Introduction: Concern for the Welfare System

The initial idea for the performance emerged about a year before the 2018 general election in Sweden. We wanted to give voice to a concern that many Swedes had: that the welfare system was about to be dismantled. This development was part of an international trend where the message, over the course of several years, was that the welfare state as a concept had done its job:

What we're seeing in Greece is the death spiral of the welfare state. This isn't Greece's problem alone, and that's why its crisis has rattled global stock markets and threatens economic recovery. Virtually every advanced nation, including the United States, faces the same prospect. Ageing populations have been promised huge health and retirement benefits, which countries haven't fully covered with taxes. The reckoning has arrived in Greece, but it awaits most wealthy societies. (Samuelson 2010)


In an article in The Guardian from 2013, an obituary of the welfare state was published:


For much of its short but celebrated life, the Welfare State was cherished by Britons. Instant public affection greeted its birth and even as it passed away peacefully yesterday morning, government ministers swore they would do all they could to keep it alive. (Chakrabortty 2013)


This concern also existed in Sweden. Around the same time that we premiered our performance, Malmö Stadsteater produced the performance Vinnaren tar allt (2018), and at almost the same time Riksteatern premiered En sång för välfärden(2018). These three performances were all a reaction to the same worries about what would happen to the welfare system in Sweden. 

Vinnaren tar allt (The winner takes it all) departed from the question of what it means to be a citizen (Malmö Stadsteater, 2018). The performance was described as a political cabaret inspired by The Citizens Band in New York City (who became famous in 2008 when they worked to get more people to vote during the American presidential campaign). Swedish rock musicians such as Nina Persson from the Cardigans and Thomas Öberg from Bob Hund were seen and heard in the performance. In an interview on the Swedish radio, the latter outlined the aim with the performance: 


The ambition is to get people, especially young people, to start talking about the importance of caring. Because when populism becomes increasingly evident in society, democracy needs to be discussed. (Richter, 2017)


The aim of Vinnaren tar allt was to empower young people and strengthen their belief in democracy as a governing system. 

En sång för välfärden(A Song to the Welfare System) had a similar ambition, although it was differently nuanced, drawing a connection between the phenomenon of choral singing and the welfare state: "the interest in singing in choirs grew at the same time as the rise of welfare" (Riksteatern, 2018). The audience was invited to take part in the celebration of the welfare project as well as experience the doubts that occur when cuts are made to that system. The performance consisted of music performed by local amateur choirs.

Död åt välfärdsstaten had an analogous design to these two performances. However, there were also differences, firstly to do with the goal of the performance. As mentioned above, the other two performances had the ambition of empowering young voters or celebrating a political system, while we wanted to learn more about how and when the attitudes and ideologies in society towards the welfare system had changed. Secondly, the performance was an artistic investigation, informed by artistic research in theatre and music, into how different performative elements could be integrated and blended. These two different agendas informed the conceptualisation and staging of our work.  

Our staging mixed theatre, choreographed movements, video and music. The text oscillated between political speeches, storytelling, monologues, and spoken theatre. The musical expressions included pop and jazz music, electronica and contemporary art music. The video design consisted of old journal films, homemade rock videos and a live video stream from a cell phone on stage that was projected. The result became an allegory of Sweden from the second world war until present day, with a focus on how political ideologies are performed in the social sphere.