Normal view

Roma Heroes Empowerment and Raising Awareness Through Contemporary Drama

Drama and storytelling are extraordinary and influential tools for shaping attitudes and inspiring action. Badur Foundation is therefore proud to support the Independent Theatre company’s newest educational programme which is based on contemporary Roma plays - a debut concept in Hungary. By profiling value-led, active and successful Roma protagonists, Independent Theatre hopes to both empower Roma communities and challenge the majority’s stereotypical image of the Roma community.

Contemporary Roma playwrights are not widely known, despite their artistic excellence and the topical messages they aim to spread. Independent Theatre’s newest educational programme is based on four modern Roma plays, each of which portrays profound human struggles.The work of Mihaela Dragan, Alina Serban, Richard O’Neill and Dijana Pavlovic feature strong Roma heroines who challenge the status quo. One rebels against family traditions; another excels in her studies despite personal hardship, the third rebels to achieve structural change and the fourth challenges the state authorities. These are powerful life stories which serve as an example to all, particularly to young Roma.

All of the plays were performed at Hungary’s ground-breaking Roma Storytelling Festival in 2017, which attracted an audience of 370 and reached over a million people through its media coverage. The below video clips provide a glimpse of the inspirational and thought-provoking performances:

These stories were the basis of the innovative educational material and a workshop series that Independent Theatre brought to over 200 young people in order to encourage active citizenship. Nine organisations hosted the workshops the majority of which specialised in teaching and mentoring Roma university students:

  1. Greek Catholic Gipsy College, Miskolc
  2. RefoRom, Reformed Gipsy College Budapest,
  3. Romaversitas Foundation, Budapest,
  4. Pressley Ridge Foundation, Salgótarján,
  5. Wlislocki Henrik College, Pécs,
  6. Dr. Ámbédkar School, Miskolc,
  7. Lutheran Roma College, Nyíregyháza,
  8. Informal youth group, Hajdúhadháza
  9. ELTE Department of Media and Communication, Roma Visual Laboratory

Through cooperative and engaging workshops, young Roma (and non-Roma) people had the opportunity to consider how these stories relate to their own lives and as well as to consider the everyday heroes in their own communities. Young people were also encouraged to use creative artwork to demonstrate these personal stories. These were shared on the Roma Heroes Blog and reached a much wider audience. In this respect, the project also helped to open a dialogue with wider society and challenged entrenched stereotypes of the Roma community.

Selected young people were also invited to a five day ’workshop marathon’. Over these five days they had the opportunity to explore the Roma Hero narrative in further detail. The workshop marathon’s success was proven when these young people volunteered to be Ambassadors for the programme and hold further activities in their own communities. The first activity has already taken place at the Avas settlement in Miskolc and was a success.

A further positive development was the addition of the methodology to the formal university curriculum. The workshop was hosted by the Department of Media and Communication at Eötvös Lóránd University. Furthermore, Professor András Müllner spent a term teaching his course ‘Case Studies on Communication’ which discussed the four plays, their background and the media communication from the festival.

Not only do all of these experiences prove that that the works of Roma playwrights have a place in theatres, but that they also have a place in education, be it in the formal or the non-formal sector. Thus the Independent Theatre strives to share the methodology with educators, trainers and other professionals - they compiled comprehensive educational material and published it online. Those interested may request additional information at szinhaz@fuggetlenszinhaz.hu.

Strengthening the impact of the first Roma Heroes project, the second Roma Heroes festival took place in May 2018 to ensure even more visibility for the values of Roma dramas and heroes. The eight new plays performed at the second festival will be translated, recorded and added as further educational material. Using this enriched collection, IT will offer further workshops reaching 200 Roma secondary schools and university students in Roma Colleges. In addition, three university seminars will be organised at the leading Hungarian universities, incorporating Roma dramas into the mainstream university curriculum to initiate a structural and sustainable change at academic level. Beyond the work to raise awareness in Hungary, the team is committed to finding partnerships and cooperation further afield. This would allow them to involve Roma and non-Roma youths in other regions – preferably, but not exclusively, in the home countries of the playwrights to feature at the Festival for a greater impact.

* Gipsy is used as a direct translation for cigány in Hungarian.