At 4 a.m. Sunday CET the first Hungarian theatrical festival, the Hungary Live Festival was launched with the concert of the Szakértők band. Five days os lectures, concerts, workshops and professional discussions. BY TAMÁS JÁSZAY.
We were trying to find an answer to the question posed in the title with the main organizer of the first Hungary Live Festival, Anna Boros. When I ask the actress of the k2 Theatre what she has found in America that she had missed in Hungary, she mentions freedom first. „When I first came to New York to study English, after the usual brief shock I started to feel at home. Many Hungarians think that Americans are superficial. The school that I went to had hundreds of students from all over the world, we were split up into groups at the beginning of the course. They greeted and applauded everyone, which was very strange, I could have cynically thought that they were celebrating us for our money, but with time I realised this was about something else. And I have been experiencing the same thing ever since: everyone is encouraged, everyone is given one, but typically more than one chance.”
It is difficult to judge what lies beneath the surface, that ever smiling facade, nonetheless Anna Boros committed herself to America then, nine years ago. She gained freedom, confidence and courage, for which time and opportunity always seemed to lack at home. „I was accepted to acting school in Kaposvár, and I was picked on because of my lack of experience, because of my insecurities. And then I came here and returned a different person.”
The idea of the Hungary Live Festival sprang up years ago, last year it was Remembering the Good Old Times, the István Eörsi monodrama played by István Znamenák that made an appearance in New York, but this year an upscaling took place. “I can’t tell you exactly what my goal with all this is. Everything is happening instinctively and I am also surprised by the amount of help we get from many people to make this introduction possible. That I have a knack for organizing, that I can bring people together was already apparent when I went to college. But the organizing of our American trip was full of unexpected difficulties. It may sound incredible, but I have spent all my waking moments for the past two years with this, and I have asked for help from everybody, literally everybody, to make this journey happen. If I need to name one reason why I did it, it would be that I want to share what’s important to me with people I love, with people around me on weekdays too.”
We can in all fairness call the enterprise of the Hungary Live Festival pioneer work if we consider how little is known of Hungarian theatre in the US. New York occupies a special place in the theatre world that is carved up geographically (and not politically, like in Hungary), but to make an event like this visible requires immense work. The team of organizers around Anna Boros (including Adrienn Erdélyi, Esztella Levkó, Erika Lukácsi, Ádám Boncz and Péter Tóth) worked for months on end to realize the brazen idea. The initial plan was, as Anna Boros tells me, to involve only the local Hungarian community first, and address the American audience later, but they decided to hop over that initial phase. „It is a big deal that institutions with a key role in American performance arts, such as the Abrons Arts Center participated in the program, providing venue and helping with the organizing. The reason matters took this turn is that over the years I very painstakingly mapped the local conditions, I continuously collected information and experience, and we constantly formed and changed the entire program accordingly.”
When I ask her about how the performances were selected, she talks about a similarly instinctive approach: „We were here with the k2 Theatre to collect material from fifty-sixers for our show called Moonstone, and of course it already occurred to us then that it would be great to return with the finished product. And later, when we were in an American bar at a Hungarian concert, the thought occurred to us that Szakértők and BEKVART represent a quality that should be shown to people living here as well. And a loose theme started to evolve, the theme of remembrance, that is why in addition to Moonstone we included the Sheriff of Dohány Street that deals with the trauma of the holocaust, and the concert play based on György Konrád’s text, Searching Hands. The professional discussions, Esztella Levkó’s already sold out workshop complement the program splendidly. It is important that I could commit full heartedly to this program, and I was able to represent everywhere that showing all this is a common interest.”
A subjective comment: the thing that makes the Hungary Live Festival especially appealing to me is that the organizers allow time for the sizable Hungarian delegation to discover the city. “Yes, this was a completely conscious decision. An actor, an artist simply must live and gather experiences besides stepping on the stage. There are perhaps who will laugh at me for that, but I do think it is important that the actors see a Broadway play, visit Times Square or Central Park. And this way they might take something home that I took home from America.” Regarding the future, Anna Boros is already planning the next event two years from now. She is outright optimistic, so I cannot say otherwise either: to be continued.
Translated by Péter Papolczy