Anita Rákóczy On “Theatre as Civic Response: Hungary’s Árpád Schilling (Krétakör) and Critic Andrea Tompa ”, 3/07/2012

On March 7, the Martin E. Segal Theatre Centre hosted a Hungarian event, Theatre as Civic Response, by inviting the renowned Hungarian independent theater maker and director Árpád Schilling, and Andrea Tompa, critic and President of the Hungarian Theatre Critics’ Association. Unfortunately, Árpád Schilling could not make it to New York due to last minute visa complications, so he joined us via Skype, and the panel of Andrea Tompa, the editor of Theatre magazine Tom Sellar, the Hungarian cultural historian, cultural manager András Török, and the moderator Helen Shaw. The discussion was preceded by the screening of Krétakör’s Blackland in the afternoon.

I left Budapest six months ago to become a Fulbright Research Student at CUNY Graduate Center, so I was delighted to see some familiar faces, and hear the news about the Hungarian theater scene. The discussion was mainly about Schilling’s artistic style as a director, and his career from the foundation of the internationally acclaimed independent theater company, Krétakör to its dissolution, and his sudden shift from theater to education projects, site-specific and crossover experiences.

I am grateful for Professor Daniel Gerould and Frank Hentschker for their restless interest in Hungarian theater and culture, and their intention and continuous efforts to share it with their community. I am deeply touched by Martin E. Segal Center’s unique awareness of the current painful economic and political situation in Hungary. Ever since my arrival, they have made me feel that they seriously care and also worry about what is happening there.

However, the Hungarian event hardly touched upon current political issues. Apart from some vague references to general hardships that the Hungarian theater world is now facing, the presence of the extreme right in the Parliament and a hint on scandalous changes in theater leadership, the discussion was entirely non-political, and focused primarily on artistic matters concerning the theater of Árpád Schilling. Still, there was someone in the audience, who considered this 90 minutes of theater art talk already too dangerous to the reputation of Hungary. After the discussion and the Q&A session were over, he approached members of the audience, told them that all that had been said before was a lie, those people on stage were telling lies, they were besmirching the fair name of Hungary, where democracy is not endangered but flourishing. Claiming to be the representative of the Hungarian Writers’ Association, he distributed a handout signed by its President, János Szentmártoni with similar content. I am still wondering whether he referred to Shilling’s first or second period of artistic career, or the speakers got some dates wrong, perhaps the foundation of Krétakör. It would have been more stylish if the delegate had contributed to the discussion with his comments openly, during the Q&A, along the lines of freedom of speech and of differing opinions. His imput left the audience in the state of confusion and dismay.[1]

Anita Rákóczy

[1] I hereby acknowledge that the views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.

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