What is the Theatre Olympics?
If you’re imagining an event where theatre’s titans go head to head in a series of sports based challenges, you’re wide of the mark (though I’d certainly watch that!). The Theatre Olympics was founded in 1994 to channel the Olympic spirit that brings nations together for the games, to bring together theatremakers from around the world to share their work in a multicultural, multidisciplinary theatre festival. Despite the name, there’s no competitive element to the festival, it's just a chance to see a lot of great theatre all in one place.
Who’s behind the Theatre Olympics?
The Theatre Olympics was founded by Greek director Theodoros Terzopoulos alongside a founding committee that included such luminaries as Heiner Muller, Robert Wilson, Tadashi Suzuki and Nuria Espert. It’s now run by an international committee of 15 including poet and playwright Tony Harrison from the UK. The committee chooses a country to host each time and arts organisations within that country put together a programme of work from their country as well as inviting companies from around the world, united loosely around a theme for each edition.
Where does it take place?
Fittingly enough, the first Theatre Olympics was held in Delphi, Greece in 1994. Since then it’s taken place eight more times in different cities around the world. Unlike its sporting counterpart, it’s not quadrennial and takes place at intervals of between two and five years. The last Theatre Olympics was held jointly between St Petersburg, Russia and Toyama, Japan in 2019. This summer, it’s the turn of Hungary’s capital city Budapest. Hungary was chosen in recognition of the work it’s been doing in bringing together international theatre through its annual Madách International Theatre Meeting (MITEM) festival.
So what can we expect from Budapest 2023?
This is the 10th Theatre Olympics and the hosts have announced there will be 550 performances in 70 venues in Budapest and other locations around Hungary between Easter and Midsummer’s eve. Institutions representing multiple disciplines are taking part including the National Theatre of Hungary, the National Dance Theatre, Budapest Puppet Theatre and the Budapest Operetta. They will be joined by companies invited from countries around the world including Mexico, Japan and Georgia to name a few. The UK will be represented by companies including Cheek by Jowl presenting their first Spanish language production, the Golden Age drama La Vida es Sueño (Life is a Dream). With a varied programme of brand new work and fresh takes on classic texts and it will be a chance to see some of the world’s leading theatre companies all come together in one place, watching and learning from one another.
What’s this year’s theme?
“O Man, strive on, strive on, have faith; and trust!” One for fans of punctuation, this is a quote from The Tragedy of Man, by one of Hungary’s greatest dramatists, Imre Madách, whose bicentenary also falls in 2023. As with Shakespeare in the English language, some of Madách’s lines have entered common parlance in Hungary, including this one. Madách’s work will be celebrated in various ways throughout the Theatre Olympics including with a production bringing together student groups from all over the world.
Where can I find out more?
The first batch of shows was announced yesterday and went on sale straight away. You can read about them here - or watch this space.