ShedHelsinki Dreams by Dave Carey, Senior Producer at Chickenshed

The idea of ShedHelsinki first developed about 6 years ago when Riikka Kannas attended a performance of Sleeping Beauty as a guest of the Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation. She was blown away to see such a young and diverse group of people perform with such energy and enthusiasm.

A few weeks later she contacted me after seeing my name in the programme and so started our conversations. Put simply, and in her words,”I want to do a show like this in Helsinki!” She knew nothing about theatre other than that she loved to go and see it, but something touched her that night and it became her mission to do a show like this and bring Chickenshed’s ethos to Finland. This was a very different model for developing an inclusive theatre idea. I couldn’t see how it would work but I didn’t know of Riikka’s determination at that point.

The following year Riikka came back for another Christmas show, this time with Marco Bjurstrom. Marco, she explained, was a big TV star in Finland and started the ‘Step-up’ dance school, a kind of Pineapple Dance Studios equivalent. “He will direct the show,” she announced. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. TV stars, with their usual accompanying ego, don’t tend to make for great directors of inclusive theatre. How very wrong I was.

Six months later three of us flew to Finland to help do some initial training.  By now Riikka had obtained some funding from Elisa, the major Telecoms company in Finland. Some of Marco’s staff and students at the Step Up school attended the training sessions and at the end of the week Riikka took us to the Alexandre Theatre, a big, austere, Victorian era 600 seat space.

“So you’ll perform here?” I said, somewhat incredulously “that’s a lot of tickets to sell…”

Little did I know Riikka had in fact booked an entire week at the theatre totalling 10 shows. She likes to dream big. They had also decided to do our version of Peter Pan that Marco had fallen in love with.

And so over the next six months they went into schools, special and mainstream, recruited, rehearsed and trained. They had a Musical Director Tuomas who would often email me asking questions about keys, arrangements and orchestrations.  Then in the December of last year we once again returned to Finland to see the fruits of their labour, somewhat apprehensively it must be said. How would they pull this off? But pull it off they did, and then some. The production was full of soul and spirit. The diversity was there to be seen as over 100 young people flooded the stage. I was so taken aback and moved that when Marco asked me to address the cast after one show I was speechless, tearful and a general mess. I barely managed two words. The show virtually sold out and caused a big stir in the country.

Fast forward a year and I’ve just witnessed ShedHelsinki’s second production: Our version of Sleeping Beauty that Riikka first saw 5 years ago, and things have taken off.  With long term sponsorship from Elisa the show ran for 16 performances with two rotas and several thousand tickets sold. The desire for more and more children to be involved means more rotas may be needed next year. The performance I attended was sponsored by Nokia to allow a school, where many of the students are from immigrant communities, attend free of charge. The diversity was spreading from stage to audience and now back again.

The genesis of ShedHelsinki is remarkably similar to that of Chickenshed: a few committed and passionate people daring to dream big. If you’re ever in Finland to visit Santa Clause then do check out something equally awe-inspiring. ShedHelsinki will be performing their third Christmas show next December…and tickets will be in high demand.