In Norway, theatre is a relatively young art form. The oldest theatre, Den Nationale Scene in Bergen, was established in 1850, while the first national theatre, Nationaltheatret in Oslo, opened its doors nearly 50 years later, in 1899. This may in part be due to the fact that theatre is an urban art, while Norway was – and is – a country of few big cities. Gradually, however, other theatres were established, first in Trondheim and Stavanger, and from the 1970s throughout most of Norway.
From 1970 to 1980 the Norwegian Government and the various districts collaborated in establishing five regional dramatic centres, and today Norway has 17 publicly funded theatres that are either wholly financed by the state (Nationaltheatret [the National Theatre], Det Norske Teatret [the Norwegian Theatre], Den Norske Opera [the Norwegian Opera], Riksteatret [the State Touring Theatre], and Den Nationale Scene in Bergen) or co-financed between the state and the region. In addition the city of Oslo is responsible for Oslo Nye Teater (Oslo New Theatre), and for two smaller, more experimental venues, Black Box Theatre and Det Åpne Teater (the Open Theatre). Beaivvás Sámi Teáhter (the Saami National Theatre) was formerly financed by the state, but is now under the auspices of the Sámediggi (Saami Parliament).
The overall public allocations to performing arts in Norway total over NOK 1000 million (approx. EUR 112.8 million), most of which is distributed via the Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs. The remainder is distributed at the regional level. This means that nearly one third of the country’s total cultural affairs budget is used to subsidize the performing arts.
There are very few private theatres in Norway, and these mostly stage farces and musicals.
Approximately 1.5 million spectators visit Norway’s professional theatres annually. Naturally, the plays of Henrik Ibsen have a special place in the repertoire of Norwegian theatres, and a new play by Jon Fosse is always an event. Norwegian theatre is also internationally oriented, and regularly stages productions by classic playwrights such as Euripides, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Strindberg, Molière, modern dramatists such as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht and Edward Albee, and contemporary writers such as Sarah Kane, Marius von Mayenburg, Martin McDonagh and Lars Norén.
Norwegian actors and directors have long been inclined to seek inspiration from England and the USA more than from Germany, France, Italy and Spain, but this is now changing. As a new generation of artistic directors emerges, the perspective is becoming increasingly focused on Europe, and prominent directors from abroad are seeking out Norwegian stages more and more frequently. Two of the most important theatres, Det Norske Teatret and Den Nationale Scene have become members of the European Theatre Convention while Vår teatret (Our Theatre), a regional dramatic centre on the West Coast, is an active member of the Magic-Net, a European meeting place for theatres and educators, teachers and teenagers, directors and actors.