Theatre and Solidarity in Hungary in the Time of Coronavirus
by Mária Ady, Hungarian Theatre Museum and Institute, Budapest
On the 11th of March, the Government of Hungary announces state of emergency with many restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus disease. Theatres close down and suspend their performances for an undefined time to protect their audience, workers and the society.
Theatre workers are among those directly and immediately affected by the economical consequences of the epidemy. The Government orders tax relief for employers and employees in the cultural sphere to protect jobs and incomes during the crisis, but the situation is still serious for many, as most theatre workers, including artists, technicians and administrative professionals, do not have permanent contract but work as self-employed.
The Performing Artist’s Legal Aid Bureau Association and the Artisjus Hungarian Copyright Legal Aid Bureau Associaton decided to establish a special social supporting fund for authors and performers lost their income. The Independent Performing Art Association launches social fundraising to help theatre workers in crisis, emphasizing the importance of the aid for background workers. Their „invisibility” towards the public make them even more vulnerable in a situation like this. Famous actors joined this initiation by giving voice to them with the motto „Let’s stay in the profession” (#maradjunkpalyan), calling attention to the importance of their „invisible” work, while Jászai Mari Theatre in Tatabánya started a poetry recital challenge for all theatres to follow.
Another direction of the civil supporting movements are the manifestations of gratitude and solidarity towards the health care and public health workers, food workers, transportation employees and other essential workers. Among these, Áron Őze, director of the Bartók Studio Theatre in Dunaújváros announces that health care employees may visit the theatre free of charge in the next season, the workshops of several theatres start to produce masks, and the popular song of the former band Locomotiv GT Neked írom a dalt („I’m Writing This Song to You”) becomes an artistic symbol of the defense against the virus, as 43 musicians with the author Gábor Presser sing it from their home, in a clip for the the health care workers.
Actors and musicians continue to promote the Stay Home Movement (#maradjotthon) by online home office contributions like poetry and fairy tale recitation, songs and instrumental music or reading the cumpolsory curricular novels and their own favorites.
Theatres make their archive performance recordings available, try out live streaming options, or find new forms like the home office version of a temporary cancelled premiere as in the case of Örkény István Theatre’s Andromakhé, called „quarantine video conference” (watch here with English subtitles!).
For students and teachers in the field, many archives open with recordings and theatre papers to help research and to satisfy cultural appetite, while the Hungarian Theatre Museum of the Petőfi Literary Museum, just as a great number of Hungarian museums, offers a series of theatre history sources online, and organizes virtual exhibitions for theatre lovers.