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Roma Heroes Project 2017 Empowerment and Raising Awareness Through Contemporary Drama

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 fights for historical remembrance. 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:

1. Mihaela Dragan (Romania, Giuvlipen Group):
- Del Duma – focus scenes
- Interview with the playwright
2. Dijana Pavlovic (Italy, individual artist):
- Vita mia, parla – focus scenes
- Interview with the playwright
3. Richard O’Neill (United Kingdom, individual artist):
- Hardest Word – focus scenes
- Interview with the playwright
4. Alina Serban (Romania, individual artist):
- I declare at my own risk – focus scenes
- Interview with the playwright

The making of the festival: Behind the scenes

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. Some of them 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 developed the image of the Roma communities.

Selected young people were also invited to a five day ’workshop marathon’ in December 2018. 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 multidisciplinary context and the media communication from the festival.

Not only do all of these experiences prove that the works of Roma playwrights have a place in theatres, but that they also have a role in education, be it in a formal or the non-formal capacity one. 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 fuggetlenszinhaz@gmail.com.