A New Normal For Theatres In Hungary: Swapping The Stage For The Screen

  • 1 May 2021 7:10 AM
A New Normal For Theatres In Hungary: Swapping The Stage For The Screen
37 playwrights adapt 37 of Shakespeare’s most iconic scenes to bring drama to our digital screens.

A new series of short films were released in April, bringing a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s most recognizable moments of drama.

Titled Shakespeare/37, this novel approach to the playwright’s work will interpret specific scenes from across all of his works while bringing these creative re-envisionings into an online space.

Inspired by the Dogme-movement, and aimed at embracing the traditional values of story, acting and thematic interpretation, Shakespeare/37 is the combined efforts of director Laszlo Magacs and 37 well-known Hungarian drama and prose writers and poets, each of whom wrote their own retelling of the master playwright’s greatest scenes.

The short films will be launched with English subtitles.

Released on the 14th April these 20-minute shorts aren’t direct re-enactments of Shakespeare but instead focus on each chosen scene’s central theme or conflict.

The shorts are based on the essence of the original plays and poetry in the same way that Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - which were part of the inspiration behind Shakespeare/37 - leveraged two minor characters from Hamlet for a new twist on the classic literature. In this sense, each of the shorts within the Shakespeare/37 series will focus on a particular character or key scene in the midst of a moral dilemma.

These are stories that are familiar to most of us, examining changes in the human state of mind as well as how characters deal with the consequences of their actions.

Like many industries over the last year, theatre has had to face unprecedented challenges, but this is something that director Laszlo Magacs has managed to overcome by going ‘back to basics’. Shakespeare/37 handles its approach in the same way that classic Greek plays were: one location, a short duration and a unified plot.

Each of the shorts are set in a single location, filmed at a broad range of unique spaces, from industrial buildings and reservoirs to heritage sites otherwise inaccessible to the public.

They’re all filmed in one take, too, with just one shot and no cuts leading to an intimate and intense style to the shorts that helps to bring that same emotional impact that can come from seeing a play live at the theatre.

The emphasis is on the honest, raw emotions of the actors, in much the same way that actors of ancient civilizations were expected to perform without gimmickry or stage tricks.

The director, Laszlo Magacs, decided that the best format for the Shakespeare/37 project was to release them all online, in response to the restrictions placed on establishments such as cinemas as a result of the pandemic.

Having directed nearly one hundred plays throughout his career, Laszlo saw this as an opportunity to try to reach an audience of dedicated theatregoers that typically do not enjoy online equivalents.

“People are embracing films in their home more than ever before, while theatres need more time to adapt to the new normal,” says Laszlo.

“Very few theatre enthusiasts enjoy the online experience of staged and recorded plays. The theatre experience needs a new artistic form without compromise, and the new format lies in filmmaking. That is why I directed the series as uncut scenes using state-of-the-art film technology. It offers the viewer the opportunity to delve into the intimate moments of acting, see how actors experience one another.”

Laszlo has heaps of experience working with Shakespeare’s work, and is familiar at a number international festivals. He is currently the leader of cultural production space, TRIP, while his previous attempt to bring the theatre to a lockdown audience, titled “Quarantine Theatre”, reached millions of people from across 48 countries and was featured in the New York Times.

The individual episodes of the shorts are mixed in their styles and genres, with some episodes closer to theatre or film in their presentation while others take the inventive forms of music videos, poetic narratives and more. But these are not the only twists on the original texts presented in Shakespeare/37.

The premiere episode begins at the end of Romeo and Juliet, for example, and touches on the importance of parental responsibility. Here an Art Nouveau-Neo-Byzantine tomb chapel that was built for Hungary’s most famous champagne manufacturer has been used as the location, and is generally closed to the public.

Similar approaches have been taken with the other tales explored by Shakespeare/37. Measure for Measure takes the original work and places it into the office environment, while King Lear’s 17th-century story is replaced by a contemporary urban space that inspires the visual style and setting of the episode.

Titled “The Plush,” this episode envisions the drama as a conflict between three sisters in a canteen kitchen.

On top of the efforts of the director, the efforts to ensure that this eclectic mix of tones, styles and settings are kept consistent and familiar is thanks to the work of cinematographer Nora Natalia Mesiter, member of the young revolutionary generation of the University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) in Budapest.

The first three episodes can be watched on www.webszinhaz.com where new episodes are premiered every Wednesday from the 21st April in Hungarian with English subtitles.

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