Ida Aalberg (Magda) in Hermann Sudermann’s play Home (Heimat), 1904–1905. (Photo by Hélène de Mrosovsky. From the collection of Finnish Theatre Museum)

Ida Aalberg (Magda) in Hermann Sudermann’s play Home (Heimat), 1904–1905. (Photo by Hélène de Mrosovsky. From the collection of Finnish Theatre Museum)


The exhibition opened in the National Library in October 2005 introduces the 125-year history of the Hungarian reception of Estonian and Finnish drama.

Rarely does an exhibition of theatre history have such a central place in the Széchényi Library’s program. This display will testify to visitors the wealth of the special collections, especially that of the Theatre Collection.

The idea of the theatre exhibition came about in the spring of 2003, from the first moment visualised in an international framework. The exhibition created through the intense co-operation of the national libraries and theatre museums of three EU countries, whose languages are all of Finno-Ugrian origin, was first shown in Tallinn in the autumn of 2004, then in a number of Estonian citifies (Tartu, Pärnu, Viljandi and Rakvere), and in the spring of 2005 in Helsinki. The travelling material presents the theatre connections in a series of tableaux executed to a uniform concept. However, in the Buda exhibition halls the display consists of the original documents and objects. As an associated exhibition, the tableaux compiled by researchers in the Estonian National Library and Film Collection give an overview of the Estonian career of Hungarian dramas and musical theatre. As well as on tableaux prepared by experts of the Helsinki University Library – the Finnish National Library, the Finnish Theatre Museum, Helsinki and Tampere Universities and Budapest Finnagora (Centre of Finnish Culture, Science and Business) the history of the reception of Hungarian theatre in Finland could be followed.

I was asked to lead the Hungarian–Estonian– Finnish joint program as a theatre historian and a scholar dealing with Finnish and Estonian culture, literature and theatre. The task was highly intriguing and challenging, although not free of certain difficulties and anxieties. It needs to be admitted that the project would never have been realised without the support of Hedvig Belitska-Scholtz, the head of the Theatre History Collection, without the Collection’s and the Library’s staff, and above all, without my excellent colleague Magdolna Both’s expertise and thorough familiarity with the material.

From the very beginning of the undertaking, we had several special theoretical and practical problems ahead of us, besides defining the themes, content, classification and selection of the material executing the tableaux, the catalogue and besides finally furnishing and setting up the exhibition rooms and cabinets.

Primarily, keeping an eye on the characteristics of the theatre, drama, theatre history and theatre museology, we had to formulate the concept in which the process of Hungarian–Finnish and Hungarian–Estonian theatre contacts could be and should be presented. Following the collection and analysis of the abundant material and data, we had to combine the theoretical and historical scientific approach with the visual needs of exhibition visitors. “All” there was left after this was to organise the displays, write and edit the texts and documents and think of their best presentation. This was not always easy either, because gathering the manifold genres of a complex branch of art and various documents, artefacts and realia related to a century and a quarter of its history from many domestic and foreign sources, public and private collections, organising co-operation across national borders, and finally managing the forms and stages of the exhibition at the highest standards required much skill, expertise and energy.

At the same time, the project gave us lots of satisfaction, discoveries, the pleasure of philological and historical research, as well as the energies of old and new contacts and joint undertaking. We had the hope all through that we would be able to share with our visitors the main experiences, values and results that theatre history, theatre research and the exhibition itself have offered us.

It has to be said though that “exhibition of theatre history” is a contradiction in terms, as the theatre is the art of the moment, which cannot be preserved in its totality with all its components and cannot be reproduced. Moreover, according to epistemological criteria, even its “history” is impossible to grasp. Documenting the many elements of drama, preserving and processing tangible and textual materials, i.e. the historical research of the theatre, is in a hard position, because collection has often been ’ad hoc’, and the quality and quantity of available documents is not always in harmony with the artistic and theatrical value of the production. For recalling a play, a performance documents are not sufficient: it is necessary to revive in some way the subjective components of the event, primarily the audience’s experience. On the other hand, it is not so difficult to evoke the joy of an artistic experience or a pleasurable evening at the theatre if the audience (I mean the audience stepping into the exhibition hall from the auditorium) joins the scholar and historian-archivist, bringing along to the exhibition the viewer’s creative activity in recalling the past. It is hoped that we can flash up to visitors with an inquisitive mind and a vivid memory the values and highlights of the multicoloured present and past of Hungarian– Finnish–Estonian theatre contacts.

The concept of “Theatre in the Northern Light” is to present the 125 years of theatre contacts, with their stages and themes in three major parts. The first stage, namely that of getting acquainted, is demonstrated in a chronological order from the first Finnish (1880) and Estonian (1922) guest performances to 1949, when Hungarian cultural politics rearranged theatre structure, audiences, and even foreign relations in the field of culture. Chronological presentation clearly reflects that contacts between the three states where Finno-Ugrian languages are spoken have been uninterrupted from the beginnings in the 1870s, with cultural and international politics, changing socio-economic systems, differing traditions and the thought of belonging to the same language family have hardly had any impact on artists’ contacts or audiences’ reception.

The middle part of our exhibition, which is in a way also its main focus, discusses the Hungarian stage career of the Kalevala, organised according to chronology, genres and types of performances. Following its success with readers in the Secessionist translation of Béla Vikár, the Finnish national epic was first shown on the Hungarian stage in 1940, when it immediately had two different interpretations. First the epic story was put on as a shadow play on the puppet stage, then as a melodrama on the musical stage. The most effective production is certainly that of Károly Kazimir and the Thália Theatre (1969), but there have been highly successful puppet shows (1976, 1984, 2001), a ballet guest performance (1987), and more recently prose and musical adaptations have been staged, which are still on. The most outstanding period of joint Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian theatre history is the turn of the 1960s and 70s, when theatre artists of nations with related languages and mindsets staged the classical values of national culture in new, fresh and boldly successful interpretations in the home countries of those works. This is how the Thália Theatre’s guest performances starting in 1970 in Finland and Estonia and the Tartu Vanemuine Theatre’s Hungarian presentation in 1972 of their Madách production (The Tragedy of Man, 1971) are placed in the same category.

The third part of the theatre history exhibition is the most varied. Here rich series of productions, many genres and various levels of theatre practice are introduced from the period between 1959 and 2005 on Hungarian stages (inside and outside the national borders), recalling prose, musical, classical and modern dance theatre, puppet and children’s productions by Hungarian and guest ensembles, professionals and amateurs and by student drama groups created in novel ways of cooperation. There is an equally wide variety of documents and objects to help in remembering those performances. We have displayed photos taken of productions, which are sometimes of special aesthetic value and historic significance; scenery and costume designs reflecting unique artistic and technical solutions; puppets in a special context; playbills, program booklets and textual sources

(e.g. theatre scripts); sheet music recording the music, as well as letters throwing a light on the artists’ work and personality, as well as snippets of films and audio documents. Taken together, these documents enable us to recall the creative process and the actual productions. The exhibition catalogue was made in four languages (first in Estonian, then in Finnish, and finally in the bilingual Hungarian and English version), which adds information to the material in the cabinets and on thirty two tableaux. In addition to a review essay about philological issues, the catalogue contains tables with the data of Estonian and Finnish plays and their reception in Hungary (a series of nearly two hundred items of live theatre productions, and a list of usually less acknowledged radio and television pieces and feature films), as well as descriptions of the objects and documents on display. The catalogue enabled us to include some illustrations and to collect the published translations of drama texts.

The exhibition “Theatre in the Northern Light”, “Teater pőhjavalguses” or “Sukulaiset parrasvaloissa” [Relatives in the Limelight] has stirred a lot of interest both in Finland and in Estonia, and has proved to be successful both with theatre specialists (in libraries, theatres and museums) and the theatre-going public in general. We sincerely hope that this will be the case in Budapest as well. We hope the material can later leave the confines of the National Széchényi Library. We hope that after closing down the exhibition here, from February 2006 the Hungarian tableaux can be introduced to the public in all those Hungarian towns which are members of the Hungarian–Estonian and the Hungarian–Finnish twin towns’ associations, and The several years of our theatre history project where the theatres creating the productions in the and the related seminars on theatre contacts and tableaux were actually born. history, which have involved many partners and

In this way, spectators who once enjoyed the supporters for the objective of preserving, main-productions will be able to recall their former ex-taining and creating values, will be genuinely sucperiences. We also hope that actors and theatre cessful if the contacts between Hungarian, Estonian artists will come and see the fleeting moments and Finnish theatre and their research continues and records of their scare work and to face their at a very high level. earlier selves.

Ildikó Sirató

Jorma Uotinen and Andrea Ladányi in Powder of Darkness (Pimeyden puuteria). Choreography by Jorma Uotinen, 1990

Jorma Uotinen and Andrea Ladányi in Powder of Darkness (Pimeyden puuteria).
Choreography by Jorma Uotinen, 1990