Jelinek: Stecken, Stab und Stangl

It is our conviction that in order for any majority society to better understand and - after a long and arduous process - to finally embrace the otherness of its minorities, it must first face its past, admit to its sins and make sure following generations learn from them.

You won’t see the Beauty, unless you have first fought the Beast.

The difference between the way Germany and Hungary treat their respective Nazi pasts  - the former owning up to it, making it a core subject on every education level and a constant subject of discussion, while the latter failing to do all of the above - is in our view one of the main reasons for the growing hatred and violence against Roma, homosexuals and Jews in Hungary.

In a theatre culture of very few outstanding contemporary playwrights, Hungarian stages offer almost no reaction to some of the most crucial issues of today’s society. Even devised pieces tend to refrain from discussing the most burning problems - in a country famous for its political theatre during the Communist regime, when artists knew how to wink at the audience and spectators knew how to read the critical political thought between the Shakespearean lines.

It is one of PanoDrama’s main goals to commission and promote plays, organise play development workshops and produce documentary theatre about some of these most urgent themes in order to initiate discussions and help start a dialogue.

Central Europe’s most hated ethnic minority

The Roma are arguably the most hated ethnic group in all of (Central) Europe. Half a million were murdered in the Holocaust and while each Gypsy, including newborns, is being fingerprinted in Berlusconi’s Italy, most majority voices give them the blame for not willing to integrate. Our efforts to help them are at best sporadic and short-lived.

The Roma are also Hungary’s largest minority, constituting about 7%-9% of the population (there are no exact statistical data), spread out over the whole country.  Hardly a day goes by without national newspapers reporting about an incident, an issue or a verdict involving the Romanies. Illegal, yet ongoing segregation at schools, hate crimes, unfair treatment at trials, faulty verdicts sentencing the innocent, as well as allegedly high crime-rates among the Gypsy population seem to surprise no one.

Then at the darkest hour of Hungary’s very young democracy since the Wall came down, a series of murderous racist attacks at randomly picked Roma victims end with six dead and all of the 7-8% of the national population having to fear for their lives just because their skin is darker.

In times where freedom of speech would allow theatre-makers to tackle even the most sensitive issues directly, not only are there no Roma themes on Hungarian stages (with the single, notable exception of János Mohácsi’s “For Want of a Nail” eight years ago), not only are hardly any Roma theatre-makers (with the exception of some actors), not only are there almost no plays written by, discussing or featuring Roma, but there are no Gypsy theatre-goers, either, Some of Budapest’s leading theatres including the venue of our three-phase project, Trafó, are located in the midst of the Gypsy ghetto, but not frequented by any Roma.
It is our aim to include Romanies in every phase of the project in manifold roles, to bring them in the auditorium, on stage and into our minds, but never alone like some exotic species, but always together with non-Roma.

The first event in this project series was meant as a wake-up call of sorts. During three days in March (8-10) 2010 we took a look at racism and xenophobia in our society with the help of the Nobel Laurate Austrian playwright, Elfriede Jelinek, who - unlike contemporary Hungarian playwrights - is very intrigued and upset by these phenomena. Three of her plays were be presented through rehearsed readings, workshops and a screening, open university lectures and round-table discussions by and with experts will help us understand the complexity of these issues, and a theatre-in-education workshop with Roma and non-Roma youths will be presented and discussed after two weeks of intense work on the topic of hatred against Roma.
For in our view one of the main reasons for the present situation is that Hungary never faced its fascist past and has yet to launch a national education campaign to discuss prejudices and racism in schools from an early age on.

The Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek’s first Hungarian premiere was produced by PanoDrama, an organisation devoted to producing new international plays in Hungary and new Hungarian drama abroad. Stecken, Stab und Stangl was voted Best Play of the year in 1996 and is Jelinek’s first theatre work directly inspired by social events. A racist’s bomb murdered four young Roma in the Austrian Burgenland in 1995, just because “they made the mistake of not putting on in time the looks and names of our acquaintances”. Jelinek stands against the crime committed by a racist, who is in the minority, but condemns even more the chorus of the hypocrite mourners of the majority, for thanks to them life goes on as if nothing had happened.
The award-winning German-Hungarian film director, Robert Pejo’s first stage work drew on the theme of his film Dallas Pashamende, but its form is defined by the poetic text, barely divided into roles by Elfriede Jelinek. Beyond the - in Hungary - painfully timely subject matter PanoDrama’s production examines one of the most exciting phenomena of the Hungarian theatre, the appearance of young film directors on Hungarian stages from Mundruczó to Gigor.