Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives
"Let us not be misled! Let us be perfectly clear about this: on March 15th 2002 Hungary, Budapest and the national culture will not be enriched with a new theatre. We will not gain anything; indeed, we will be made poorer - and at our own expense. What has been taken from us will be all too obvious: our new deficiency, all too visible. The original process of selection was open and honest: the relevant experts agreed on a design for what was to be one of the most important public buildings of its kind since the fall of Communism. That edifice was never built. Instead of a theatre, a monumental scandal was perpetrated on the banks of the Danube by people who were bold enough to put the nation and its culture to shame. Let there be no mistake about this: if, a few years hence, nobody remembers what stands beside the Danube, how it got there, and instead of what, then there will be no democracy in Hungary: nor will there be a national culture. The building erected by the Lágymányos bridge is not a theatre but a memorial to an era; it is a reminder of where impudent autocracy, community-degrading ignorance and sheer tastelessness may lead. What can be seen reminds us of what does not exist".
The exhibition that opens on the same day as the inauguration of the Budapest National Theatre is thematically linked to that occasion, in that it displays examples of contemporary theatre building from abroad. The projects on show are mainly well-working buildings that belong to the life of their immediate public as they have become part of their cities, expressing their identity.
The projects, most of which are not one-theatre-one-auditorium structures but multi-functional buildings, cover a wide range of styles. But all of them, whether high-tech transparent structures born in the heat of progress or grand edifices in the antique déjr vu forms of postmodernism, create their areas starting from the plurality of contemporary architecture. In their variety they share a common feature: they are inspired with public preparation, maximal publicity and lucidity, and this has made it possible to achieve professionalism and, in the end, the successful realisation of collective representation. Their initiators knew all too well that without the architect and the common will it is hard to erect any kind of civic building, and impossible to erect one that will carry a proper message.
The exhibition would like to show the many-faceted taste for innovation which enables the leading architects of the world to create civic buildings that fulfil stringent, though not always predictable, requirements, as well as meeting complex social needs.
A theatre is a public building. It is not a private business; it does not work with one objective. It is a civic building which forms a community, and which frames a contact between the artist and the public. A mutual, living and vibrant contact, without which there is no theatre.
The contact which is implicit in the idea of community is more important than the building itself. First of all, the theatre needs a company. In a small town it may be enough to have just one company, which need not always be "in residence", but in modern cities theatrical life and the whole societal world of the theatre are made up of several companies and troupes. Each of these companies constitutes a special kind of community in itself, where an exciting, sensitive and many-coloured contact exists between the members even if they have come together to stage only one single play. And this company can only exist if it becomes one with the audience, on whom the choice play and the manner in which it is presented largely depend. The physical circumstances of the production are of secondary importance.
Drama, dance, opera, tragedy, eurhythmics, literary adaptation, ballet, cabaret, operetta, comedy, or musical? Numerous types of plays can be imagined, not all of which fit into traditional categories. The potential variety is almost infinite.
Any of them can be realised in a basement, a roofed shed, a stable, a town square, a castle, a waiting room, a night-shelter, a church or wherever. Or, of course, in a theatre.
Mainly in a theatre which is created in some way by a community, by establishing a common building. For example, through a competition, an international one, where one of the creative architects is chosen from a smaller circle of greater communities. This individual, by creating a collective of suitable partners, may be able to direct the realisation of his or her dreams. But the result is still not guaranteed - the company and the public are needed ...
Certainly, building a theatre is rather different from the theatre itself, yet it is this variety that makes life fantastic and difficult to describe. There is no prescription, there are many places where artists play, make up troupes and have experiences. We attempt the impossible: to make the mystery of theatre felt through architectural pictures, which cannot be but collective and international as well.
Theatre - alone?
One thing strikes the eye at once: theatres are not built these days. Even smaller towns or universities on the other side of the Atlantic build centres of performing art instead: complex establishments, where the most important (though not the only) purpose is to create possibilities for live performances.
The houses are open, transparent, besides everyday rehearsals there are thematic programmes, festivals, library programmes, group visits, debating forums, film or video shows. It is not enough to open the gates every evening and see whether the audience pours in or not. While something is new it will pour in, anyway, but when it has grown accustomed to the theatre standing there, full houses cannot be guaranteed every day.
No, because every generation has to be taught what the theatre is like. It is worth showing people in early childhood what miracles can be performed by playing, dancing, singing and reciting man. All of this can be realised only in open houses. And today, when television and film have become the norms, it is more important than ever before.
The wonder of live performance cannot be replaced by anything at all. It must be stated that real value is international. No country, no nation - we could go on narrowing the circle, but to no purpose - can afford to play only for itself and to build theatres only for itself. International theatres should be built that are open and alive, not afraid to experiment: the sort of theatres that Youth cannot do without. They are the only theatres that are worth building.