Vivica Bandler worked as an author and in film as well as in theatre, as a theatrical director and theatre manager. In Sweden she is best known for her leadership of Stockholms stadsteatern and for introducing the Moomins onto the Swedish stage.
Vivica Bandler was born in Helsinki on 5 February 1917. Her parents were Erik von Frenckell, an engineer, and Ester-Margaret von Frenckell, a professor of theatre. Her father later became mayor of Helsinki and was a driving force in the planning for the Olympic Summer Games which were planned for 1940 but were actually held in 1950.
Vivica Bandler trained as an agronomist largely to please her father but her interest in theatre and film led her away from the family-owned Saaris manor in Tammela and brought her to a world much closer to her mother’s. In 1939 she founded the Swedish-language student theatre in Helsinki. During the Second World War Vivica Bandler worked as a sanitation volunteer and married Kurt Bandler, who was half-Jewish and a qualified economist. He had fled his homeland of Austria after the Nazi annexation and subsequently fought in the Finnish Winter War. The Bandlers’ marriage was dissolved in 1963, but Vivica Bandler kept in contact with her ex-husband and supported him financially for the rest of his life.
Vivica Bandler dipped her toes into the both the literary and cinematic worlds during her later years. Her film Avskedet was released in 1982, whilst her book Adressaten okänd, published together with Carita Backström, was released in 1992. At this point she had already made her greatest contributions in the world of theatre. After a year as an apprentice in amateur theatre she put on her first professional show at Svenska Teatern (Swedish Theatre) in Helsinki: Jean-Paul Sartre’s Den respektfulla skökan in 1948. She introduced Eugene Ionesco to Finland by staging his play Lektionen at the Kammarteater. In 1955 she bought Lilla Teatern, which had been established in 1940. She ran and served as lead director at Lilla Teatern until 1967 when she handed over its management to Lasse Pöysti and Birgitta Ulffson, a couple who were both actors. Vivica Bandler sought to create direct contact with the audience, partly through revue shows, and put on both Swedish-language and Finnish-language shows.
Vivica Bandler was known for being an encouraging if somewhat demanding and dominant leader and director. She had the ability to find and highlight talent, such as Birgitta Ulfsson. Her strength lay in person-to-person instructions, which she used to help Lasse Pöysti make the transition from child star to mature actor. Her ability to inspire and highlight also became apparent when she became the head of Stockholms stadsteater in 1969, having already been in charge of Oslo Nye Teater from 1967 to 1969. She remained in post in Stockholm until 1979, after which she continued as CEO for a further year. She invited Suzanne Osten as a guest-director and gave her full responsibility for the Unga Klara children’s theatre with her own budget. Vivica Bandler’s time as theatre manager at Stockholms Stadsteater is considered to be the theatre’s highpoint. Productions included Per Anders Fogelström’s Minns du den stad, Bertolt Brecht’s Den goda människan från Sezuan, Peter Weiss’ Mordet på Marat, as well as Suzanne Osten’s and Margareta Garpe’s feminist play Jösses flickor, befrielsen är nära! In her effort to reach out to the public, Vivica Bandler created several stages which tended to be small and close to the audience.
As well as being married, Vivica Bandler had several relationships with women, of which her relationship with Tove Jansson is the best known and most productive. Their love relationship eventually turned into a lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration. Vivica Bandler inspired Tove Jansson to write for the stage and this led to the staging of Mumintrollet och Kometen, under Vivica Bandler’s direction, at the Svenska Teatern in 1949. Tove Jansson also wrote Troll i kulissen, 1959, for the Lilla Teater, which also went on to tour Sweden. The Moomins’ language in Sweden thus became Finland Swedish.
Tove Jansson, in turn, gave Vivica Bandler a central position in her large fresco called Fest i stan (at the Helsinki town hall) and in the children’s book Trollkarlens hatt, 1948, where the small figures Tofslan (Tove) and Vifslan (Vivica) have a secret, which eventually proves to be a shiny ruby, stolen from the ice-cold Mårran. Further, Tove Jansson dedicated her wonderful theatrical adventure entitled Farlig midsommar, 1954, to Vivica Bandler.
Vivica Bandler was an upper-class girl who often swore like a dockworker, an advocate of collective work who wanted to be in charge. In Finland she demanded to be called “Mrs Bandler” by her colleagues. However, in Sweden – which was in the middle of the “du”-reform – she could no longer insist on this and instead had to find a more equal form of nomenclature. With her international contact network, in particular with France, and her talent for persuasion, which bordered on manipulation, she created collaborations across borders, and introduced Finland-Swedish literature and theatre into Sweden. From 1988 to 1990 she was chair of Nordisk Teaterunion, for which she had already been a member of the board for a long time. Towards the end of her career, from 1990 to 1995, she also became the artistic leader of Tammerfors Teatersommar. Following a very active and creative life within the world of theatre she was awarded the Finnish title of Academician, the highest accolade available to a Finnish artist, in 1999.
Vivica Bandler died in Helsinki on 30 July 2004.