- 15 Oct 2023 10:09 AM
I am sitting with Tina Tomulić in the Jurányi Ház Arts Centre in the quiet lull of mid-morning, the café area empty, and strains of music emanating from an upstairs floor. This is clearly a venue Tina regards as a spiritual home – one she would dearly like to recreate for Hungary’s expat community.
Born on the island of Rab in Croatia, Tina spent her student years in the capital, Zagreb, studying Media and Television, whilst completing studies in Economics in parallel. “But theatre was my passion,” she says, “I had a friend who was a theatre director and I assisted her a lot. I was always there asking to take part! I joined as a Second Assistant, that’s how I learnt so much about the theatre – when I was assisting, I was always thinking: I would like to be in charge!” She laughs. “So, that was my passion even then.
“I started working when I was a student, mainly in production –I was casting manager for different kinds of TV shows and sitcoms where I also trained amateur actors, so I got involved in the film industry in Zagreb. I worked for RTL’s Big Brother show as an editor – mainly because they were going to shoot in Thailand, and I wanted to go to Thailand!
“Then I went for a few months to Amsterdam. While I was there, I was contacted by a company in Budapest where I had worked for a year in 2009, saying they’d like me to come back and work for them, so I did.”
The company in question was Call TV – essentially a televised marketing company – where Tina then trained hosts and carried out editing work. “I didn’t much like the work,” she explains, “it’s not art, it’s talk shows, selling jewellery and so on, but I got to meet people from all around the world and it was fun training the hosts.”
It was two months into her six-month stay that Tina met her Hungarian husband, graphic designer, Krisztián Ajtai. They married and subsequently Tina’s son, Tristan, was born.
It is ten years now since Tina has been living full-time in Hungary. She liked Budapest already when she came to the city for her first year, “But ten years later, I like it a lot more,” she says. “I think it changed, I think it developed. The city has become more beautiful. My husband and Hungarians generally, they are against the politics here, they say nothing is good – but I see positive changes. I tell them: our [Croatian] politics are the same rubbish, but Zagreb looks even worse than ten years ago! They don’t do anything there. Here, they renovate the buildings, there are parks everywhere for kids – it’s really heaven if you have a kid here!
“But what I like most about Budapest – and I’d choose it over Zagreb any day – is the multiculturalism. There are, like, 220,000 expats in Hungary! And those are just the ones who are registered.”
In light of this, Tina became increasingly frustrated with the fact that, as a non-Hungarian speaker, there was no possibility for her to attend theatre performances in the English language. “I was at home with my son, complaining to my husband, saying we should move to London, and he said: well, why don’t you try something here?”
Thus is was, that she made an appeal on Facebook for people who would be interested in Theatre. “Everything happened so fast,” she says, “and of those people who contacted me then, four or five years ago, apart from those who’ve left the country, the others are still all with me.
“Mind Reset had 40-50 people – the people who came to the last casting were from France, from Italy, Lebanon, Kenya, Malaysia, Poland – even one Hungarian. She couldn’t believe it – she doesn’t meet people like this in her everyday life.
“These people were not professional actors, but they had a passion – they’d acted in school, and we trained a lot. We rehearse once a week in the evenings, when they’ve finished work; we rent a place near the river, here in Buda.”
Written collaboratively by Tina together with the actors, the group’s first play, MIND RESET, became the name of the company. This was followed by I Didn’t See That Coming, written by Olja Radlović, who also acted in the performances. Olja, who is from Banja Luka, is working in Budapest but both writes for and acts with Mind Reset and is an integral part of the company.
“We had sold-out shows,” says Tina, “at least 400 people have attended our performances, and about 250 watched I Didn’t See That Coming, which we’re going to stage again. Maybe it’s a bit political, but all our plays are very light – there is deeper meaning, but we make the whole thing without any judgement, people can decide for themselves.”
Lucky Girl photoshoot
The group is currently rehearsing for their latest piece, Lucky Girl, to be performed at the Katakomba Szinház on October 28th. This black comedy was written by Olja Radlović, and is a thought-provoking ride filled with humour and darkness, entertainingly exploring our interaction with technology.
Weekly rehearsals in their rented premises are supplemented by smaller ones in Tina’s flat – or that of other actors. In the good weather, they are known to rehearse outdoors on the Margaret Island, or even in the garden of the National Museum.
One aspect of expat life which complicates the running of a venture like that of Mind Reset, is the unplanned departures of actors who move to other countries. Two cast members left during rehearsals for Lucky Girl, “But two professional actors came and saved the day!” says Tina, “They stepped in and learnt everything in a week or two. One of them is Harry Szovik, who is of Hungarian and Madagascar descent, and who also contributes to Mind Reset’s development and operation. The music for Lucky Girl was composed by Julianna Kovács Gémes and Rita Asztalos – and I’d also like to say that Sanja (Kovandzic) Agatonović is our leadership consultant, she’s an executive coach with over 20 years’ experience. She joined Mind Reset in 2023 and since then she’s been helping in its development.
“My husband is in charge of all the visuals. We have a lot of professionals who’ve joined the team and are volunteering. One of the actors, Martina Rusalka Šestić, did all the photography work for Mind Reset’s first play and I Didn’t See That Coming. Also, some of the photographs from Lucky Girl were made by the son of the Hungarian actor József Kovács. And the trailer for I Didn’t See That Coming was made by a professional movie editor from Croatia, Jelena Drobnjak.
Lucky Girl premier
“But things would happen much quicker if we had a place to rehearse,” says Tina, “because we’re paying 5,000HUF an hour at present. In the end, my actors have to pay to perform! You can convince them to act for free, but not to pay to act.
“There are so many cultural centres in Budapest, and I’m thinking: why couldn’t just one be for the expat community?”
Tina spends her days working on the business of registering the theatre group as a non-profit organization, as well as networking. “All day I meet different people, looking for a possibility of premises, funding, knocking on every door…I have rehearsals in the evenings – not every evening, my husband would kill me!” she laughs.
“My dream would be to have something like this,” she says, gesturing to the room in which we’re sitting. “Like Jurányi – just in English. A cultural centre, so we could invite different kinds of artists: musicians, painters, professional actors…. I’d also like to see Hungarian plays performed in English. A place where everyone feels at home – both the expat community, and all the Hungarians who want to come and meet us!
“I’m just trying to find those people who share my dream!”
Lucky Girl premier
Marion Merrick is author of Now You See It, Now You Don’t and House of Cards and the website Budapest Retro.
If you would like to be interviewed as a Surprising Expat, please write with a few details of what you do, to: Marion by clicking here.