Where does a boat theatre go when faced with coronavirus lockdown? Laszlo Magacs, artistic director of the Trip in Hungary, had the answer: become a live-streaming theatre. He speaks to Nick Awde
Anticipating a complete coronavirus clampdown in Hungary, Laszlo Magacs embarked on plans to live-stream shows in February. So, when his Budapest venue the Trip shut down, he promptly launched the live-streaming First Hungarian Quarantine Theater.
Hungary declared a state of emergency on March 11. Magacs, the Trip’s artistic director, says: “After the government made their first decision to limit indoor audiences to 100 people, I knew it wasn’t logical because 100 is an infectious group anyway. So, along with most other venues, right away I cancelled all the shows programmed at the Trip.”
He immediately contacted the band Deadly Mantis, who were booked to perform the day after the Trip’s closure, and asked if they would play in front of an empty auditorium but live-stream the concert.
“They said yes,” says Magacs. “So the band performed and it worked. As a floating venue on the Danube, the Trip takes a seated audience of 200 for theatre shows and 400 standing for concerts. The band played to 12,000 online.”
Encouraged, Magacs set up a closed Facebook group with actors he had worked with to discuss the best way to live-stream drama.
“I usually don’t want to do revivals, I want to do new pieces that reflect the situation we are in,” says Magacs. “But I knew an actor who said he had done a solo adaptation of Albert Camus’ The Plague, which I thought was perfect to start the ‘streaming theatre’.
“Just as important, of course, is to acknowledge that we are all losing income. So I have asked every artist I spoke with to do it for nothing, but if any money comes up then it goes to them.”
After the Camus actor fell sick, Magacs looked at one of his own previous productions. “We staged After the End, a two-hander by the UK’s Dennis Kelly, at the Merlin Theatre in Budapest 12 years ago. It was absolutely perfect for this situation as it shows people in quarantine, everything closed down and they don’t know what to do.”
A decision was made to read the play with the original cast and to split it into two acts, since it was felt that an hour and a half through-run would be too long as a theatre piece viewed on a TV or device.
It became First Hungarian Quarantine Theater’s first stream and found a ready audience when it went out on March 16-17, just hours before Hungary sealed its borders.
The Trip has more streamed theatre in the pipeline and is negotiating with bands to perform. The follow-up to After the End was a play from the company’s repertoire, Az Ember Tragediaja (The Tragedy of Man), a three-hander version of Imre Madách’s Hungarian classic.
“It’s fascinating to see the audiences already growing. Thousands have already watched these performances and we’re seeing thousands more interested on Facebook, including Hungarians from as far afield as New Zealand.”
Magacs is working with British actors based in Budapest about performing a series of Hungarian drama and literature in English, screening once a week, starting with Hungarian writer Istvan Orkeny, who wrote One Minute Stories.
“Theatre often dies on screen because you need the breath of your fellow audience, you need to see it with your own eyes, the moment is important when it happens. But I think this is something we will do once a month in the future after the crisis.
“I also want to make the format more interesting. I don’t want to record The Tragedy of Man with a fixed camera – I’m going to put a GoPro on my head and be the audience, following the action. That way we’re always learning.”