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Trafó House of Contemporary Arts: Reflections #2


An Introduction from Philip Arnoult:


2 March 2022 Friends, We bring you the second issue of REFLECTIONS, with Fulbrighter Julia Mann taking an eye-opening first encounter with Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, its founder and leader György Szabó, and his partner, executive director Beáta Barda. In all my years in Budapest, I’ve spent more time in Trafó than any other theatre. After the changes in 1990, György built a first class European cultural center in the heart of Eastern Europe. Some of the most interesting international productions were brought in, and Trafó worked with literally all the important Hungarian independent theatre and dance companies. Julia gives a good history of the theatre, has an interview with Beá, and reports on four productions: Kristóf Kelemen’s THE OBSERVER, and HARMONIA by Hodworks, Adrienn Hod’s Budapest company and Unusual Symptoms, a German company from Bremen, as well as two one-person shows, I DREAMED WITH MY GRANDMOTHER, and PRECEDENTS TO A POTENTIAL FUTURE.
It has been a sobering and painful week for me, with so many histories embedded in my work the last 40+ years in the region. I’ve been glued to the horrible news but have also been contacted by so many good friends in the region with stories of generosity: Mariana in Germany raising money for refugees… Julia in Poland, about to give birth but clearing out her apartment to make room for a Ukrainian family… the brave Russians who are speaking out, who are being arrested, who are saying “this is not who we are: no war.” Our long-time partner John Freedman has a new “flash” project of getting out Ukrainian scripts—some short 2 pagers—being written in the middle of the war. Yesterday, he had over some 30 and growing partners around the globe signing up to do readings of those voices. Link to John Freedman’s email chain and Ukrainian scripts And money. Here are three suggested places to give to one of our friends in Ukraine: Support of the Ukrainian Army UA8430000100000047330992708 (multi-currency account of the National Bank of Ukraine) Send money to NGOs supporting our army https://savelife.in.ua/donate/ Support organizations that help people (children and women) - victims of the war https://voices.org.ua/donat/ In solidarity, Philip
 

On my first night in Budapest, I was not sure what to do with my evening. I had just flown across the world, it was evening and my body thought it was still 11am Maryland-time, and I came to the stark realization that I was in a city that I knew quite literally no one in. One would think that this would have been something I would have thought about before embarking on a 9-month journey to a new country, but in all the excitement of winning the Fulbright grant and graduating college, I had not truly considered the fact that I would be thoroughly alone upon my arrival. After lugging my suitcase up the stairs to my fourth floor apartment and wandering aimlessly for a few hours staring at pastel-colored buildings, I decided to go to the one place near me that I was knowledgeable about—Trafó House of Contemporary Arts.


QUEST, Photo credit: Hubert Amiel

I bought a ticket for the show playing that evening; it was a piece by a Belgian artist named Cédric Eeckhout entitled The Quest, which happened to be performed in English. When I arrived at Trafó, I was struck by the unassuming nature of the space. Situated on the corner of Liliom utca (Hungarian for ‘street’) in the ninth district of Budapest, Trafó’s building used to serve as a warehouse housing transformers for the city’s electrical grid before it was abandoned for a period and then converted into an artistic space. Trafó, which translates directly into ‘transformer’, got its name from it’s industrial past, and has managed to hold onto this aesthetic as it has evolved over the past 24 years.


The show I had bought tickets for took place in Trafó’s Main Hall—which is a massive and well-equipped black box that seats up to 350 people. I had no idea what to expect. What I found was Cédric outfitted in a full suit of armor, his mother busy cooking real Belgian food in a makeshift kitchen, and a man in a mascot-esque cat suit—playing Cédric’s cat named Jesus—in front of a DJ set-up. Cédric went on to use karaoke, videos of interviews with people all over the EU, and deeply personal stories to describe how pivotal moments in his life have corresponded with moments of conflict within the EU. It was a bold, quirky, and hilarious piece of theatre that actively critiqued Brexit and rising right-wing governments while speaking honestly about the conflicting national identities that make up the European Union. For me, it was the perfect way to ease into the work done at Trafó; it spoke to the current moment and was designed to be accessible to people of all nationalities.


After the show, I ran into Beáta Barda, Trafó’s Executive Director—who I met once via Zoom before arriving in Hungary—and we sat down in Trafó’s plant-filled cafe to properly introduce ourselves to each other. While we spoke, the cafe buzzed with audience members chatting about the show, staff members checking in and joking with Beáta, and eventually the performers themselves stopped by for a drink. I would later learn that this was a very calm evening in Trafó; most nights are much busier. However, it was easy to sense the community environment that Trafó has spent two decades building. On any given day, one can walk into Trafó’s cafe and find it filled with artists collaborating or just grabbing a quick coffee—all while Trafó’s staff prepares for the evening’s show(s) in the same building.


Since that first night, my relationship to Budapest has entirely changed; I now have a community of fellow Fulbrighters and have met many, many theatre makers. But, Trafó remains my home-base. I’m there at least once every week, and it’s website is the first place I look when I have a free evening. Nearly every single night there is something new and exciting taking place in one of Trafó’s many theatres, and I am lucky to be able to have the opportunity to see the majority of their 2021-22 season.



Trafó is made up of 4 venues: the Main Hall, the Club, the Studio, and the Gallery. The Main Hall is the largest, and it’s black-box form gives it the flexibility to take many shapes. I’ve seen pieces in the Main Hall done in the round, as a thrust, with the audience seated in the center of the stage, or even without any rules as to where audience members can sit. The Club is Trafó’s much smaller basement black-box. This space is similarly amorphous, and tends to house more intimate performances. Trafó’s Gallery, a space that hosts different visual art exhibits every month, is also on the basement floor. Up one floor from the entrance to the building is the Studio, which seats about 50 people, and is managed by the Workshop Foundation—a non-profit organization built to support Hungary’s independent contemporary dance community. Every Wednesday at 9:30pm, the Workshop Foundation hosts the Willany Leó Improvisation Dance Theatre in the Studio space, giving up-and-coming dancers and musicians the opportunity to spontaneously create together.


The Workshop Foundation’s close relationship with Trafó comes from their similar origin stories; both were founded by György Szabó in the 1990s. György told me that when he graduated from college, from what was then the Karl Marx University of Economics (it has since been renamed Corvinus University), he was struck by the lack of opportunity for avant garde dance and theatre in the commercial field. Wanting to bring the more experimental type of art that he and his peers made in college into the professional sphere, György went to work in artistic programming at the Youth Center at Petőfi Hall. His work there coincided with the fall of the Iron Curtain—a period that led to an influx in international investment in art and culture in Eastern Europe. In 1992, he founded the Workshop Foundation with support from the Soros Foundation as well as English, Swiss, and Dutch investors. Today, the Workshop Foundation is run by Gergely Tallo, and continues to support young contemporary dancers; their values include an open-door policy in which they provide support to anyone who asks, and helping artists develop sustainable, long-term and process-oriented skills.


In 1998, György—after over six years of searching—found a building that could be transformed into a multidisciplinary house. This concept took its name, Trafó, as direct reference to the space’s origin story. György had proved his capacity to lead artistic institutions to both the city of Budapest and international investors through his work at Petöfi Hall and the Workshop Foundation, and spent the past decade building a network of international artists. The city of Budapest allowed him to convert the building that now is Trafó into the performance venue it is today, and by 2002—a mere 4 years after opening—Trafó became a part of the city’s financing system. This means that instead of applying on a yearly or project-by-project basis for funding, the city allocates an annual budget to Trafó. From 1998 until 2012, György served as Trafó’s Executive Director and built Trafó until the internationally acclaimed center for progressive performing arts that it is today.


In 2012, the city required applications to be submitted for the position of Executive Director, and two people applied—György Szabó and Yvette Bozsik, a famous dancer/choreographer. At the time, the city government was run by István Tarlós, a Fidesz politician, and his government selected Yvette Bozsik to take over as Executive Director. However, shortly after her appointment, Yvette turned down the role due to pressure from the artistic community. Another call for applicants was announced, and this time the city appointed József Nagy, a Hungarian dancer/choreographer based in France, as the Executive Director.


Contrary to the United States, in Hungary it is typical for an artist—typically an actor, director, or dramaturg—to take on the role of Executive Director in theatres, instead of someone specializing in production or arts management. György was an exception to this, and approached managing Trafó as an artistic curator with a degree in economics. At the time of Trafó’s conception, it’s role as a hosting venue differentiated it from the typical Budapest theatrical institutions, which have their own companies, have consistent shows on repertory, and are managed by artists. As a contemporary arts venue without its own company, Trafó was already breaking the typical form for arts institutions, and it’s leadership—an arts manager instead of an active artist—reflected its unique positionality. When József Nagy took over, György ended up returning in a different role—as Managing Director—and utilized his extensive international connections and administrative experience to maintain Trafó’s impressive reputation as a hub for innovative contemporary art. Despite no longer officially leading Trafó, György still is deeply involved in season programming and day-to-day affairs; on nearly every evening that I go to see a show at Trafó, György is there to make sure the performances run smoothly.


Five years later, another application pool was opened for who would replace József Nagy, and Beáta Barda—who had already been working at Trafó for many years—submitted an application with György’s support. Since 2017, Beáta, who, like György, has a background in arts management instead of as a practicing artist, has been the Executive Director of Trafó. This year marks five years since 2017, and there is another ongoing call for applicants to lead Trafó for the next cycle. Beáta has applied again for the role, and she and I sat down to reflect on the past five years and talk about her aspirations for the future, should she be named Executive Director again, in an interview that you can find below.


As an American, I am constantly surprised by how significant of a role the government plays in the cultural sphere here, and the city’s appointment of Trafó’s leadership—and the leadership of other major theatres—is a key example of the direct influence politics can have on art. Additionally, Trafó receives their annualized funding from the city and this is their primary source of financing. Ticket sales constitute only up to one-third Trafó’s revenue. There are pros to this system: tickets can be sold at a relatively low price and the programming for the season does not need to bend to audience demand. But, there are cons as well: politics can play a role in Trafó’s budget and dealing with government bureaucracy—including delayed allocation of promised funds—is a daily part of management’s job.


Trafó’s financing is a combination of their own budget, and the budgets of the companies and independent artists that they are working with. As a co-producing venue, Trafó works in collaboration with the artists that it features to create contracts that fit the needs of the individual or group. For younger, newer artists, they might need to invest more in the productions than they do for the work of, for example, Proton Theatre—Kornél Mundruczó’s company. Several of the pieces that I have seen in Trafó’s Club space have been supported by Staféta—such as I dreamed with my grandmother and The Observers—as well as investment from Trafó. These two pieces were created by László Göndör and Kristóf Kelemen, respectively, and both of these artists are operating without a company of their own. By supporting the self-generated, individual projects of freelance artists, Trafó helps to build up and provide opportunities for the next generation of voices in Hungarian theatre.


The range of types of performances that one can see at Trafó in a given week is what excites me the most about the venue. Just this week, for example, one can see Gábor Sára’s research-based play about a small town in Hungary entitled Dog Ports, an immersive installation called Waterfields, Kristóf Kelemen’s The Observers, Dollar Daddy’s rendition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Manna’s Kereki, and a Belgian dance piece entitled Forces. A week packed with performances is highly typical at Trafó, and their team makes an effort to build audience engagement programming around the art being presented. This week there will be a pre-show conversation with the choreographer, sound designer, and lighting designer of Forces on the topic of interdisciplinary creation. Trafó also runs a program called ‘Thought Generator’ which hosts post-show conversations on the themes of performances, runs storytelling sessions in which community members can participate in drama games and share stories with each other, and creates community-based theatre performances with amateur actors.


Despite being the most prestigious venue for independent theatre in Budapest, Trafó still radiates with a sense of community. It’s a special experience to get to follow a season of theatre from start to finish, and I am so lucky that Trafó has become my home away from home. The season they have curated continues to push art forward—into new forms and theatrical languages—and, the more time I spend at Trafó, the more my definition of what theatre can look like continues to broaden.

 

Thoughts on a few of my favorite Trafó productions...


The Observers:

Kristóf Kelemen, a playwright and director who works both at Radnóti—a city theatre—and as an independent artist, has consistently made some of my favorite pieces of art that I’ve had the chance to see while in Hungary. In this play, he takes the audience back to a Hungary that is under Soviet control, and explores the ways that everyday citizens would be on each other during that era. The Observers tells the story of two male film school students—one Hungarian and one British—who met and are instantly placed into a relationship that is built upon coercion and lies.


Our narrator works for the government, and is responsible for recruiting citizens to inform him of the whereabouts of other, potentially suspicious, citizens. From the beginning, this play radiates a sense of paranoia and unease that I have only heard about from the Hungarians I have met who grew up in a nation under Soviet control. There are three screens on stage and, at times, the live-feed of an onstage camera is projected onto these screens. At several points throughout the performance, the audience sees footage of themselves—adding to the sensation of being watched that festers throughout the show. The narrator recruits the two film students and their respective girlfriends to spy on each other, and each is manipulated into making reports to him in a specific manner. The Hungarian film student, for example, had been seen in sexual encounters with other men, and this information is used as blackmail.


Kelemen’s writing makes it easy to sympathize with every character in the show— even the narrator. The text is inter-cut with songs, including an eerie rendition of “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” by the main character’s girlfriend, that gives us a peek into the emotion behind the relationships that we are keenly observing. At the end of the play, it is clear that everyone—regardless of their motivations—is forced to play a role in the maintenance of the systems that be.


If there was a single Hungarian performance that I would recommend to American audiences, it would be this one. The Observers offers a glimpse into the anxiety that permeated through society until 1989 and has left a lasting mark on Hungarian culture today. This play depicts a moment of physical intimacy between two men, something that was banned from being shown on stage to audiences younger than 18 years of age (considered to be ‘pedophilia’) in a law announced this summer—making the themes presented in The Observers all the more relevant to today’s Hungary.


Harmonia:

In this collaboration between Hodworks and Unusual Symptoms—the dance company currently in residency at Theatre Bremen—eleven dancers, both with and without disabilities, explore the physical capacity of the human body. The performance opens as many of Trafó’s dance performances do—with the performers already on stage as the audience files into their seats. Each of the dancers seemed to be going through a series of pre-show stretches either on their own or while weight-sharing with a partner.


This was a show that built upon itself, and rightfully took its time to earn the audience’s full attention. It started slow, with a continuation of the weight-sharing exercises from the pre-show section. A nondisabled dancer and a dancer using a wheelchair flip in and around the wheels and frame of the wheelchair—using it as an extension of both of their bodies. Each of the dancers strips down to their underwear, allowing the audience to see and appreciate the muscles these dancers use to support themselves and each other throughout the movement sequence. A slowly accelerating beat, rather like a heartbeat, begins to play and each of the dancer’s movements becomes more contorted to align with this beat. Partnered pairs switch up and the dancers each form their own relationship to the ever-intensifying rhythm. As the lights dim and the beat reaches its climax, each of the dancers pushes their shoulder, hips, or entire body to respond to the rapid beat. Despite the diversity of bodies on stage, they seem to be moving as one—tied to the same heartbeat.


After this demanding build-up and release, the dancers each take a moment to take care of their bodies. They put their clothes back on, drink water, and check in with each other. The lighting changes to a cooler tone, and they form a seated circle. In this second act, the environment on stage is one of pure joy; the dancers take turns running into the center of the circle and showing off their moves. “Maniac” and “Copacabana” play as the dancers—clapping along with the high-energy crowd—cheer each other on.


Adrienn Hód, the leader of Hodworks and choreographer of this show, captures the beautiful capability of all bodies to support themselves and uplift others. Harmonia is easily the most inclusive performance that I have seen in my time in Hungary, and it showcases how taking risks can pay off in theatrical settings. This show easily could have felt exploitative of those with disabilities performing in it, but instead those performers were clearly equal to, if not more impressive than, the dancers without disabilities—demonstrating Adrienn Hód’s ability to create a rehearsal environment that brings the best out of those she is working with.


I dreamed with my grandmother:

Created by László Göndör during quarantine, I dreamed with my grandmother is an autobiographical one-man show reflecting on a period of 32 days in which László lived with his 97 year old grandmother. Between December of 2020 and January of 2021—within the pre-vaccine era of COVID—László moved in with Éva Katona, his grandmother, and made over 40 hours of audio recordings of their conversations. This multi-media performance incorporates both audio and video recordings made during those 32 days into a theatrical collage documenting László and Éva’s period together.


This show takes place in Trafó’s Club, which is set up with a large projector screen, a harp, and a suitcase full of prop items on the stage. Throughout the performance, we hear recordings of Éva’s voice played as if she is speaking to both us and László. We see recordings of László dancing around her apartment while blasting EDM into his headphones. We watch them sit together for lunch on her birthday. Éva’s strength is resounding; she grew up in Budapest and survived the Holocaust as a Jewish woman in Hungary. Throughout the show’s non-linear plot, we learn more and more about the horrors she lived through and the intergenerational trauma that has followed. The story is underscored by the recurring theme of dreams, and how their dreams reflect their individual desires, fears, and relationship with life. He dreams of horrible dark gates and evil men; she dreams of having a day to simply do the laundry and tidy up the house.


This was one of the most personal pieces of theatre that I have ever seen, and its vulnerability was accentuated by the fact that László spent the majority of the performance speaking casually and directly to the audience, as if conversing with an old friend. There was no particular structure to the show—it felt rather like a collage of moments, conversations, and reflections—yet it’s emotional arc was distinct. I felt particularly moved by this piece because of how unique the premise was; it was the first show I had seen after quarantine that revolved around the experience of being stuck inside for an extended period with loved ones. Also, as someone new to Hungary, it provided a small window into the Hungarian Jewish perspective on this country’s complicated history—something that I very much appreciated.


Precedents to a Potential Future:

This one-woman show opens with Anna Biczók, or the character she is playing, sitting at a desk in an empty blackbox—Trafó’s Club. She watches the audience intently as they fill the seats facing the stage and begins the show by telling us the details of the day “December 12th, 2021. Liliom utca 41. 26 people in the audience.” Then she tells us that we are watching a woman, whose name is not Anna. The woman is imagining her childhood bedroom and exploring it in detail with movement. Then, she is called to her dining room to eat, where her mother watches her. Anna becomes the mother. As the mother, she decides to go see a piece of theatre, and within the show a member of the audience is asked to participate. At this moment, Anna asks someone from the actual audience to sit in the center of the stage for a moment—a man in the front row hesitantly agrees. Suddenly, Anna is the mother again and her mind is drifting; she’s imagining herself in New York City—entering a yoga class, where she is asked to activate her third eye.


At this point in the performance, light floods the stage and Anna begins to dance, presumably embodying the feeling of one’s third eye opening in this New York City yoga class within the drifting mind of her first character’s mother. After the dancer finishes, Anna narrates that her previous character had fallen asleep, and woken to find the theatre she was in completely empty. So, she curiously stepped onto the stage. However, regardless of how she moved on the stage, she can not seem to feel satisfied in the way that she fills the space. Finally, she decides to leave the stage and takes a bow. In this moment she feels intense fulfillment and releases that it must be worth it for performers to get up on stage every time just to feel the final satisfaction of a bow.


In this seemingly chaotic spiral of thoughts and characters, Anna Biczók manages to tell a clear story that reflects upon all of the elements—both physical and emotional—that make up the way we experience the world. She seamlessly transitions between performing as characters to performing the character's inner thoughts. Her body and the text move together to build imaginary worlds that she immerses the audience within. All the while, she articulates the sensory details that spark memories in the brains of those she is embodying. In a short 40 minutes, I felt that one woman, with no props, had taken me on a visual tour of the inside of her mind—walking through memories, senses, and perceptions—and shown me what it means to her to perform, in this very moment, on this very stage.

 

An Interview with Beáta Barda

In Trafó’s cafe, Beáta Barda—Trafó’s Executive Director since 2017—and I sat down to chat about her tenure as Trafó’s leader. Beáta is currently in the process of applying for another 5 years in her position.


JULIA: What drew you to apply for the role of Executive Director here in the first place—five years ago?


BEÁTA: To tell you the truth, and I want to be very sincere, this was a crucial moment in Trafó’s life because that was the end of a five year period in which we had a nice person as an Executive Director, but who was not interested so much in Trafó. He was more interested in his own career, because he was—still is—a very well known artist and a very good artist. He used to live in France and work in France, so it was a very difficult period. So, that is why we realized that it would be better to have someone from the inside. I don’t have too high ambitions—I have certain ones, yes, of course—but, I did not know at that time that it would be so difficult. And it was not artistically difficult, but all the circumstances have been against certain ambitions we had.


JULIA: I’m sure. Dealing with the government as well as COVID—you couldn’t have seen that coming.


BEÁTA: Yes, both, yes.


JULIA: So, in your tenure—the five years—what have you enjoyed the most?


BEÁTA: What I usually enjoy the most is working on a complex program. By complex I mean when there is a context for a performance; when there are post-show talks or lectures before. When we are able to show different sides of one thing. I mean, it can be the topic of the performance—we speak about the historical background of whatever. But, when we develop something more or extra…..this is what I like the best. I also enjoy when there is a performance, wherever in Trafó, it’s very rewarding to see the audience during the performance—to see the faces when they are listening. It’s a very nice experience. It’s also a very interesting moment and I like it sometimes more than watching the performance.


JULIA: Do you find that often the audience reactions are unexpected or not what you had anticipated?


BEÁTA: Yes! Of course, it can be rather sad when you have faith in a production and you like it very much and they do not like it. Or, they are just like this. (Beáta demonstrates a blank face). Not reacting as we expect. But, sometimes it’s so nice when we see happy faces or we see faces who are really listening or understanding or enjoying. So, that’s really, really something.


JULIA: Are there any shows over the past five years that you are particularly proud of being involved in and getting to share with people?


BEÁTA: Yes, yes, yes. One of them is a Stefan Kaegi performance entitled Nachlass which is about death. It is a kind of installation. There are no living people in it. There are eight separate booths on stage and you can listen to eight different people’s reactions to their own death—either fear or contentment. Sometimes it is purely neutral, but it is how they react to their forthcoming death. It’s not bizarre, at all—while it seems to be very bizarre—but, it makes people speak afterwards. They need to get rid of tension or fear. It was very easy to speak to the audience. And it was really nice, and we were really, really lucky because this was the last big performance before COVID.


I am happy, for example, for this grandmother—nagymama—show because….I was very happy to see that we could finally make it. And it was better than I had expected. I was talking to the director—I was talking to him a lot, and I felt a little bit ambiguous about the end result. But, it turned out to be better than I expected, and it’s really good to know that people like it.


JULIA: Yea, it has consistently been sold out—I’ve noticed that.


BEÁTA: So, these are two examples that I am happy about. Oh! And there is one more thing, which is really nice. It was last December. There was a group of people organizing a year long dance course of a kind of…let’s say ‘dance academy.’ It was for dancers, both international and Hungarian. There was a mid-term presentation and it went so well. It was in the Theatre Hall for two nights and not only was it practically full, but the three productions that they presented were super nice.


JULIA: Was it all students that were performing?


BEÁTA: By students I mean that they came here after learning dance wherever in Europe. They come for a kind of degree, and they pay for it. There was one Hungarian student, and most of them came from France and Russia—all over. They worked so hard, it was amazing, really.


JULIA: That’s really exciting. Have you found that from the beginning—from 2018—till now, have you found that your artistic goals have changed? Or are they still consistent?


BEÁTA: Yes, yes. They had to change, you know. Because there was COVID, and there was this online period. I am very proud of our online activity, really. It was such a cohesion between the different members of the staff staying far away from each other. We have to, and we are still working on how to use whatever we learned from this period. And, I don’t know if we have realized everything yet, as a consequence. But there are quite a few consequences of the situation.


JULIA: Do you find that your perspective on artists and how the lives of artists should work and how collaboration should work has changed because of COVID?


BEÁTA: This last season, it’s more than hectic. There are so many performances canceled. So many new projects that stopped mid-way. We have to help the artists to accomplish what they have already started. And, everyone wants to go on-stage—and immediately. And wants more and more opportunities because everyone is afraid that this situation can happen…


JULIA: ….again and again and again.


BEÁTA: Again, yes. So, they have to work. They have to earn money. They have to prove their talent. They have to express themselves. So many different ambitions.


JULIA: And you are in charge of facilitating and managing all of them for everyone…yeah. Do you think that audiences are looking for a different kind of art or form of art after COVID? Or do you think they are looking back to what we used to have before 2020?


BEÁTA: What I…..I don’t know if you can say it in the present perfect….but, what I want to say is that—what I have been realizing has been a long process. And now, I have to say, that what people are looking for more is more easy pieces.


JULIA: Easy pieces?


BEÁTA: Easy pieces. What they can laugh at. It is easier to sell musical pieces—I mean music, concerts, whatever—than something really tragic, black….


JULIA: Heavy?


BEÁTA: Yea, heavy stuff.


JULIA: That makes sense, I guess. People aren’t prepared to process heavy, emotional stuff in their free time.


BEÁTA: Yes. It’s a strange realization. When you check the ticket sales, it’s quite obvious. It’s also interesting that certain customs have changed. Usually it was always that, for example, if there was a premiere on Friday and it was an interesting, good performance, on the second day there would be more people joining—more people would turn up. Now it does not work like that.


JULIA: Really?


BEÁTA: Friday is always stronger than the second day.


JULIA: People are not coming out on Saturdays?


BEÁTA: Yes, because weekends are something different for people. Saturday and Sunday. It’s strange.


JULIA: Very strange….When you are planning your season, how much do you take into consideration audience demands and what sells?


BEÁTA: It’s always a very……so, you have to take into account all kinds of things. We have the city demands. They require a certain amount of turnout. We have to have something like, in general, 70% of such.


JULIA: Of capacity?


BEÁTA: Of capacity, but capacity is always mobile. We have 300 seats, but we have certain pieces where we can just have just 100 because that is how the set up works. But, we have to have a kind of turnout. And, then we have to think about ticket prices. We are relatively cheap. By Hungarian standards, we are definitely cheap. We always want to attract young people, university students, and they don’t have as much money as people who go into more elegant theatres—who are willing to buy tickets for even 10,000 [forints] or more.


JULIA: That’s a lot here.


BEÁTA: This is one thing. The second is that we always want to be alternative. To show something different. But, if we present something and half of the expected public shows up, we are always very sad, very frustrated and we think about showing something easier to sell.


JULIA: More mainstream.


BEÁTA: Yes. But, you know, it’s always kind of….it’s very hard to decide what is more important. To have relatively full houses with easier pieces or to present what our ambition is? To be educative in every sense—to show something unknown, to show something which is more difficult to speak about. So it’s always…we, our staff, always have a long discussion. And, as our ticket income is very important for ourselves to be able to invest in new productions, it’s never an easy decision.


JULIA: It must be hard to strike that balance.


BEÁTA: It’s very difficult. We have all kinds of ambitions to have—to make—a kind live connection between performances. But, it is not easy to do because the freelancers work at many places continuously. So, it’s very difficult to program certain shows on the dates we want to program them.


JULIA: Yeah, you’re dealing with a million different moving parts all at once.


BEÁTA: Yes, so it’s a big math…matrix?


JULIA: Matrix, yeah. Exactly. So, looking forward, if you become the Director again, what artists are you particularly excited about in Hungary right now that you would want to invite into Trafó and collaborate with for future seasons?


BEÁTA: We have a long list of names. It’s always easier to—technically speaking—program something by Mundruczó or Frenák because you don’t have to invest so much unnecessary money or human energy on promoting it. While, if you want to invest in somebody totally new and develop their path, it’s more energy, more money to speak about it—to make it understood. We have to find the right equilibrium and balance to present them. What I would definitely like to do in the next five year—if I have the possibility—is to have less performances and to give more space for rehearsals, thinking, and to have more time in the Theatre Hall. Not just coming in to build and set and present and then leave.


JULIA: How much rehearsal time do people get on the schedule that you all are working with now?


BEÁTA: If you present something new, it’s two or three days. Or sometimes it is easier to do some rehearsals in the summer, when we are officially closed, but the stage is there—just without the technical staff. So, they can get in the space and they can rehearse, they can experiment—whatever they want to do.


JULIA: Oh, wow, I see. So you would like to have more space for rehearsal and less performances packed together?


BEÁTA: Yes, more space for experimenting. Not necessarily with an end result.


JULIA: So, more process-oriented.


BEÁTA: Yes.


JULIA: In terms of money—we’ve talked about this a bit before—but, do you anticipate your access to funding changing with the election?


BEÁTA: It’s a very confusing time. Because in the first place, if the so-called opposition wins, there won't necessarily be more money; the problem is at the moment that there is a lot of money, really a lot of money, for culture. But, not necessarily well divided. It has to be changed. But, there is so much spending at the moment that I guess there won't necessarily be more money for culture. However, if nothing changes politically, it will be very difficult for us because we belong to the city. And we do not know what the city’s future will be. Budapest will not get more money, that’s for sure.

 

Thank you for joining as we share our second entry of REFLECTIONS: HUNGARY by Julia Mann. We'd love to hear your questions and thoughts in the comment section below!


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