Contemporary Roma playwrights and their work are not widely known, despite their artistic excellence and the topical messages they aim to spread. The ground-breaking Roma Storytelling Festival in 2017 featured four strong Roma drama heroines, who challenge the status quo. One rebels against family traditions; another excels in her studies despite personal hardship, the third protests to achieve structural change and the fourth fights for historical remembrance. These powerful life stories were the basis of innovative educational material and a workshop series that Independent Theatre brought to over two-hundred, mainly Roma youngsters in order to empower them. Through interactive, engaging and cooperative workshops, young Roma people had the opportunity to relate these stories to their own personal lives. The students recognised everyday-heroes in their communities and also became conscious of their own heroic acts, which developed their self-esteem and consciousness regarding active citizenship in general. The youngsters were supported to showcase these personal stories via creative art work and some of them reached a much wider audience via the Roma Heroes blog. Last but not least, the entire methodology was made public and shared with educators, trainers and other professionals so that they can use it in their own educational processes. You can read more about the activities and impact of the first year of the Roma Heroes programme here.
Strengthening the impact of the first Roma Heroes project, the Foundation continued to support the second edition of the Roma Heroes Storytelling Festival, which took place in May 2018 to ensure even more visibility for the values of Roma dramas and heroes. Eight new plays from seven countries were translated, performed, recorded and added to the existing educational material. One of the plays, Chameleon Girl, was Independent Theatre’s (IT) own production, which was based on the personal hero stories and narratives collected from young people during the 2017 series of the Roma Heroes workshops. Using the enriched collection, IT offered further workshops to over 200 high school and university students. In addition, four university seminars were organised at leading Hungarian universities, incorporating Roma dramas into the mainstream university curriculum to initiate structural and sustainable change at an academic level. Read more about the plays, the seminars and workshops of the 2018 edition here.
The achievements and lessons learnt from the first two years were shared at the Roma Heroes Symposium on 27th March 2019, at which the world’s first Roma Drama Collection also debuted. The collection (which can be ordered in English and Hungarian at firstname.lastname@example.org) contains five selected dramas presenting the work of:
Having extensively worked with storytelling pieces, the Roma Heroes project will now focus on chamber dramas, which are even more apt to depict complex relations between heroic characters and their surroundings. This stream of work is leading up to the second edition of the Roma Drama Collection, this time featuring chamber plays. In 2019, 4 pieces were showcased at the 3rd Edition of the Festival. In 2020, 8 more pieces debuted at the 4th Edition, which was held online for the first time in its history due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The online platform made it possible to widen the festival’s reach– overcoming geographical and social barriers. In total, around 6,000 viewers could enjoy the plays due to their online availability.
„I think it’s a great thing there is such a festival in Hungary. Through the performances we can learn…how Roma [communities] lived, what challenges they faced and how they were able to build on these challenges. In case the Independent Theater didn’t exist I would ‘know’ differently about these stories, or not know about them at all.”
The approach and methodology remain the same. Not only are the selected drama pieces brought to artistic festivals, but each play is also added to the ever-expanding educational material. This material is brought to hundreds of young people via non-formal workshops and university seminars. In 2019 alone, 500 participants were engaged. More than 70% of them declared that their opinions had been changed about Roma communities and more than 95% thought that they saw more opportunities to change their destiny, plus that of those around them than before the workshop.
The company’s ambitions are even grander. In 2021 they would like to build up the first international Digital Archive of European Roma Dramas actively used by Roma artists, youngsters, teachers and researchers, and to develop a concept for the professional, human resource and financial framework of the European Roma Theatre. The Foundation is delighted to support Independent Theatre with these aspiring endeavours for the coming three years (2019—2021).