In our society there is a lack of compassion
and mutual understanding for one and another.
The problem affects all human interests,
even in the spiritual field.

Gawrill of Khabarovsk / Vladivostok,
Russian Orthodox Bishop.

Jan Jonson

”Barefoot, dressed in a white shirt with short sleeves and light coloured pants that ended just below the knee, I stood in the wings of the stage at the Folkteatern in Gothenburg. I warmed myself under a spotlight and watched Iwar Wiklander and Folke Hjort who portrayed Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett´s play “Waiting for Godot”. I made my entrance as the boy twice each evening, in the end of the first and second acts, and announced – Mr Godot has asked me to say that he will not come this evening but that he is sure to come tomorrow.” With time, it became a ritual to stand hidden in the wings under the warm lamp, from when the curtain went up to when it came down. I wanted to listen to their tone, follow the events and feel the temperature on the stage before I carefully went in to make my announcement. Something was ignited inside me.” 
                                                               - From the book “Moments of reality” by Jan Jonson

Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Art

Jan attended the academy for actors at the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Stockholm 1968-1971. He played Estragon from “Waiting for Godot” for his graduation performance.


The Man Himself

Jan was hired by the Royal Dramatic Theatre and remained a part of the permanent ensemble there for ten years. Jan’s last role at the Royal Dramatic Theatre was as Michael in Alan Drury´s monologue, “The Man Himself”.

About Kumla

"The man himself" is a monologue about a lonely mans search for an identity and   self-worth. The last performance of this monologue was seen by, amongst others, the director of Kumla Prison, Lennart Wilson who immediately invited Jan Jonson to Kumlas closed detention centre for convicted criminals to perform “The Man Himself” for the convicts there. The performance at Kumla changed Jan’s life. The inmates saw a play about themselves and from the stage, Jan saw his role “Michael” in every single face in the audience. Jan left the stage with the words – “All I want to know is where I stand”.

After the curtain closed there was no applause, the inmates sat in silence, vulnerable faces, affected by something they recognized. A man from the guards asked Jan to go on stage again. He felt that the audience wanted to talk to the actor. When Jan entered the stage again, a man on first row stood up and offered Jan a tall red rose with the words, “Please, come back and teach us some drama.”
Their eyes met, Jan felt strongly that this man had a likeness to one of the characters from “Waiting for Godot”, Estragon.
“I don’t think I can teach you drama, but I can come back and read a play with you, written by the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett called ‘Waiting for Godot’, Jan answered. Abruptly a large man in the second row stood up and looked Jan right in the eyes and said, “Beckett is my hero!” He then quickly left the room.
Jan got down from the stage and met his audience and told them of his love for Beckett and what he has taught us humans. Jan suggested that they should meet again and read “Waiting for Godot” together to see what happens with such a play when it is read by people who live in a darkness.

Time for lock-up, they had to part. The inmates said with one voice, “Come back soon!” Lennart Wilson followed Jan to the car with the words, “Come back soon, they are not going anywhere…”

A little later Jan was back with a box full of manuscripts of Samuel Becketts play. He sat down with 25 men around a large table and with Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts a new world was revealed to these men, life became a little easier to live.
Through sensitivity, Jan then found his ensemble and learned in time to become familiar with the people inside the walls- the faces, the silence,  the voices, the rhythms, the  environment, the light and the smells of this place that was called Kumla Prison. 

For two years they worked on ”Waiting for Godot” in its entirety. The actors acted with the experience from their lives, they reached down to the roots of the play. They never answered each other if they did not believe in each other. The ensemble was true to Becketts original text. The purpose was to let the play challenge the actors – not the opposite. This became, for us, a new way to work with a dramatic text. After two years the text finally became their own and the actors showed their work for staff, fellow prisoners, invited audience and, most importantly, their family members. They acquired though this work, a language, self-worth, and an identity.

The letter from Samuel Beckett

During the period of work at Kumla Prison, Jan received a letter from Paris:

- Dear Mr. Jan Jonson. I have been informed about your work with my play "Waiting for Godot" at a maximum security prison in Sweden. Please come to Paris the coming Wednesday and meet me at Le Petit Cafe, Boulevard St. Jacques, at eleven o’clock.
If this suits you, you don’t need to answer me!
Yours Sincerely
Samuel Beckett - Paris.

Beckett’s first question was, “What happened to my play when you gave it to people living in the darkness, what happened with the rhythm, the silence of my play?”. Beckett, with great love and interest, embraced how these people became enriched by his play. Jan’s collaboration and friendship with Samuel Beckett lasted until the author passed away in 1989. 

 
 "Waiting for Godot"
Folkteatern

 

 "Waiting for Godot" 
Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Art

 

"The Man Himself"
Royal Dramatic Theatre



The ensamble 
"Waiting for Godot"
Kumla Prison


 
With Samuel Beckett at
Le Petit Café in Paris


© Copyright. Jan Jönson.