Heartwarming interview with a legendary duo: Seela Sella and Esko Roine, starring in Love Letters at Tampere's theatre
Love Letters will have its premiere on 29.1. at the Tampere's theatre. I had the honor to meet the charismatic acting duo Seela Sella and Esko Roine! How was the theatre school of 1950-60s different from the theatre academy of nowadays, can anyone become a fairly good actor like Grotowski claims and have their lives gone the way they've planned out?
The show itself is more like a dramatic reading of a play. If you had to choose, which one you'd act with: with your voice or with your body only?
Seela, her nose going towards the ceiling: Oh, you can't separate them!
Esko, in a pondering tone: In a theatre show where one is performing... Nah, you can't do just either one... Neither option plays the kannel of my soul-- to think that I'd be only a mime or a voice in a radio drama. Talking about the issue I haven't done miming since my time at the theatre school. A live audience makes performing really attractive job and profession.
Seela: On stage you always have your body kind of alive; whether you'd just stand still in the middle of the stage, not saying anything, your body still has that some kind of attentive mode on.
In the show the two friends send each other letters and plan out their lives. Has your life gone the way you have planned?
Seela: Well, I've gotten the theatre profession as I'd wanted... To the subplots of life I've gotten something else then.
Esko: Yes and no. As a profession I didn't plan anything else seriously than theatre. When I was a young boy at school, I wrote an essay saying that "I'll be either an actor or a politician... If I get in... To the Parliament I mean!" /Esko laughs, looking at Seela, jollily pointing at her/ I had to remark in the essay that if I got into the Parliament, see, so that I wasn't talking about the theatre school! I come from a family line of actors. They thought too that theatre would be the boy's thing for sure, as if I wasn't capable of doing anything else! Let him go there, then, they muttered.
Seela: Well, I on the opposite was very good at school from early on in many subjects. In my family there was only theatre in terms of a hobby. Both my grandfather and grandmother did theatre on their leisure, my mother too. During the 1950s when I auditioned for the theatre school of Finland, one had only one chance to audition! If you didn't get in on the first try that was it. Also, the school itself had the right to expel people. The first dropping off was during Christmas time of the first year, second at the Spring of first year. And if you had not got kicked out until the Christmas of your second year, you were safe only just then.
Esko: I were in such a hurry to get into the industry. I was in the army when I auditioned and during those days you weren't allowed to take off your uniform, so there I was, auditioning in that army uniform at the attic of the National Theatre where the auditions were held back in the days. Later in the auditions one of the directors came to me, asking that when my duty at the army would be over. I knew it was a good sign and so I got in!
Seela: During those times, it wasn't the "theatre academy", it was just a theatre school and the only one in Finland!
Yes, tell about the theatre school during those times and what it was like to be an actor in the 60s and 70s...
Esko: There was something real and right about it before, because-- of course I'm old fashioned, I've lived through those times, but-- I think it was a good thing that people got expelled. Because there's no jury that wouldn't have made mistakes. See, at the auditions they get charmed by an auditioner, for a reason or another, and offer a place at the school. But then when the actual classes start in the Fall and they look at him studying and working, they eventually see that "Damn, this person isn't the one. He's not right for the demands of the profession. He'd be much happier if we expelled him and he'd have time to pursue something else."
Seela: Yes, the theatre school of the 50s was a school where you graduated into a profession (ammattikoulu), not an academy where you got a masters degree and everything.
Esko: And yes, back in the 60s and 70s you had really short contracts with the theatres: two years and after that you were able to continue a year or two more. Or not. And there was an atmosphere of hope that if you signed into a theatre and early on thought that nah, why did I come here, I don't like the place or the people, you could think that well, I'll leave after two years! And of course during those times too not all actors had the chance to pursue the profession so they did something else in the meantime. But I do have to emphasize that during those times there were more jobs to do too.
Seela: As an actor you traveled from town to town with your work and took your family with you, going from Jyväskylä to Lahti to...
Esko, getting excited: Yes! There was that day when the whole Finland was turned upside down so to speak! On the first day of February there were huge headlines in the newspapers telling which actors will be in which town. Actors had gone from Oulu to Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä to Mikkeli and so on. Nowadays the head directors of theatre don't travel anymore, seeking out for new talents, but there are always the same faces...
Seela, looking at the ground, hand on her cheek: Yes...
So, how are the auditions at the theatre academy of Finland nowadays? Have you been in the jury?
Seela, stirring: Oh no, it's awful! Yes... I've been in the jury. And the case is that there can be someone who is fairly good in every task we give. But then there's some other one who has gotten that something in him, yet he remains clueless in certain tasks. Still he's got a spark, something more than the one who's fairly good in every task. So it's hard. The jury does do mistakes. You cannot know in that moment that how advanced the auditioners are, after all.
So what you reckon, should someone get discouraged if they don't get into the Theatre Academy nowadays?
Seela and Esko, both almost getting up out of their seats, exclaiming: Of course not! /they remain to do some flailing in different speeds/
Esko: If you got the drive for it, there are other routes. Though you shouldn't fall for the ones that charge you!
You mean the ones that say "Pay 3000€ and you'll certainly get into the Theatre Academy after the time with us"?
Esko: Yes, those, no... There have been some of them abroad and now they've grasped the idea here in Finland too. Though there are some exceptions.
Seela: I recommend the folk high school in Lahti! They have good teachers there. I have some acquaintances that have made it to the theatre academy from there. /Seela pauses for a while, until she finds it necessary to declare this, at times frimly pointing at me with her whole hand:/ a school won't make you an actor. Nothing does, you do it yourself: you either are, or you're not. Even if everyone else would say that "you'll never be anything" and yet you think to yourself that "... Perkele, I'll show them!" Then you'll have the right flame.
"A school won't make you an actor. Nothing does, you do it yourself: you either are, or you're not. Even if everyone else would say that "you'll never be anything" and yet you think to yourself that "... Perkele, I'll show them!" Then you'll have the right flame." - Seela
What do you think of Grotowski's theory then when he claims that anyone could become an adequate actor through the process of knocking off the psychological blocks.
Seela, with an attitude: We don't need any adequate actors! Forgot those sort of things now!
Esko, yet again with a more pondering tone: I think that in that philosophy it's about the idea that... Well, one musical girl I know said to me once when we and other colleagues rode a taxi that "anyone can learn how to sing". I was like no way, but she insisted. But if you really think about, it it's not true! For example /Esko demonstrates a situation where the other tries to teach the other one to sing, yet the other one keeps on singing aah out of tune and the teacher goes "can't you hear it? can't you hear it?"/ Not everyone just have the right ear! There's always a certain level, just to learn math for example. There are people who just aren't in a level that they'd be capable of learning math!
Seela: Eternal questions... Though I know there are some amateour actors that are like a character themselves! And they just can't do any other characters on stage, in any other way but just in that particular one! And in those kind of situations professional actors always are left in their shadows /Esko nods in amusement and Juha Lehtola, the translator and arranger of the performance walks into the room/.
Okay, final question: how do you deal with disappointments? For the characters in the play deal with various kinds of ones.
Seela, laughing: Oh, so nothing lighter question then, eh? Only a young reporter could ask such a question!
Esko: Well, it depends on the person, of course. Someone walks around looking gloomy for weeks and someone else gets over a thing in a few days. /Esko and Seela take on the viewpoint of theatre critique and how an actor should get through the disappointments of a bad review/ There hasn't been hardly any analytical reviews for a long time from the critiques. Those kinds of reviewers were able to explain and argue why they didn't like certain things in the performance. Nowadays the reviews are merely an explanation of a plot and in the end they say whether they liked it or not... Jukka Kajava is a good reviewer.
Seela: I miss Kajava. He loved theatre as an art form! And his reviews were always too overflowing, in a good way: he put his own emotions into it. If the show was bad, the review was overflowing, if good, the same case. One thing that comes to my mind is when I was in the National Theatre. There was a seminar, 400 people in the audience and I was there on stage with Seppo Pääkkönen, answering questions. Someone asked that how does an actor get over a negative review. At that point I thought out a plan and then asked in front of everyone that now, be honest: raise your hand if you skip the review pages in the local newspaper's culture page. 350 raised their hands. So, no one cares! As actors we always think that oh now the whole Finland knows how I bad I am, but no, that's not the case. Also, a professional actor, director, whoever always checks the name of the reviewer like: "Oh, that guy, I'll skip it." This is such a small country and the industry is small too that it's fairly safe to be here: the people of the industry always speak with each other like: "Oh yeah, he got a negative review but you know he had a bad day and he's actually really good!" It's not so cruel as one would assume.
Esko: Yes, as an actor you shouldn't worry about the negative reviews. There has been some actual examination and charts made that how many people actually read the reviews in the newspapers and not just check the photos and everything. In that examination it was just 4% who actually read the review itself!
Jukka, joining in jokingly: Yeah, and the rockstars have the same thing too. If there's an audience of 100 000 people and only one person happens to glance their watch, then the rockers will think of that one person only!
Seela Sella and Esko Roine really did have a warm laugh ever so often, a huge knowledge and an encouraging attitude, though not being shy to tell some truths either!
Article: Rosanna Liuski
Photos: Harri Hinkka