Community Culture Hungary

Budapest Micro: “Our goal is to bring people from different walks of life together”

This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Alina and Dorka, from Budapest Micro, an independent theatre society based in Hungary, and they were kind enough to share their views on theatre, culture, Hungary and civil society.

So… what on earth is Budapest Micro?

We like to define Budapest Micro as an independent theatre society. It’s called “micro” because we play 10-minute scenes in tiny spaces for small audiences (15/20 people) which are performed simultaneously for a period of two-three hour. That way, people can choose to watch one, three or all five of them while enjoying a drink, without having to buy tickets months in advance or commit themselves for an entire evening. Besides building a regular audience of theatre-goers, we’re curious to see if we can bring arts and culture to people who go out in bars to have a beer and who might not be particularly, if at all, interested in theatre.

How did the idea come about?

The idea comes from Madrid where the microtheater genre is very popular. We took the original concept, kept the structure and transformed the rest, adapting it to Hungarian reality. In July 2018, we carried out a pilot event in Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s most famous ruin bar, to test our ideas and chose the topic “Mi a magyar most?” or “What’s up Hungary” for our debut. Our goal is to bring people from different walks of life together, including Hungarians and foreigners, civilians and performing art professionals and, as a result, produce a melting pot of styles and viewpoints, a space for dialogue perpetuated by an openness to diversity and a common endeavor to unveil and interpret the world around us.

How did you get into theatre then?

We’re both from Budapest but spent many years abroad. Theatre brought us together back in high school : Dorka founded a drama group where would perform together for a couple of years. After a long time we spent in different countries, we moved back to Budapest in early 2018 and decided to create and launch the Madrid microtheater-inspired Budapest Micro.

Any particular playwright had an influence on you?

There’s Béla Pintér, a contemporary Hungarian playwright, or I could say György Spiró as well. From the classics, Brecht is undeniably popular here and we like him in particular. Fortunately, the number of inspiring playwrights is growing but we’d like to see even more young people write plays in Hungary. This could create a scenario where play-writing and theatre-making change hand in hand, inspiring one another.

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Credit: Bands Through The Lens / Lajos Somogyi

Tell us a bit about the current theatre scene in Budapest and Hungary.

Theatre in Budapest has a very long and strong tradition. Currently, there’s a variety of theatres, both institutional and independent. We find the independent theatre scene here especially vivid and rich when compared to most cities and countries in Europe, and it has been becoming bigger and more multifaceted during the past few years, in spite of the constant financial struggle and the lack of resources for culture in our country.

What role do expats and foreigners have in it?

Due to the language barrier, expats don’t have an easy access to theatre in Hungary, unless they’re lucky enough to catch the very few plays performed in English. But we do know actors and directors from across the world who live and work here mostly in the movie industry while some have established themselves in theatre as well. Nevertheless, we wanted to push a bit further and set it as one of our goals to create a community where foreigners (theatregoers and/or creators) can come and interact or work together with Hungarians.

On the other hand, the expat community is growing and tourism is big, our famous ruin pubs and tourist attractions are packed with culture-seeking foreigners. This is why we had the idea to perform our microplays in English as well, targeting both groups. The idea is to offer tourists an option to get in touch with Hungarian theatre without having to spend an entire evening in a formal theatre setting when one is only in Budapest for a couple of days. Instead, you just walk into a bar, get a drink and enjoy one or another microplay, in the order you like. Of course, you can just as well spend your entire evening at budapest micro, if that’s what you’re after.

Taking into account the political situation in the country, does theatre in Budapest have a social/political reach?

Indeed, theatre is almost always a politicized institution and working with censorship-imposed ambiguous speech and hidden messages has a long history in Hungary: it taught the audiences to read between the lines. Nowadays, this kind of theatre seems to have been going through a revival. There are many contemporary and classical plays being performed in Hungarian theatres – and all sorts of theatres are full every single night. Not only the traditional institutions or those of municipal maintenance, but the independent performances as well. There are more and more groups that perform social activism-like theatre, too.

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Credit: Bands Through The Lens / Lajos Somogyi

What role, if any, does Budapest Micro aim to have within civil society?

We want Budapest Micro to become a platform for open dialogue where people meet through the art and exchange ideas and views, be those political, social or of other nature. We believe that change can only be brought about by bringing people from different backgrounds and with opposing views together for we think that there is certainly a lack of communication or miscommunication between different segments of society. In the future, we’d also like to take our project on a tour to the Hungarian countryside, seeking to expand cultural movements to areas that fall far from Budapest and also to understand what is really up in Hungary these days.

So what’s next for Budapest Micro?

It seems that after a long search, we’ve just found a place where we’ll establish our base in Budapest. Very soon, audiences can meet budapest micro at this new venue where we will be performing microplays regularly. We’re also planning a new outdoor performance for the summer and seeing into taking Budapest Micro to festivals.

After Son of Saul in 2016, László Nemes’ Sunset is up for Best Foreign-language film at the Oscars. Do you feel that Hungarian contemporary culture is getting more and more recognised abroad?

There’s definitely a lot of international interest for Hungarian movies right now. We think that the success of Hungarian movies in the past years have called worldwide attention to filmmakers in the country, and every year there are more and more works that gain international recognition. This is something to celebrate and might give confidence to theatre-makers as well.

Are you hoping theatre can follow in those footsteps?

Theatre is a different matter. Traditionally, it is really inward-looking and strictly tied to Hungarian language but we hope that change is about to come there, too. It’d be great to see more international mobility, dialogue and connection… there are so many talented Hungarian actors and it seems that creators, writers and directors have finally assumed a more open attitude towards the outer world, displaying increased curiosity for contemporary culture abroad. This will, hopefully, become mutual one day…

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If you’re ever in town, don’t forget to check out Budapest Micro and their many events.

A political science graduate from the University of Nottingham, Tom Eisenchteter worked for international organisations in South Africa, Thailand and Malaysia before returning to his native France. He now works in the media department of the French Ministry of Defense and is a regular contributor to French media Asialyst.com and the Paris-based think-tank Asia Centre. In 2018, he founds Kafkadesk Media with his brother in Prague.

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