Now Streaming: The Common Gull

They call these birds the “common gull” but who are we if not the “common person”? The birds of the Davidshall Common Gull Theater Company are putting on shows, free of charge, for us city-sore souls.

Catching the Matinée at Rörsjökanalen

Who needs to pay for a Netflix subscription when you have a healthy population of gulls in your neighborhood? I was reminded of this fact today, when I found myself sitting aside the bridge over Rörsjökanalen in the Davidshall quarter of Malmö. The sun was high, the sky was cloudless, and the wind was biting. This bridge, just outside the center of the city, is a very common road for crowds of pedestrians making their way through the many shops that lined the popular commercial corridor in Davidshall, or those traveling in to the city’s storied old town. Besides its common use, and maybe its pleasant view of the canal—which is harried by the heavy foot traffic—it is an unremarkable landmark. And for me, killing time as I waited for the photo lab technicians to return from lunch, this would have been an unremarkable few minutes. Had I not been in the rarefied air of a troop of common gulls.

The gulls were espousing noisy theatrics that afternoon and I was lucky enough to catch their live show. Screaming—and I mean screaming—at each other with that iconic squeaky-toy cry of theirs, it was a scene of embattled lovers and territorial conflict. Very Shakespearean. Above this bridge where I was waiting nearby, these birds had occupied the tops of four light posts that cornered the stout walkway. These light posts were designed in such a way that the tops of them provided a flat platform for these gulls to position themselves, a prefect square for two of the birds to perch comfortably. All together they made a perfect stage for their performance, and a perfect pedestal for their art.

The scene these gulls performed was not a physical one, save for some swinging of their elastically-bending necks and the occasional dramatic liftoff of a gull who could no longer endure the extreme emotions of the scene. Puffing up and throwing back their heads as they cried out in love or greed. I was so affected sitting there, because the performance was that intimate and engrossing, that I almost felt compelled to move a few meters away from the actors in fear that I was eaves dropping on something too personal. But I knew better, that what I was witnessing was a show, crafted by a company who knew just how to get to their audience.

And who is the audience of these genius birds? Me. Us—the discerning public. For us tired, overworked, pandemic-stricken peoples, the air above Rörsjökanalen and Davidshall is alive with tragedy and comedy—endowed with the full spectrum of animal emotions thanks to the Davidshall Common Gull Theater Company.

Bringing Back Live Theater to Port Cities

This animated troop of common gulls over Davidshall, have given their name new meaning, in their performances. As winged-players they put on the costume of us common people, and relate to us with stories of love, hate, life and death—be it through high drama or slapstick comedy. Stories that anyone of us, who toils exhaustively below them, can relate to. As the many theaters in the neighborhood have had their doors bolted amid the pandemic, the Davidshall common gulls have brought desperately-needed theater out into the air, right above our heads.

As I was witness to, the Davidshall gulls are a particularly talented group of players, who have no doubt put in countless hours treading the lampposts above the quiet water of the Rörsjökanalen. Yet I have seen in many cities thrilling performances from their fellow gulls, gulls that have found their own stage and audiences to play to. It is not for me to say if every common gull gets the acting gene, but I feel confident saying that in almost every port city where these birds nest, you’re never far from a performance that puts Broadway to shame. A theater that many common people rarely have the opportunity to engage with.

Now, you might be tempted to think that there are enough thespians among us people that we don’t need what these grey-winged Streep’s are sharing with us—but think again! Sadly, even before the coronavirus laid waste to live theater, many actors today don’t make much money because for the most part it is not considered a “useful” occupation in most markets outside of a few select and extremely wealthy ones. (Think now for a second how many full-time actors do you know personally?) So the passionate few actors we have in our cities are all spending nearly every waking hour looking for auditions or working side-jobs to be able to eat. For the few actors that are able to make a career of it, they are sent into the studio to have their performance digitally recorded. In the vast majority of towns and cities, live theater (that you don’t have to pay an arm and a wing for) is a rare and mostly dying art form, in the era of streaming. It is only the common gulls like the Davidshall flock that abide our need for this cultural stimulation, only asking for our food scraps and a place to nest in return.

And it is a need. Consider for a moment how much time you spend streaming entertainment on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and the rest. How many shows and movies have you watched that you don’t remember the name of? And think of how often these movies or series’ feel like they were written, shot, and produced by a skeleton crew of overworked and underpaid interns but also somehow still have a multi-million dollar marketing budget. We don’t live in the platinum age of television, we live in the platinum age of escaping our suffocating, isolated lives. Because the city is a harsh place to live for all of us, and in our work-obsessed, or rather, -oppressed lives no one should be forced to deal with the onslaught of humanity and machinery that we share this habitat with.

Yet we don’t need a scientific study—though there are many—to tell us that staring at a glowing rectangle for hours on end is not great for your brain chemistry. Especially when your primary function throughout the day—working—might also entail staring at a glowing rectangle. The entertainment-industry-funded egg heads in the tech industry have yet to figure out exactly how to make movies and television occur without a screen (or, a way to make live theater mobile and available everywhere—without paying more actors and artists). But with the common gull, drama is there when you need it (sans the eye-strain and insomnia).

If you live in a city on a body of water you know that these gulls are everywhere. You know that you never have to seek them out, and in fact they will come to you (especially if you have a bag of popcorn).* Can you imagine? A lively and theatrical drama delivered to you on the wind! The shared stories of our lives can be gleaned from these high-flying, high-pitched dialogues of these emotive fowl, and because they don’t speak the language of people, these shows are fun for the whole family (were a gull to use bad language, and we all know they would).

The Davidshall gulls are a completely original and cutting-edge form of theater for public entertainment. Through their many dramatics plays, scenes, dialogues, monologues, and physical performances that have woven themselves into the social and cultural fabric of Malmö. In the challenging everyday of city life, they are both birds, and artists, that we simply can’t afford to be without. If you have the chance, I urge you to go see the Davidshall Common Gull Theater Company perform—and they do daily in the warmer months—and experience the windswept performance of a lifetime!

*DO NOT FEED THE ACTORS. Professionals that they are, the gulls sometimes have trouble breaking character and will pursue you and your snacks with the same unrestrained passion that they bring to the stage.