The idea of changing the TRIP boat into a theatre started on a sunny Sunday, when I first heard about the renovation of the boat. There was a sudden opportunity to transform this boat into a theatre. Just as now when we have decided to create the first Hungarian quarantine theatre, another opportunity was taken.
I graduated from college in 1991, the same year when Merlin Theatre, the first English-speaking theatre was established in Budapest. That was a peculiar time, during the regime change. The world has suddenly opened up for us and it seemed natural that we should also connect to Europe. As my diploma performance I directed a play at the Castle Theatre, after which I received a five-year contract as a director at the National Theatre. I started working there, but the well known theatre director, Tamás Jordán asked me to work for the English-speaking plays at Merlin Theatre. Everything was new and we made lots of mistakes, reached some dead ends but within a few years we have had successes. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company played at our theatre, some the most talented British theatre companies were on stage here. I even had the chance to direct Twelfth Night, orWhat You Will with Suzannah York, Oscar nominated actress for her role in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. The personality and recognition of the iconic director Tamás Jordán opened upmany opportunities for us that there was no actor in Hungary who would refuse working with him. We complemented each other perfectly. I brought the global stars and he brought the Hungarian ones, which made Merlin an iconic and special place. In 2003 Tamás became the director of the National Theatre and I continued my work at Merlin. That’s when I decided to make some changes. Besides theatrical plays, I brought in electronic music, concerts and exhibitions. We had a large space in downtown, in Gerlóczy Street, where we introduced performances with video artists. This was unprecedented in Hungary at that time. Until in 2012, when the municipality of Budapest decided to use the building for other purposes. But it was important to maintain the spirit of Merlin, so we were offered two cinemas: Átrium and the Vörösmarty Cinema. I chose Átrium, which had been closed for ten years. It was a fantastic opportunity at the best possible time. I had 20 years of experience as leader of a theatre and I had two very strong allies. One of them was Béla Pintér, the other one Róbert Alföldi, a well known actor. Robert joined Atrium in several roles and Béla could grow his audience by at least 15 thousand people. But after five years I felt it was again time to move on.
Bori Péterfy reading the play of Borbála Szabó, titled Risk Group. Source: TRIP.
If I ‘delude’ myself that I am an innovative theatre maker, then i can always another another new idea. At that time, in Western-Europe, so-called immersive theatres were proving to be very successful. One important element is that the audience becomes an immersive part of the play, another one is that the plays are not performed in a traditional theatrical environment but instead in alternative places. For example, I saw a play of Dostoevsky performed in the Archives of Edinburgh. A few years ago I watched Blade Runner at the Secret Cinema in London, with several thousand people attending. Sixty performances were played in a property complex and as the audience entered, they could feel that they have become part of the film’s legendary world. I moved in this direction but I needed a space for rehearsals, an office and a base. I was dreaming of a place called TRIP, this name simply occurred to me. Then, one day, a friend of mine mentioned that KASSA, a beautiful ship under refurbishment was about to host dancing classes but they could offer more. I contacted the owners and it turned out that we had worked together at Merlin. I got the idea that I could create something at weekends when the ship is not in use. Thus my dream that was TRIP was to become a realty in the form of this ship… Today, we have taken over the ship and I’m doing a repertory theatre, which I actually did not want to do at first. But it was a great challenge to establish a theatre at Batthyány Square, facing the Parliament, on a ship that was built in 1937. Thus I found myself in the middle of a big project.
In the meantime I realized that KASSA, renamed to TRIP is the last ship in Hungary to have been kept in such a good condition. It is an iconic ship. Every two weeks the Hungarian Danube-Sea Shipping Foundation holds it’s meetings here. When the sailors enter, they tenderly caress the ship. Now co-operateing with the foundation, I ended up becoming a Board Member as director of the theatre.
For me it was always very important not to work with pure genres but rather mix them. That is why we created a new genre, the concert theatre. The first of such plays was Twelve Chairs, featuring stars and a fantastic orchestra. It was a huge success. Moreover, I launched a circus theatre series titled The Floating Manege, which blends visuality, acrobatic art, contemporary music and theatre.
László Magács during work. Source: TRIP.
I always loved pushing my limits. When I heard of the lockdown I said to myself, we can create the Quarantine Theatre. If we cannot secure physical presence, then we can expand to online sites. If we have the online sites, let’s see how we can blend genres.
That’s how our series titled Scenes from a Household was born, which is a theatre-like quarantine drama series. The episodes are watched by 15-20 thousands of people. We immediately caught global attention. This is how we established the First Hungarian Quarantine Theatre, the best part of was that we didn’t have to adjust to the schedule of the actors. Across the country many excellent actors were suddenly left without a job, whilst they crave to be on the stage again. Time and space turned out to be limitless on the internet. So practically, we established a global virtual company of 100 people within a day. This included playreaders, authors, actors and directors. During our brainstorming sessions we realised that it’s better not to repeat old performances but rather to create reflective performances, responding to the situation that is happening in the world – whilst keeping the strict distancing rules on stage. That’ why we created a quarantine drama competition with the literature portal Litera. The competition was a great success and we ended up receiving 300 plays!
Our Board of twelve members reads the plays and decides which ones to perform in the form of theatre readings. We have presented five plays but there are four other plays on my computer. I plan to perform all these plays by the end of June, and the audience can vote for the plays on our Facebook page, deciding which drama receives the first, second and third prizes.
Performance of the Eva Duda Dance Company on the stage of TRIP. Source: TRIP.
Our audience has multiplied in the quarantine. We have received enthusiastic feedback because they feel that we provide a special and unique programme, which relieves the lack of real theatrical experiences. We have received good feedback from abroad, too. One of my colleagues created a world map and indicated all the countries where our activity was mentioned. It included 50 countries, among others, Italy, the USA (New York) and New Zealand. It looks fantastic. Very motivating to our company!
Although we have a theatre of 150 attendees in the First District, with the most beautiful panorama view of the city, now 10-20 thousand people watch our performances each evening. This is a fantastic feeling. This is such an opportunity, which we should explore in the long run as well.
Now that I am receiving messages from little Hungarian villages and from New Zealand too, telling me that they love what we do because finally they can watch Hungarian plays or get to know the Hungarian culture better. Furthermore, since we have an English-speaking series too – this was so inspirational that I decided to keep this format in the long run.
We will continue even now when life is returning to normal – we have lots of ideas and a couple of them will be realized. In the beginning of the 2000’s, I directed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged in English, which is still being played now at the National Theatre. I now have the idea to create a series of Shakespeare’s works in episodes of 20-25 minutes. I will ask the authors who worked on the quarantine drama competition to write the 20-minute versions of one of Shakespeare’s plays, in a way that they keep the essence of the original plays. For example, Borbála Szabó is already working on the scenes of As You Like It. So we are creating a series of 37 episodes, which will reflect the current world. A new genre will be born.
Nelli Szűcs and Zsolt Trill performing the play of Gabriella Mangó, titled Coronavirus. Surce: TRIP.
Crowdfunding in itself is not new to me, we did the same with Merlin in the 1990’s. At the time we had lots of connections with the business world, especially through the network of Tamás Jordán, so we could get funding. Also I benefited a lot from the feedbacks of people who were out of art, deep in business, like an author of the Budapest Sun, the marketing director of British Airways or the owner of Accenture. We have had very interesting discussions. I then chose a similar method of financing the Twelve Chairs. But thecrowdfunding platform is a new challenge and fun as well, and I hope it will attrack not only money but new audiences too.
So it is new for me to work with the business world. Moreover, what is even more important is to listen to people who are more experienced or successful in their own fields. I am not an elitist. I am a curious person by nature and I try to understand what’s happening around me.
I think crowdfunding is fantastic because with this financing method, ten thousand forints can basically change the world. We have sixtine thousand followers; if all of them supported us with ten thousand forints – which in normal circumstances is the price of one or two tickets – this would mean enough money that it would enable those investments, which are necessary to do our work professionally. Those who have the financial ability to support us with a larger amount, can receive special benefits from us. Therefore we will focus on spreading the word to more and more people.
Every single contribution is valuable and we are thankful to all of our backers but I think that those who contribute a larger amount can become a more integral part of our operation, by telling us their opinion, which can ultimately affect our programmes. We plan to create a Puzzle Wall, where we will list those backers who contributed larger amounts.
I probably know more about theatre than those who support us, but in this way they can feel that the place that they support is theirs too. And I am really curious how they think about life. If I understand their way of thinking, I will create better theatre because I will understand life in a more complex way.