Down by Tjörnin, the pond in Reykjavík, there is a beautiful building full of magic and wonder. As the block letters on the façade announce, its name is Tjarnarbíó. Inside there is a performance space and café. This independent theatre is one of my favourite places in Reykjavík.
The house was built in 1913 and used as a storage house for ice from the pond. Some ‘Kristoff’ from ‘Frozen’ vibes going on there.
After that, it briefly served as a gymnasium, and in 1942 it was converted into a cinema. The University of Iceland ran the cinema until 1961, when they opened their current cinema location, Háskólabíó.
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That’s where the building gets its name. Tjarnar- because it’s by the pond and -bíó which means cinema, The Pond Cinema.
Despite having cinema in its name, Tjarnarbíó has been used mainly as a theatre since the sixties.
After renovations in 2010, Tjarnarbíó currently has a large black box theatre with up to 250 seats, a café in an annexe and a backstage area in the old fire station next door.
Today Tjarnarbíó is operated by the Association of Independent Theatres in Iceland and is the heart of fringe theatre in Iceland. They host a variety of events; plays, stand up, concerts, operas, dance shows, happenings, conferences, and children’s theatre. Anything and everything can be the right fit for this charming venue.
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Most of the events at Tjarnarbíó are in Icelandic, although occasionally there are shows that don’t require a knowledge of the language. For example dance shows or comedy in English, most excitingly, Improv Iceland has a summer residency at Tjarnarbíó where they perform long-form improvised comedy in English.
The theatre is situated in the best possible spot downtown, across the street from City Hall. It is worth a visit even if you don’t intend to watch a show. Their cosy little café is open every day 11-17, and the bar is open before and after shows, a cool hangout spot before a night out.
Tjarnarbíó is an immensely important institution in Reykjavík’s cultural life. The point of theatre is to reflect the society it is created in, and Tjarnarbíó does this more effectively than the bigger theatres in Iceland.
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They accept applications from anyone, which gives opportunities to theatre-makers whose voices would otherwise not be heard. Tjarnarbíó actively supports up and coming artists, by being a venue for The Reykjavík Fringe Festival and for graduating students of Theatre and Performance Making at the University of Iceland.
If you want an introduction to contemporary Icelandic culture during your visit to Reykjavík, be sure to make Tjarnarbíó one of your stops. Have a cup of coffee, catch a show in English, or even see a play in a language you don’t understand, a cultural experience you’ll never forget.