With the Madách Project, the 2023 Hungarian Theatre Olympics will pay tribute to the memory of Imre Madách, the immortal Hungarian playwright born 200 years ago this year. Within the framework of the series of events, The Tragedy of Man is brought to life in a performance by students of Hungarian and foreign drama universities, in such a way that groups from different countries perform each scene in their own mother tongue. We talked to the Rector of the University of Theatre and Film Arts, Zoltán Rátóti, the Rector’s Advisor and Deputy Head of Cabinet responsible for the Rector’s affairs, Dr. Dóra László-Gulyás and International Director Dr. Orsolya Huszár about the series of programmes created as part of the Madách International Theatre Meeting.
– How was the Madách Project conceived and how did the University of Theatre and Film Arts get involved?
Zoltán Rátóti: Thanks to the success of MITEM over the years and the initiative of Attila Vidnyánszky, this year Hungary will host the 10th Theatre Olympics, which will certainly be the most important cultural event of the year, with strong state support. The 9th Madách International Theatre Meeting is the central event of this year’s Theatre Olympics. Attila Vidnyánszky came up with the idea to involve young theatre artists of the future in the Olympics, and to celebrate properly the bicentenary of Madách’s birth, expressing our respect and love for the author and his main work. As the project is related to young people, it is created by students from different countries, it is natural that the University of Theatre and Film Arts is a partner of the Theatre Olympics in this.
As Rector, I am delighted that this large-scale project can be realised and that we can create a sensational event of outstanding importance not only for the institutions, but also for the students and the audience, and that The Tragedy of Man will be staged in a special venue, a hall on the Shipyard Island (Hajógyári-sziget), with a record number of over 200 participants. I am sure that this meeting and joint work will be a life-changing experience for both local and foreign students, and the audience will be able to gain insight into the work going on at different universities, in addition to the special performance.
– In the first phase, students from universities of performing arts in each country will work on a scene of The Tragedy of Man in their mother tongue. Which institutions have been attracted to this project?
dr. Dóra László-Gulyás: Three of the fifteen scenes of The tragedy—the second, the third and the fifteenth—will remain “in Hungarian hands”. They will be performed by students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts and the University of Kaposvár. Students from universities in the country corresponding to the scene were asked to work on the other twelve scenes (T/N: each scene of the play is set in different places, i.e., in Athens, Rome, Paris, etc.), of which a total of seven institutions have responded so far. (Editor’s note: As of now, groups of students from France, Poland, Turkey, Georgia, Serbia, Canada and Greece are also coming to Hungary.)
– In each case, did you have the translations in the relevant language?
dr. Orsolya Huszár: There were some languages, such as Greek, for which translations of the given scenes were only prepared for this occasion, and the participants had already received the materials and started rehearsing in their mother tongues.
– How will the programme continue in the second phase?
Zoltán Rátóti: The groups will arrive in Hungary at the beginning of June and can rehearse at the Thália Theatre on the 9th, where for the next two days (10th and 11th June), as an introduction, every group will perform their own scene. We are very curious to see how The Tragedy is seen in different cultures, how they use their own tools to adapt the scene they have been given and how they shape it in the universal language of theatre. We will also organise a symposium in connection with the performances, inviting students and teachers as well as theatre professionals from around the world, thus stimulating international discussion of Madách’s work. Afterwards, we plan to organise a two-day excursion to Dolná Strehová (Hungarian: Alsósztregova), to Imre Madách’s birth house, for students from the participating universities to gather personal impressions of the author and The Tragedy of Man, in addition to their reading experiences. After their return, the two-week joint work under the direction of Attila Vidnyánszky will begin on Shipyard Island, where the multilingual performance to be presented on 23 June will be prepared. What and how much of the arrangements brought in by the students will be included in this performance will be decided by the director.
– Have the universities been given criteria by you to work on the particular scene, or are they completely free to do so?
dr. Dóra László-Gulyás: We help them with anything they need, but they have complete artistic freedom. So far, indications are that they are taking advantage of this, and are preparing a very varied range of productions. These will include physical theatre, puppet theatre, but also musical theatre from the Polish students.
– In addition to the extract received, will each group of students also get acquainted with the full work of Madách?
Zoltán Rátóti: We did not impose any such conditions, leaving it to their discretion whether they wanted to learn about the whole work or just study a particular scene. The fact that young theatre artists from 10-12 countries around the world are taking our great national drama into their own hands, adapting its scenes in their own language and according to their own ideas is in itself a great thing, a worthy celebration of Madách’s anniversary and of The Tragedy itself. We have no restrictions on the genre or form of the productions to be made, they design and bring their own sets and costumes, or if they wish, we can make those for them here on site, based on their designs.
– Have you formulated any long-term plans regarding the project?
Zoltán Rátóti: It is clear that a project for young people like this is a step into the future from a pedagogical, artistic and university management point of view. We hope that the event will provide an opportunity to establish formal and informal contacts, laying the foundations for future joint projects, university visits and exchanges of experience. I am confident that the event, conceived and created in connection with the 200th anniversary of Madách’s birth, can lay the foundations for our university to organise an international festival, to revive and regularise international meetings, year after year, even if not on such a large scale, but with the participation of five to seven institutions.
– I imagine that such a large-scale project is a major logistical challenge.
dr. Orsolya Huszár: Indeed, it takes a lot of research, phone calls, and coordination to ensure that everything goes smoothly and according to plan. We try to organise as many meetings as possible, where our guests can ask questions not only through us, but also directly, for example about the staging, sets, costumes, and other technical details. Given the large number and diversity of the students, as we expect around 200 students and two or three attendants per group, organising their stay in Budapest is a challenge: where to stay, where and what to eat, and how to get to the rehearsal venue. We would also like to organise other activities for them, so that they can get to know Hungary and Budapest a bit. Of course, we also want to involve our own students in these programmes as much as possible, so that they can build up their own contacts, get into the international bloodstream and at the same time we also motivate them to participate in future international exchange programmes.
* The interview was conducted by Orsolya Tukács Szilágyiné.