The founder of the Theatre Olympics, Theodoros Terzopoulos, is currently in Budapest rehearsing with the company of the National Theatre of Hungary for the production of Mother Courage and Her Children. We talked about the 10th Theatre Olympics hosted by Hungary, his relationship with tradition and audiences, and also the upcoming play.
– The 10th Theatre Olympics was attended by a strong international presence. As one of the founders, how do you assess the event?
– I can safely say that the anniversary edition of Theatre Olympics, organised by Hungary, was an excellent event in every respect. I believe that the event, which not only covered Budapest but also the whole country, opened new doors and, in addition to being the most important cultural event of 2023 in the country, it also had a great international resonance. The 10th Theatre Olympics was themed from Greece to France, and the most prestigious magazines covered the plays presented, which were characterised by their sophistication and diversity. I am happy because, after years of COVID, the theatre has become a place of encounters again, and here I think not only of the audience, but also of the different creators and aesthetic visions.
– It is perhaps fair to say that for the first time in the history of the Theatre Olympics, dance and puppetry have been given a truly prominent role. How do you see the significance of this?
– It was absolutely necessary, because theatre is a complex art in itself, in which the body, the image and music play an important role. I believe that the dialogue between genres, which is the essence of art and the very idea behind the Theatre Olympics, has been achieved. For me, it was an uplifting feeling to see the enthusiasm with which Hungarian puppet and dance artists got involved in organising the events.
– Has the basic concept changed in the history of the Theatre Olympics?
– I think that there is a very solid basic idea, which I mentioned earlier, on which a concept can be built for each Olympics that is faithful to it, but which also takes into account the traditions of the host country and the events taking place in the world around us. This was also the case when the Olympics hosted by Japan focused on its theatrical tradition, kabuki, or, in the case of China, Chinese opera, the Polish Grotowski Institute, or the Russian tradition, which has very strong theatre schools. With regard to Hungary, which has given the world artists such as József Katona or Imre Madách, who was born 200 years ago this year, we have a theatrical tradition that is perhaps unique in the world and that extends throughout the country. Not to mention the cinematic tradition represented by Zoltán Fábri or Béla Tarr.
– Is the priority to preserve tradition or progress?
– I can think of nothing more progressive than examining the past and drawing the right conclusions. Traditions need to break through the past, take shape in the present and point to the future. Today we live in a culture of forgetting, but there is value in what is created by the process of remembering. This is what I represent in the theatre. How do we talk about something we have no knowledge of? We have to study the past, the traditions, the Greek drama in order to move on. It is the task of art, and theatre in particular, to follow and reflect on events in the world, economic and political crises, wars, natural and humanitarian disasters. It must be recognised that globalisation has homogenised culture and, in the face of this, we must strive to find a way back to a kind of national identity, to theatre, while distancing ourselves from nationalism. Quite simply, we must preserve the diversity of life, including the theatre. There can be no dialogue without duality, without disagreement, without which there can be no art.
– What was your greatest experience of the Olympics hosted by Hungary?
– I was very happy to see the success of artists such as Romeo Castellucci, Heiner Goebbels and Dimitris Papaioannou. Their performances gave a special status to the jubilee events. I particularly like Castellucci’s performance BROS, because it has a kind of ritual, which I think is an essential element of theatre. I think it was fantastic that the Madách Project was able to come to fruition, with students from 11 different theatre universities around the world sharing and performing Imre Madách’s The Tragedy of Man, directed by Attila Vidnyánszky. It was a particular pleasure to see a company of the most talented young Greeks working on the Athenian scene.
– As director, you brought the production of Nora to the Theatre Olympics. How do you rate the performance?
– I think the audience understood my vision. I could never direct this Ibsen play as if I were Norwegian. I draw from the tradition of Greek drama. I wanted to strip the play of everything that is literature and concentrate only on the poetry, the three characters, the dialogues and the drama. Reading the reviews of the production, I feel that I have succeeded in this.
– You are currently rehearsing a Brecht play, Mother Courage and Her Childrenat the National Theatre of Hungary. What can the audience expect this time?
– We don’t know what’s in the audience’s mind, we can’t count on that, we just build up the characters and the performance style. It’s a very interesting relationship because I think that when the audience applauds, they are not applauding the actors at all, if not themselves. It’s that they are taking in, accepting what they see. The audience is rejoicing in their own ego. This game needs to be preserved. The viewer must be moved out of his comfort zone, and disharmony must be created precisely so that a joint search for harmony can begin.
– This is not the first time you have worked with Hungarian actors. What is your experience?
– The first time I got to know Hungarian actors was through film, I was fascinated by the works of Miklós Jancsó, Zoltán Fábri and Béla Tarr, who I mentioned earlier. I think that Hungarians are more closed, at least behave in a completely different way than an Italian or French actor. You have to unravel their personality, bring it to the surface, which is a very special task. The other thing is the Hungarian language, for which I have a certain affinity. It has a lot of consonants and I think that’s what makes it really theatrical.
– Is there any word on the 11th Theatre Olympics yet?
– That remains my secret for now.