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.
‘The Olympics has achieved one of its most important goals, as it has opened up the Hungarian theatre profession that had been closed. One of our main concerns beforehand was how we could successfully present such a large number of foreign performances in a country that has a wonderful theatre scene but is very modest compared to its neighbouring countries in terms of international festivals. Not only the profession, but also the public have had a taste of it. And contacts are maintained, and foreigners spread the country’s good name, having experienced the richness of our cultural life and its incredible strength.” – said Attila Vidnyánszky on the 10th Theatre Olympics.
Out of this rich national programme, it is impossible even to highlight, but in addition to the genre-rich offer that appealed to Hungarian audiences, there were truly theatrical encounters. – said the General Director of the National Theatre of Hungary, the main organiser of the Olympics.
The Theatre Olympics, including the tenth festival in Hungary, have been the subject of numerous articles and interviews in the national and international press, all of which have confirmed Vidnyánszky’s experience.
‘The programme of the Olympics is not unanimous, there are no performances with ideological messages, the main criterion is artistic quality’, said Gábor Tompa, UNITER Prize-winning director, distinguished artist, director of the Hungarian State Theatre in Cluj and president of the European Theatre Union.
Unlike previous theatre Olympics, the organisers have extended the programme not only to the whole country but also to the Hungarian-speaking regions, thus fully realising one of the main objectives of the event – to build bridges.
‘From the point of view of the Hungarian theatre profession, the Olympics have many benefits, including the fact that Hungarian theatres have made contact with Hungarian theatres beyond the borders.’
– said Anikó Lantos, Festival Director of the Thália Theatre. This was also emphasised by Ádám Berzsenyi Bellaagh, director of the Latinovits Theatre in Budaörs, who said that this was the first time that their theatre had considered inviting international performances.
One example of this bridge-building was the Madách Project, part of the Theatre Olympics, which brought students from eleven theatre universities to Budapest to perform their own adaptation of a scene from Imre Madách’s The Tragedy of Man. Attila Vidnyánszky said:
‘We have approached schools all over the world, asking them to read Madách’s play and, if they feel like it, to come to a special performance. This was more than we expected, as we were the only country in the Czech Republic not to bring an art university. There, they were so concerned about our democratic existence that they refused the invitation. The others were here, they saw and experienced this celebration.
Although it was hard work, the 170 foreign and 40 Hungarian students, who watched each other’s scenes five or six times and who now carry Madách – and Hungary – with them, experienced a real catharsis at the end.”
It was also the first time that puppet theatres had the opportunity to take part in the Theatre Olympics programme. ‘This series has also provided an opportunity for a wide range of personal and company encounters, and Hungarian puppet theatres will benefit from this togetherness and artistic interaction in the long term.’ – said Anikó Asbóth, President of the Association of Hungarian Puppet Artists and Director of Vojtina Puppet Theatre. János Pályi, director of BábSzínTér, said it was a great opportunity for puppet theatres to participate in the Olympics: to showcase themselves and to host the world’s best puppeteers. ’It was timely and good not only for our profession but also for our audiences.’- said Pályi.
Rural theatres also saw the Olympics as a huge opportunity. Attila Béres, director of the National Theatre of Miskolc, said that they were able to attract extraordinary companies, productions and ballet performances to Miskolc, which they would not have had the opportunity to do under other circumstances.
In addition, the inspirational character of the event was one of the most important aspects highlighted by the participants.
‘Thanks to the Olympics, many people have been able to keep their faith in theatre-making, and this fantastic series of events has not only inspired the Hungarian theatre profession spiritually, but has also helped it spiritually and mentally over the past six months.’ – said Gábor Bakos-Kiss, Director of the National Theatre of Győr. Zsolt Lipics, Director of the National Theatre of Pécs, confirmed this: ‘I believe that we can never be satisfied with where we are, we have to constantly improve ourselves and our performances, and the Theatre Olympics has provided us with a unique opportunity to do so.’