A short recent history of theatricals at the University of Debrecen
Looking back only a few decades, we can see that the University of Debrecen has supported groups which have made an effort to create theater, organized as friends and professionals. Prominent theater artists such as József Ruszt and István Pinczés started their careers in these surroundings, and made an example for many decades. The initiative to create a theater at the University of Debrecen is not without roots, and DESzínház (‘University of Debrecen Theater’), which is becoming more and more organized and diversified, is trying to move along this path.
The Kalipszis University Theater was founded by Csaba Tóth and his fellow students in 1996. Some of the students had theatrical experience, and the joy of acting formed a bond among them. They created performances and plays, and beyond that took part in local, national and international festivals. They were members of the Alternative Theater Association and organized in Debrecen the 3rd University and College Theater Festival, with participants from all over the country. Their intention was to perform both classical and contemporary plays from a new perspective. The first work that the company premiered was the morality play Jederman by László Garaczi on December 10, 1997. The first product of their writing workshop was the dramatic version of the prose poem Moscow-Petushki/or the gospel of Russian alcoholism/ in May 1998. Continuing that work, their next piece was the tragedy The King Having Fun; this text was made using motifs and segments from several works by Hugo. The premiere of the feminist drama Tornyos Péter was in 2000. This play was presented at the Alternative Theater Festival and at the International University Theater Festival in Besancon. They had two premieres during the 2000-2001 academic year: the medieval interactive drama Somebody and And Then There Were None, and Time, which was based on the Agatha Christie novel. Their last premiere was Karnyóné by Mihály Csokonai Vitéz, produced in collaboration with the actors of the Csokonai Theater in 2002. The company became more and more well-known, on account of the premieres and festival appearances, but there had always been a lack of infrastructure. They didn’t have their own theater room; therefore, the actors and directors had to arrange their rehearsals and performances in accordance with the requirements of other locations.
These circumstances improved as a result of the founding of the University of Debrecen Theater in 2000. The University of Debrecen Theater was created as a unified organization by the Kalipszis University Theater, the French École des Bouffons (headed by Judit Lukovszki, founding member), the students in the theater specialization of the Institute of English and American Studies and actors from the German Department. Their performances and plays were also supported by a contract with Csokonai Theater signed in 2001. The contract provided that the Csokonai Theater would help with the scenery and costume making; provide a space for performances in the Horváth Árpád Studio Theater; provide acting coaches who would help prepare students for their role; and give students the opportunity to participate in theatrical performances. Csokonai Theater’s aim was to reach younger audiences, who were less likely to attend the theater because of high ticket prices.
The French École des Bouffons (headed by Judit Lukovszki), which created one production a year between 1985 and 2002, deserves special mention. It started as a modern foreign language teaching method called “creative playing,” and later created acclaimed productions. (1985 Musset: La nuit vénitienne , 1986 Labiche: Le clou aux maris, 1987 Marivaux: Les
deux Pierrot, 1988 Florian: Les deux billets -Lille, Brest-, 1989 Labiche: La main leste, 1990 Molière: La jalousie de Barbouillé, Le médecin volant, 1991 Marivaux: Les acteurs de bonne foi, 1992 Ionesco: La cantatrice chauve -Krakow, Budapest, Brussels, Leuven-, 1993 Arrabal: Fando et Lis, 1994 Beckett: En attendant Godot, 1995 Ionesco: La soif et la faim –Angers-, La cantatrice chauve –Miskolc-, Duras: Yes, peut-être, 1996 Bergman: Peinture sur bois –Krakow-, 1997 Molière: Amphitryon -Liège, Miskolc, Eger, Casablanca-, 1998 Ionesco: Scène à quatre –Lyon-, 1999 Beckett: Quoi où? –Lyon-, 2000 Tardieu: Monsieur moi –Nancy-, 2001 Strinberg: La plus forte –Szeged-, 2002 La Barbe bleue.) The highlights of their work were international university festivals, which were organized professionally by the former Kölcsey Cultural Center, and were financed by significant intergovernmental cultural agreements.
The Institute of English and American Studies started the first Hungarian theater specialization in English in 1997 at Lajos Kossuth Lajos University (called the University of Debrecen as of the year 2000). The program consisted of four semesters of study. The Institute and the Hungarian Society for the Study of Drama in English (HUSSDE) decided that the students could present their productions as a festival. They invited theater groups with students majoring in English from other universities. The first festival was held on 7-8 May, 1999. The event was so successful that it started to be organized every year. There were awards for the best performance, best actor and best actress and, starting in 2007, for the best director. The latter was named after guest lecturer Dick St George (SUNY Brockport, USA), who contributed high-quality work during the 2007 festival. The last year of the festival was 2010. This was the 10th annual festival. (The festival’s program can be found on the website of Institute of English and American Studies.) The head of the festivals and the coordinator of the theater specialization program was Péter Szaffkó. The material from the drama festivals is kept in the independent archive of the Institute of English and American Studies, and can be researched locally. The year 2012 marked the end of the drama specialization. In spite of this, the tradition of English-language drama has continued to exist within the institute, among both former and current students. A company of former students, Confuse-A-Cat Ltd., has performed a number of successful plays (e.g. Zoo Story by Edward Albee, The War Room based on works of Peter George and Stanley Kubrick, The Collection by Harold Pinter and an adaptation of Love Letters by A. R. Gurney). Hopefully the new company, Nonsuch Co., will continue these traditions. Documents related to previous drama festivals can be found on the website of Institute of English and American Studies of the University of Debrecen: http://ieas.unideb.hu/index.php?p=125
The Italian Department at the University of Debrecen also has a theater company, which performs in Italian. Their performances are supported by Italian guest lecturers, actors, drama teachers, and the department also stages plays in Italian and offers theoretical theater classes. (Performances: GIOVENTU’ RIBELLE Lettura Spettacolo per i 0 anni dell’Unità d’Italia; Giacomo Guidetti: Le mele; Luciano Paesani: Don Giovanni a New York; Pier Paolo Pasolini – Calderón; Luciano Paesani: L’Impronta del Genio).
The Színláz Theater Company was formed in November 2006 with the aim of promoting drama and theater among university students, and of establishing, over time, the practical theatrical training that was lacking at the time from university theater – in the Hungarian language, at least. The group’s long-term objective is to run an independent university stage which creates performances and teaches students the basics of acting.
Since the group’s founding, so-called „open trainings” have taken place on Tuesday evenings during the academic year. Anyone who is interested can attend these trainings, where they get
the chance to experiment with theatrical speech, movement and games, under the guidance of theater professionals. The students with a more serious interest in acting contributed to the creation of the company’s first performance in December 2008. The play was titled Matchbox – Soap – I Disappeared, and in it the players told stories from their own childhoods. In 2009 they put on a play called Lego – What would you like? as well as a coproduction with the actors of the Csokonai Theater called F.A.L. At the end of October 2009 we organized a national festival, titled “University Theater Space I. – ESZTi akartátok.” Theater companies from Budapest, Veszprém and Szeged took part in the festival, and the Színláz Company presented the three plays mentioned above. These plays also were performed at an event called “Panel Theater – Fest in the Room,” which we organized in cooperation with the G.I.D.A. Association.
In addition, we presented Calderón by Pier Paolo Pasolini for the first time before the festival audience. (Calderón was invited to the Színváltások University Festival in November 2009 in Budapest, organized in the famous place known as Tűzraktér.) The following year we also took part in the Színváltások University Festival in Budapest and in the National Theater Festival of Pécs, with Függés by Zita Izsó.
The Színláz Company is supported by the Faculty of Arts’ Student Union, but we also have joint professional programs with the István Pálffy Special College and the foreign language departments’ companies (e.g. English and Italian). We are supported by the Csokonai Theater as well. We also maintain partnerships with the literary groups LÉK and DEIK.
We regularly publish in various magazines, brochures and websites, and everybody can find the necessary information about our lectures, trainings and events on our website.
The University of Debrecen Theater was refunded in 2013. The goal was to consolidate all of the scattered but significant theatrical groups and workshops which had been operating on campus into one organization; this allowed for more consistent action. Replacing teaching methods based on lexical and/or scientific information with teaching methods which develop skills and competences as well is the priority of public education. To maintain the competitiveness of teacher training it has to adjust to the new directions of education policy. It is necessary to create a new teaching model and to rethink and renew classroom communication. This could raise the prestige of the teaching profession. Developing the personality of future teachers has become more and more important during teacher training in Anglo-Saxon countries and elsewhere in Europe. One of the basic methods is drama in education (DIE). So far, the Hungarian view is that this discipline covers theater-related studies, and it has two parts. One of them is the training of professionals for theaters, which is not the duty of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The other is analyzing drama as text within the framework of literature courses, but this can be totally separated from theater as a form of art. However, DIE as an independent discipline is gaining more importance in public education. There are more and more drama classes in the secondary school curriculum. There may be several important benefits of DIE at the university. Teachers who have participated in DIE are able to work more confidently in the classrooms, and can create better conditions for an unhindered 'input' process. They also can a take a deeper look at the theater as a prominent cultural area, and thus they can educate more cultured students. Furthermore, practical theatrical studies can be useful for others, not only for prospective teachers, because these are self-knowledge and body-control trainings, and if we know ourselves better, we are more confident in every situation. During curriculum and training development, it is necessary to involve both university lecturers and theater professionals. This gives the University of Debrecen the opportunity to cooperate with theaters in Debrecen, strengthening the joint action of actors interested in the transfer of culture.