"Ladies and Gentlemen...
This is too embarassing...
Promise me one thing...
Please - Don´t tell anybody about this!"


- Upset man in the front row

Moments of Reality

A story - How it was conceived
by Jan Jonson


"The story of my encounter with Kumla Prison and its actors was born at The Studio, a smaller stage high up under the rooftop of the Gotheburg City Theatre on a warm evening in April in 1986.

Seven of us left the Kumla prison that morning in our van: the director of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations for Kumla Prison Lennart Wilson, Department of Corrections Inspector Helge Bohli, the 5 actors and myself. Lennart was the driver and I was the map reader.

We were invited to Gothenburg to perform, for a second time, the play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. This time we were going to perform the play in its full length, and in front of an expected full house. My actors sat and watched the beautiful scenery rush past. They looked out through tinted car windows; they saw the world but no one saw them. Some windows were slightly rolled down, which was prohibited, and wonderful fragrances of spring filled the car. At times there was complete silence in our van. I felt calm and harmony, mixed with tight concentration.

The car elegantly rolled up in front of the stage door, we were courteously greeted by the management of the theatre with a buffet and a well organized press conference. My friends faces were earnest, serious and some slight fear showing around the eyes and mouths. A sharp kind of anxiety travelled though my body. The press conference went well. We just answered questions about life and the play. At exactly eleven o’clock we left the meeting with the media to get into The Studio and start setting up the lights. Lennart walked in front, closely followed by me, Helge and Rafael - my “Pozzo”. The rest of the ensemble stayed behind. Zoran went to the toilet while Micha and the others stood watching a notice board that hung on the side of the door that led onto the main stage of the theatre. The clock turned to 10 minutes past eleven. I sat in black clothes mid stage helping the lighting technician. Lennart and Rafael sat in the auditorium watching. The rest of the actors were not physically present. Suddenly, I heard Lennart’s sharp voice:
– Janne! What is happening?!
– No idea, I said quickly. I got up and left the stage hurriedly and with a growing panic I ran around the different rooms adjacent to the Studio, all of them empty of people.
As I returned to my chair on the stage, I said quickly and nervously
– They are probably on their way up here now.
At a quarter to twelve I heard Lennart’s sharp voice again:
 – Janne! What is happening?!

I tried to finish setting the lights calmly and with full concentration. Technicians ran around my chair with high ladders redirecting the lights. Lennart started to walk back and forth along the last row of seats. After a whole hour he loudly asks again
– What in the name of Christ is happening?!!
– No idea, I answered, once again.
I left the Studio and rushed down to the stage door and asked the concierge if she had seen some men exiting.
She answered
–There are people coming and going all the time, I don’t know who is a convict and who isn’t.
I ran down to my hotel and asked the receptionist if I had any messages, but there were none. I asked for the key, took the elevator, got into my room, opened the window, got undressed and took a quick bath, no idea why….

I got dressed and rushed back to the theatre, up to the Studio stage and sat back down on my chair surrounded by all the ladders. Lennart slowly approached the stage and asked why my hair was so wet and why my breathing was so heavy…
– Don’t know, I said
Lennart said calmly,
– Janne, I am sorry but I have to call the police and Department of Corrections.  We have to send out a nationwide crime alert.
– Wait a little, I said, They´ll come, they´ll come, give them a chance…
At 6 pm , the phones started ringing.  The nationwide alert was sent out!

With bated breath I took a cup of stale coffee and stood on the balcony of the theatre overlooking Götaplatsen.
I watched as the opening night audience slowly, and with anticipation, strolled in through the main entrance. I felt as if my heart had stopped beating for a moment. The audience filled the seats knowing nothing of the drama unfolding backstage. Hesitantly, I walked back to the Studio. I stood in the wings of the stage with the theatre manager, Birgitta Palme, Head of Press, Anita Hessel, Department of Corrections Inspector Helge Bohlin, Lennart Wilson and Rafael who was halfdressed for “Pozzo”. The other costumes hung in the dressing room, silent, cold and empty.  It was exactly 7 o’clock and the play was supposed to begin. The local radio news station “Västnytt” was positioned in the middle of the third row planning to broadcast the opening of the play live. On the last row sat a horde of cameramen and photographers with cameras and microphones on poles. The auditorium lights faded and Birgitta asked me with a barely audible voice,
– Who will go on stage and tell them what has happened?
– I’ll do it, I said.

I fetched a bottle of mineral water and a chair and made my entrance from the back drop.  Everyone in the audience knew that “Waiting for Godot” does not start this way.  Calmly I placed my chair between ”the rock” and “the tree”, I sat down on the chair.  I forgot to open the bottle of water. I looked straight into the eyes of an old man with very thick glasses and a kind of hearing aid that hung from one of his ears down to a volume control in his hand. Lennart and Rafael stood in the wings staring at me with faint smiles on their lips.

I looked at the old man in front of me with the glasses and I said calmly:
– Welcome to the Gothenburg City Theatre. Unfortunately we will not be able to perform “Waiting for Godot” this evening; as four out of the five actors are not in the building at this time.
The half blind, half deaf old man stood up and shouted:
– I’m sorry…but what is it that is not here?
– The actors, I shouted back…
– Ouch, he said grabbing his ear. His hearing aid gave him feedback. 
He then continued
– That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.  I have attended opening nights here since 1974 and they have always been on time!
- But not tonight, I answered
He stood up and shouted back,
–No, so I notice!!
His wife tugged at his jacket, he turned and hissed at her,
– Let go of my jacket!
He then turned to the audience without seeing the press who filled the last row. He braced himself, gathered his strength and declared to the whole room
– Dear audience…this is very embarrassing…promise me one thing...don’t tell anyone!!.
He sat down and remained, on his wife’s orders, quiet. I looked at my friends in the wings having to sit down on the floor from cramps of laughter.

I stayed on stage and used the set design for Beckett. I moved my chair around and with my voice and my body I found a strange pleasure in telling the story of my encounters with Kumla, the people and their world. After three hours I started losing my voice. I thanked the audience and made my way out to the others. Offstage, I was hit by exhaustion and the fear of what might have happened to my friends. Were they at the theatre? Were they sitting in the auditorium? Had they escaped? What might have happen to my friends?"

                                                                                     - Jan Jonson

Here, my performance “Moments of Reality" was born. It later grew into the story of his meetings with Kumla – San Quentin – Samuel Beckett.













© Copyright. Jan Jönson.