly done by the same inhabitants and it works as an element of union for the town.
For people interested in visiting any summer theatre, on the website kesateatterit.fi there is a large list of performances that are coming up all around Finland.
*Pablo Morilla is a journalist, author of the blog Michan en Finlandia