by Edina Kenesei
Under its new management, the Hungarian National Theatre plans to address the core issue of play development and playwriting techniques. Hungary has no institutional training for playwrights, even though many of the most burning issues in our country today are curiously untouched by our established dramatists.
A project such as After the Fall perfectly matches the new National Theatre profile. Rather than commissioning single plays or running playwright competitions, the National Theatre is more interested in themed commissions and/or workshops. Hungary is not without modern playwrights – there are about a dozen excellent playwrights working here today. However, compared to countries such as England or Germany, or even Finland, which has far fewer inhabitants, we lack the variety of voices and the support for new young talented writers to give a much-needed boost to contemporary Hungarian theatre.
The first National Theatre playwriting project was also linked to a theme. We asked ten well-known Hungarian writers (not all were playwrights, some were outstanding Hungarian novelists) to each take one of the Ten Commandments and write a play around it.
The National Theatre is also organising an annual international theatre festival. Amazingly enough, the Hungarian theatre scene has never had an annual international festival before. Some small international theatre festivals do take place, but they are not annual events. .) The National is using its admittedly unique resources and funding to invite such cutting-edge artists as Andrei Serban – whose innovative stagings of plays have never been performed in this country – or the Rimini Protokoll, Luc Bondy and Ivo van Hove. We not only want to stage new plays, but also help our audience become familiar with works by some of the most exciting theatre-makers in the world.
The National Theatre’s goal is create an understanding that classical and contemporary are not opposites, but are equally important categories in theatre, as they are in international productions and co-productions. In our view, the classical is not dull, nor is the contemporary incomprehensible. We want to give Hungarian audiences a chance to enter the theatre of the world, to let them get a feel for their own taste and develop their own ideas. We see the National Theatre in the 21st century as primarily a gate, an interface, a venue for foreign productions, a mediator and a medium between national and foreign language cultures.
The National Theatre would like to take an initiative in both regional and European theatre networks to gain the art of Hungarian theatre a more visible platform in the international theatre landscape – and, at the same time, launch the new international trends, the most important European "improvements”, in Hungary.
Edina Kenesei is curator for international affairs at the National Theatre in Budapest.