Sebestyén László Szabó in the Bánk bán – photo: ZSolt Eöri Szabó

Reflecting on the world – interview with Sebestyén László Szabó

We can see Junior Prima Prize-winning young actor Sebestyén László Szabó  in several performances of the 10th MITEM programme. We talked with him about performances entitled Woyczek and Bánk bán, about leading roles, and the importance of international theatre festivals.

– You have been a member of the National Theatre company since 2016, but you have also performed in Debrecen and at the Örkény Theatre. Which has been the most influential role in your life so far?

– First of all, Attila Vidnyánszky Jr.’s stage directions come to my mind. For example, Liliomfi premiered at the Latinovits Theatre in Budaörs in 2015, but I also remember fondly a collaboration in Debrecen, I could perform in the play Kinek az ég alatt már senkije sincsen (Who has no one under the sky). Vidnyánszky Jr. also directed Woyczek, which will soon be screened at the 10th MITEM, and I must also mention the revived Bánk Bán, which is now directed by his father, Attila Vidnyánszky.

– Woyzeck, which premiered at the MITEM on 12 October, was staged in cooperation with the members of the Sztalker Group. What should we know about this? 

– The Sztalker Group actually started as an imaginary association, founded by Attila Vidnyánszky Jr. and Miklós H. Vecsei, and later several of us joined them. Woyzeck is essentially based on our own improvisations. At first, we made smaller etudes based on a theme we had come up with, and then director Attila Vidnyánszky Jr. gave structure to the pieces and put them together into one single performance. The order of the individual parts was not even put together until almost the week of the dress rehearsal: this was when our etudes were added to the original Büchner drama. The performance is always a little different, as we improvise as events unfold around us. Unfortunately, the topic is becoming increasingly relevant. The performance includes everything that the pandemic has meant to humanity, and the Russian-Ukrainian war that broke out shortly after the premiere also shaped the material.

– In the same way, Attila Vidnyánszky’s new direction of Bánk bán, also included in the anniversary MITEM’s programme, reflects on the changes in the world. How is this piece different from the previous versions?

– The play explores current issues of concern to many in an even more incisive way, giving the symbols in the performance an even more powerful meaning, and reflecting seriously on the aspect of globalisation that sweeps aside national traditions. In the new direction, which is Attila Vidnyánszky’s seventh adaptation of Bánk bán, I was cast as Biberach. “There are more and more Biberachs”, he once said about the play. The philosophy of the roaming knight – “Home is where the profit is” – is increasingly defining everyday life, and this is what the play aims to examine. The performance builds on Attila Vidnyánszky’s earlier works; however, it is still very fresh, and some elements are perhaps even more provocative.

– You also took part in the 10th Theatre Olympics in Hungary recently, as Lazarus in The Passion of Csíksomlyó. How did you see this large-scale series of programmes?

– I think that the Olympics made us feel very privileged. On the one hand, we were able to see excellent artists from all over the world who we may never have the opportunity to see again, not to mention the fact that we were able to enjoy these performances for the price of a Hungarian theatre production, and on the other hand, the theatres that hosted foreign companies were able to build partnerships that could be useful in the future.

– As an actor, how do you see the importance of such an international meeting?

– The most important thing about both the Theatre Olympics and the MITEM Festivals, which are held every year, is that they are forums where we can witness how theatre-makers from different nations see the world, what methods they use, and how we can benefit from them in our own work. The fact that all this can happen here in Hungary is unsurpassed.

– Are there any performances that particularly struck you during the Theatre Olympics?

– I saw a lot of performances, so it’s very difficult to pick one, but the most memorable was probably Slava Polunin’s SnowShow, which I already saw two years ago, but it still has been an overwhelming experience.

– In addition to your stage work, you also play an instrument and write lyrics and poems. Where do you see yourself in the future?

– Whatever comes my way, I try to do my best. Right now, for example, I’m directing a public performance at the end of a semester for the performing arts class headed by József Szarvas and Zoltán Rátóti, which is a very exciting task. And next week, we start rehearsals for the folklore opera The Golden-Haired Triplets, which will premiere at the National Theatre in December.

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A Színházi Olimpia hivatalos megnyitója - fotó: 4K Media Studio
Hungary's stages hosted the world's top theatre artists during the 10th Theatre Olympics from April 2023. The genre-rich programme attracted 200 000 viewers and put the country on the world theatre map.
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