About This Issue
REPORTER: JULIA KATZ
So fitting that a delegation of young artists (all in their twenties) from CITD visits the Contemporary Drama Festival (Kortárs Drámafesztivál) in Budapest in its 19th year. The festival is at the tail end of its rebellious teens and reaching into a new era of maturity. While the festival originally sought to only showcase new playwriting in Hungary, its mission has now evolved to encompass a wider net of what makes a work ‘contemporary’:
“The Festival will also introduce Hungarian and foreign critics to progressive workshops that are keeping pace with the various movements and changes of our contemporary theatre. In other words, we are searching for the new, the progressive even in the contemporary.”
That is, the does not have to be new to actually be considered a new idea.
With that in mind, the festival showcased both youthful Hungarian artists (some pieces we saw featured those only a year or two out of university) and marquee-worthy directors like Béla Pintér or Csaba Horváth, whose works are already known to an international audience.
Performances took place in 1,000 seat halls to basements, rock bars to black boxes. The program was also a playful mix of genre, embracing all of puppet theatre, dance-theatre, solo performance, operatic musicals, and even new takes on canonical works like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. As Americans, being treated to the Tennessee Williams’ South in Hungarian was just one delight that unfolded before our eyes.
At all points, for all productions, a daring attempt was made. Yet many were more surprising than one would expect. A theme I noticed throughout the festival was the stories of the aristocracy versus the common man. In the aftershocks of artists trained after the global recession, whose livelihood was not guaranteed coming out of the academy, perhaps it is actually quite a contemporary feat to draw attention to a nurse struggling to make ends meet, or an elderly person contemplating how to spend one’s last days.
A different kind of ‘experimental’ than rolling on the floor, exploring nudity and taboo, but nonetheless refreshing. As Kortárs Drámafesztivál mentioned, it is the push towards Hungarian exploration that drives the heart of the festivals’ offerings.
One other thing to note about the festival is that it is actually set up purposefully with the idea of foreign criticism in mind. The robust international contingent was treated not only to performances, but exquisite English translation, post-show artist meetups, refreshing receptions, and a number of lectures by academics on how Hungarian culture and events drove the festival.
Why was the red carpet being rolled out for us foreigners? It is a strategic act; the Visitor’s Programme, as it’s called, “are what one could call a real hungaricum: innovative performances showing tendencies, strength and results of Hungarian theatre art, yet they are also compatible with the tendencies and phenomena of world theatre, not copying them slavishly but engaging with them in a meaningful dialogue.” According to the festival, putting on a forward-thinking face for the world will actually drive innovation in Hungary.
In that concept, the Kortárs Drámafesztivál is certainly in vogue. Worldwide, the results of socio-cultural engineering and reform from the outside in are apparent. One of the most controversial and discussed social scientists worldwide (Amy Cuddy) touts “power posing” as the key to success, creating confidence by simply appearing like one possesses it.
Hungary, facing interior turbulence as its government becomes increasingly driven by nationalist priorities, forces a grin with this fascinating festival that asks that we see the country for the wealth of Budapest’s forward-thinking notions, not the troubling headlines pouring out from newspapers. Whether the painted-on face is convincing or unsettling depends on one’s perspective.
I, for one, remain on the edge of my seat.
Julia Katz is a theatre artist most interested in grassroots ensemble performance and arts as civic practice working in the mid-Atlantic. Currently, Julia is a Towson University MFA Theatre student and the Center for International Theatre Development (CITD) Fellow.
In 2013, Julia founded Critical Point Theatre for the purpose of creating ensemble-based theatrical work that advances a twofold mission of transmedia storytelling and a critical ensemble generation process. Since then, CPT has premiered five original stage works and produces several podcasts, including the multiple award-winning anthology series The Grayscale.
Julia is currently developing <ph><f>reaking as an interactive, improvisational MFA thesis, which has previously received support from the Network of Ensemble Theaters and the FURYFactory Festival of Ensemble and Devised Theater. Julia has also assisted off-Broadway ensemble Talking Band on Burnished by Grief at La MaMa ETC and a unique local/national tour about fracking, The Marcellus Shale Project, the recipient of a TCG Audience (R)Evolution grant.
A Note From Philip
This special issue of DISPATCHES offers a close look at six Hungarian productions from the twenty-something perspective of Julia Katz as she finishes up her two-year stint as a CITD Fellow and her MFA from Towson University.
We asked Julia to lead a trio of young theatre artists from the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia and the new Milwaukee Fringe Festival to Budapest for the Kortárs Drámafesztival. I thank Julia, Blanka Zizka (Wilma) and John Schneider (Milwaukee Fringe) for putting together and shepherding Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Katie Rhyme and Aaron Cotton.
Two of the Hungarian artists featured in this DISPATCHES have both histories and future projects here in the US:
Bela Pinter’s Our Secrets was on tour in the US at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center, Arts Emerson in Boston, and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in NYC last season—and there are rumblings around an English language production here in the US (stay tuned—we are helping put the pieces together on that one.)
Martin Boross’s Etiquette was just performed last month at the Revolutions Festival in Albuquerque and he and partner Julia Jakubowski held a two-week initial workshop with ABQ’s q-Staff Theatre for their collaboration on an Albuquerque edition of Promenade (the “bus piece”, first done in Budapest, then a Baltimore edition last season with Single Carrot Theatre).
I was able to be with them in New Mexico for both the performance and the launch of the workshop—an exciting theatre community coming together for this collaboration.
The other four Hungarian artists offer a mix of fresh faces and a long-time leader of the dance theatre scene, Réka Szabó. Well worth the read.
I’m happily headed to Budapest the end of the month.
My time there looks to be a true “sweet spot” in the season: I’ll get to see Bela Pinter’s new piece, ASCHER TAMÁS, Andrei Serban’s Richard III with Róbert Alföldi, Viktor Bodó’s Diary of a Madman, Dollar Daddy’s Chekhov, and the opening of Csaba Horváth’s Vaterland (I’ll also be sitting in on some of Csaba’s rehearsals for Nikolay Erdman’s The Suicide.)
StereoAKT is celebrating its 10 anniversary with a mini-festival of their own—I’ll see their homeless piece, Addressless, Last Chance Clinic, Before You Die, and a remount of the original Promenade Budapest. And I still have performances at the VIG, Studio K, the National, and other haunts.
Yuri Urnov will be joining me as we plan the 18/19 Russian Notebook continuation—he’ll be doing the final edits in some sunny café on the Andrássy út, for the next issue featuring playwright Maxim Kurochkin.
Stay strong, my friends,
The Trust for Mutual Understanding
The Trust for Mutual Understanding, a long-time supporter of CITD, is a unique and important player in Russia and Eastern Europe. Set up as a trust by a single anonymous donor in 1984, the focus was “to support direct person-to-person contact between American and Soviet professionals working in the field of art and environment.” A second gift was made in 1991, continuing the dual focus of art and environment, and opening up to Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; the Baltic States; Central Asia; Mongolia; and Russia. They are now celebrating their 30th year continuing this essential work.
Thank you to Philip Arnoult for the opportunity to go to Hungary, Zenko Bogdan for her guidance (translation, directions, and advice), Juranyi House for their hospitality, and the Kortárs Drámafesztivál in their graciousness in developing the international program.
THE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL THEATRE DEVELOPMENT
Philip Arnoult, founder & director
Volume II, Issue 5