Broke with the Brunstad Christian Church. Now she is writing a play on closed religious communities

January 22 2024

Karin Kilden broke with the Brunstad Christian Church. Now she is writing a play for the theater Oslo Nye about it. Chemist and writer Unni Eikeseth writes about science and weapons production and folk dance star Brigitte Blomlie will use folk dance to break the silence on abuse. See new allocations from Fritt Ord.

Karin Kilden has received NOK 60 000 for manuscript development for a monologue performance about growing up in, then breaking away from the Brunstad Christian Church (BCC), a religious community known as ‘Smith’s Friends’. The performance is based on her own life story from when she left the church in the 1990s. Oslo Nye Theatre has signed a letter of intent to stage the play, and intends to hire Karina Aase to direct it. The monologue is accompanied by music. Kilden will sing selected verses from the congregation’s songbook to reproduce the atmosphere, using Bible verses and other techniques to introduce the audience to the ‘tribal language’ of Smith’s Friends that she knows from her own childhood in the congregation.

“There are a myriad of songs that demonstrate how fear-based the ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching of BCC actually is. They have never been performed on stage before and, as far as I know, have not even been printed in book form," says Kilden.
She hopes the play will showcase what she describes as the contrast between the friendly image Smith’s Friends project to the outside world and the brutal, frightening railing against sin experienced on the inside.

BCC is as far from a benign Sunday church service as one can get. The notion of the bad, sinful person constantly struggling and seeking purification to stay clean and safe from sin and the devil permeates routine life there, 24-7. The theatre performance presents an Eldorado of absurdities,” she adds.

Even though the subject matter is serious, this performance will definitely filled with humour and warmth.

Can only be described by someone who has been on the inside
“I will try to give the audience a glimpse into a world where the congregation is equal to God, and I want to convey how a stern religious upbringing can cause problems with children’s mental health. The BBC’s proselytising also intimidates gay people and builds a religious ‘matrix’ of thoughts that makes therapy extremely difficult for those who want to break away.

While Kilden wants to reach ‘ordinary people’ with the show, she also wants to address others who have left the same or similar environments. One version of the performance may be adapted for touring in an effort to reach more people.

Kilden herself is a board member of the Hjelpekilden (Source of Help) organisation, which helps people who are involved in complicated religious break-out processes. She expects that the play will not be well received by BCC itself.

“There will probably be attempts to dismiss me by saying that I do not have a clue because I left the community 30 years ago. Those of us who have broken away are often described to the remaining members of the church as though there was something wrong with us in the first place. We would have had hard lives anyway, so there is no reason to listen to us, because ‘everyone else’ is doing so well. But precisely because criticism from the outside is brushed aside and characterised as invalid since the ‘uninitiated’ don’t understand, it is important that someone who has actually been on the inside debunks this internal rhetoric.”

Why do scientists make weapons?
Author, chemist and former research journalist Unni Eikeseth, now associate professor of Science at the Department of Teacher Education at NTNU, has received NOK 80 000 for a book about the link between science and weapons production, but also how science can contribute to peace.

Can peace be achieved with weapons? What science is required to manufacture ammunition, grenades and rockets? How was the nerve gas novichok developed? These are among the questions the book will address. And who, for example, were Dr Germ and Mrs Anthrax in Iraq’s biological weapons programme, and more importantly: What drove them? Eikeseth will also discuss the weapons of the future, including the significance of artificial intelligence. Not least, the author is interested in finding out how science can be used to fight war and contribute to peace, like the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons does.

The link between technology and weapons has become frighteningly relevant, with major wars in both Europe and the Middle East, and with films such as ‘Oppenheimer’ about the scientist behind the atomic bomb and the discussion about what NATO’s Secretary General means when he says that “weapons are the way to peace”.

Eikeseth has previously written ‘Our chemical life. Environmental toxins around us’ (2023), ‘The Periodic Table’ (with Annette Lykknes), ‘The Quest for a Sense of Direction’ (2018), ‘Norwegian Research Achievements’ (2016) and ‘The Experiment Book’ (2013). She is also co-author of the textbook Solaris Natural Science 5-7 and she has made the podcast ‘The Teachers’ War against Quisling’ about Norwegian teachers’ non-violent struggle against Nazism.

“Most of all, I’m curious about how science can be used to create peace, and I want to use the book to explore the possibilities inherent in science,” comments Eikeseth. By so doing, she hopes the project can be a “small step toward creating a more peaceful world”.

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Unni Eikeseth.

Addressing abuse related to folk dance and folk music
The folk music performance ‘Silent’ has received funding to stage an autobiographical story about the trauma of growing up with abuse and incest. Birgit Blomlie, a leading Norwegian folk dance star, plays the lead role. The performance is based on her own personal story of abuse as a child. The manuscript and innovative folk dance and folk music will give the audience insight into how domestic abuse affects the bodies and minds of the victims.

“I use dance as a release for my anger. There is so much that has not been put into words, but the Halling dance is about being free,” observes Blomlie. Her abuser was never convicted for what he did. According to her: "There’s no evidence except the film clips that buzz through my head every day.”

“Only one in five people who experience abuse take advantage of the support system,” comments Blomlie, as the play’s producer Rannveig Øygardslia adds: "Many remain silent because there is so much shame and fear associated with abuse. They turn to dance and music to help break that silence. A poem from the piece articulates the message well:

The cards you lay on the table / are the ones you just had in your hands / close to your chest / that no one should see / (…) / But then you did it / you did it / I am not silent / I scream.

“If we can reach even just one person who is trying to escape from this kind of hell, the whole performance will be worthwhile," continues Blomlie.

The play has been written by Yasin Gyltepe. Thomas Eriksson has composed and plays the music. Silje Onstad Hålien is the director and choreographer. Both she and Gyltepe have experience of addressing taboo topics from the stage.

“The Halling dance is both collective and highly individual. Each dancer dances their own dance and their own variation, with room for improvisation. At the same time, the Halling dance is designed to keep up appearances,” maintains Hålien.

“Even the couples dance embodies contrast, from power and dependence to love and cooperation,” she continues.

Fritt Ord is providing NOK 75 000 for the project.

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The folk dance performance "Silence".

For a list of smaller, ordinary grants in December 2023 (applications for NOK 100 000 or less), see the Norwegian version of this article.

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