Theatre

During the last three weeks, I’ve been able to tour two opera houses and see four theatre productions.

Opera Houses

In Vienna, I toured the Wiener Staatsoper and actually got to walk onstage briefly as the crew was loading scenery for the evening’s opera. Other than the grand entrance and stairway, most of the building was destroyed during WWII. Tickets are very expensive, although dozens of standing room places (to stand at rails located on three different levels) can be had for 3-4€. After a touristy day of pounding the pavement, the notion of standing for three or more hours just didn’t appeal.

The next day in Budapest, I had a wonderfully informative tour of the Hungarian State Opera, which is about half the size of the its sister in Vienna but looks much as it did when it opened in 1884. Because the space had been cleaned for the evening’s performance, we had to wear paper slippers. Tickets here cost about a third of those in Vienna.

Theatres

At the National Theatre in Budapest, I got to see George Tabori’s Mein Kampf, a farcical depiction of Hitler’s early years and “struggle.” (Here is a link to a video clip from the original 2009 productions.) The production was crazy and so fun to experience. What I’ll most remember, however, is how the audience responded during curtain call: evidently, the sign of an appreciative audience is absolute synchrony in applause: everyone must clap in the same rhythm and at the same volume!

At the National Theatre Belgrade, I saw Eric Schmitt’s Little Marital Crimes, an intimate and intense drama about a dysfunctional relationship. The acting was incredibly compelling to watch, although I couldn’t understand any of the lightning-fast Serbian dialogue. Here I’ll remember that, after ticket holders were seated (at first bell), then a second bell rang to open the house to anyone without tickets who then could sit an any open seat.

Both Budapest and Belgrade operate repertory theatres: they have permanent acting companies who have a “repertory” of plays from which they draw throughout a given season. (I think Mein Kampf was scheduled for only one performance this month.) This system is more demanding of the theatre and its personnel but better for getting lots of folks (including tourists) to return to the same theatre night after night to see different bills.

National Theatre of Kosovo in Prishtina is a multi-purpose venue used by theatre, opera, and dance. There is a (different) performance almost every night at 8:00. During my first week here, I saw a touring production of Hypermnesia, a multi-media reflection on the recent war as perceived by the company members when they were children. The cast was multi-ethnic (primarily Serbs and Bosnians) and collaboratively produced (again, mainly Serb and Bosnian groups).

Last night, I saw a play (cannot recall the title) by Haqif Mulliqi, the Vice Dean of Arts here at UP. Although I could understand none of the Albanian dialogue driving the single act (that lasted 1:45!), I foundt the two main actors absolutely incredible to watch. Though frigid in the house, the audience was very attentive and, I suspect, comprised of many students and colleagues from UP.

About David McTier

Professor of Theatre Department of Theatre & Musical Theatre Sam Houston State University