Producing FinnFest

HANCOCK – Before Heikki Menp can help produce this year’s FinnFest, he has to know more about the place that’s holding it.

Menp, from Harjula Production of Kangasala, Finland, is visiting the Copper Country this week as part of the planning efforts for the FinnFest, which will take place locally from June 19 through 23. Menp is a coordinating producer for the opening ceremony.

It’s the third FinnFest production for Menp, who is blending art with other cultural aspects along with researching the history of Finnish-Americans.

Menp’s goal is to make “the most beautiful and the most real opening ceremony for the people who come here.”

“We have here a very rich cultural life and its long history,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Menp has spent much of his week at the archives in the Finnish American Heritage Center; he also spoke with director Jim Kurtti many times on Skype before visiting.

A musician himself, he’s talked with local players and even sat in on kantele.

“Since I was a small boy, I’d heard from my father that this area is quite famous for things that have happened here,” he said. “I feel very happy to be here.”

Menp has also taken in local events such as Thursday’s lecture on Heikki Lunta, the homegrown legend of a snow god.

He’s taken by how it combined elements of U.P. culture with traditional Finnish celebrations such as name days.

In some ways, he said, it reminds him of a recent tour he took part in, bringing the Finnish Santa Claus to 20 Chinese cities.

“We need some good things, some good stories,” he said. “We have to smile. It’s good to believe in these kind of things.”

Upon coming to the Copper Country, Menp was struck by how the area has been able to keep its Finnish heritage alive.

In many cases, such as a recent string of productions in China, his job will take him to big cities for two- or three-day stints.

This time, he gets to spend more than a week in a more personable setting.

“You can really meet people,” he said. “This is not the typical thing, how people in Finland think about Americans. It’s totally different than New York or Los Angeles or somewhere else.”