A theatrical gathering created in Greece in 1995 in the spirit of tradition, modernity, and the ancient Olympics. The founders were renowned directors and playwrights from Greece, Japan, the USA, Spain, the UK, Russia, Germany and Brazil. From time to time, one of the largest and most prestigious events in world theatre finds a home in a particular city or country. The 2023 Olympics in Budapest will be the 10th in the history of Theatre Olympics.
"We have experienced very important things thanks to the Theatre Olympics since we left Dephoi, Greece. (...) We always try to find a leading theme for the Olympics, beside of course paying special attention to the cultural specificities of the host country. For example, the role of small and large communities and nations in a globalizing world can be an exciting topic these days. Nowadays, everyone is trying to get ahead individually, which threatens the particular values of peoples and nations. It works against diversity. It is our duty to cherish our collective treasures. I believe that with the Theatre Olympics we are building cultural bridges that will help us understand each other better."
Theodoros Terzopoulos, founder of the Theatre Olympics
„There were two aspects to our launching of the Theatre Olympics. (…) with the spread of globalization, there came a trend to think that economic stability for the country was more important than that spiritual value and it became harder for theater people to do theater. (…) The other aspect was the situation in the world at the time. (…) At the time, when the Greek theatre director Terzopoulos (current Chairman of the International Theatre Olympics Committee) came to Japan, he said when the Cold War ended they thought Europe was headed toward peace, but it didn’t happen that way. He said there was a terrible situation with things like ethnic strife, and it lead to huge numbers of refugees. Amid the political instability, people were hurt and losing hope. And he concluded that it was frustrating for artists to be unable to do anything in this situation. That being the case, he said we should band together as artists and do things with a kind of love that transcends barriers of nationality.”
Tadashi Suzuki, founder of the Theatre Olympics
The founders of the Theatre Olympics
Olympic cities and messages
Delphoi (Greece) – Crossing Millennia
1999 – Shizuoka (Japan) – Creating Hope
2001 – Moscow (Russia) – Theatre for the People
2006 – Istanbul (Turkey) – Beyond Borders
2010 – Seoul (South Korea) – Love and Humanity
2014 – Beijing (China) – Dream
2016 – Wrocław (Poland) – The World as a Place of Truth
2018 – New Delhi (India) – Flag of Friendship
2019 – St Petersburg (Russia) – Toga (Japan) – Creating Bridges
2023 – Budapest (Hungary) – O Man, strive on, strive on, have faith; and trust! – O Man, strive on, strive on, have faith; and trust!
The first festival in Delphoi featured only 9 performances from 7 countries in about two weeks. The 1999 Theatre Olympics in Japan, which lasted two months, attracted 42 productions from 20 countries, while the grand 2001 Moscow Festival invited 97 productions from 32 countries over two and a half months. The 2018 Olympics in India went even further, with some 470 performances from 35 countries. The 2019 Olympics had 2 capitals, i.e. the Russian metropolis of St Petersburg and the small Japanese city of Toga, the theatre centre of Olympic founder Tadashi Suzuki. The Hungarian Olympics is to include around 300 performances.
Who organises the Olympics?
The organisation that safeguards the spirit of the International Theatre Olympics and supervises the organisation of each Olympics is called the International Committee. It includes the founding members who are still active, and there are always new members: the organisers of previous Olympics also become members of the Committee. At the Committee’s request, the Olympics of a given year is directed and organised by a leading theatre personality from the country concerned. Attila Vidnyánszky, head of the National Theatre, has been invited by the Committee to organise the 2023 events in Budapest and Hungary.
Why is the 10 th Theatre Olympics hosted by the National Theatre, by Budapest, by Hungary in 2023?
Because Hungary, with its great and far-reaching theatrical traditions, has been taking an active part in the global developments in the field of theatre practice and theory. Budapest, a beautiful and unique monument of the world’s cultural heritage, is an international cultural metropolis ready to build bridges connecting other theatrical traditions. Well-staffed with talented and experienced ar-tistic, technical and administrative experts, the National Theatre is the institutional hub of Hungarian theatre that is as open to avant-garde international theatrical proposals as it is to upholding the prin-ciples of tradition. Thus it is well-placed to build new bridges between different schools and stage languages. In this day and age when homogenization of the theatre is the prevailing trend, the Na-tional Theatre, whose motto is reconciliation and New Humanism, embraces diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism.
Theodoros Terzopoulos, founder of the Theatre Olympics, Chairman of The International Committee Of The Theatre Olympics
Hosts, partners, venues
The key concepts behind the organisation of the Theatre Olympics in Hungary are autonomy, freedom and promoting access to culture. This is the Olympic concept of the National Theatre in Budapest and of the Artistic Director, Attila Vidnyánszky.
Globally, but also in individual countries, the relationship between centres and peripheries has been tense. Ensuring access to wealth and reducing inequalities are important objectives not only in the economy, but also in culture. Therefore, the organisers of the 2023 Olympics see the event not as the prerogative of a single institution or a city, but as the country’s shared festival celebrating the theatre. From April to July (and beyond in some places, sometimes even into the autumn) about three hundred prestigious theatre events will take place at dozens of venues across the country.
The Hungarian theatres, festivals and trade organisations that join the Olympics will decide who to invite and what kind of festival to organise. Our partners are free to work, invite guest companies and organise festivals according to their own theatrical, aesthetic and ideological preferences. Compared to previous Olympics, local institutions have more latitude in how to exploit the global potential of the Olympics. The Hungarian organisers of the Theatre Olympics will share their international experience and contacts with everyone, but essentially, they will function only as coordinators and resource providers for the locally envisioned events. Neither the International Committee of the Olympics, nor the National Theatre of Budapest as Olympic organiser will perform any curatorial tasks.
The theatres of Budapest and other cities participating in the Hungarian Olympics will host one foreign production and one cross-border production each – and it is up to them to decide which ones. This way, Hungarian-language theatres in neighbouring countries can take part in the Olympics, and the Hungarian theatres that invite foreign companies can benefit from the development of lasting international ties.
Major Olympic sites include the National Theatre of Miskolc, celebrating the 200th anniversary of its foundation, and the city of Debrecen, organiser of a contemporary Hungarian theatre festival. ISTA (International School of Theatre Anthropology) is a workshop in Pécsvárad under the intellectual supervision of Eugenio Barba.
Hungarian puppet theatres and dance artists will also participate in the Olympics with their nationwide programmes.
A number of side festivals will be organised by our partners, including the Operetta Theatre of Budapest celebrating its 100th anniversary, and the Kolibri youth and children’s theatre. The alternative scene will be represented by the Jurányi House and the Bethlen Square Theatre. The National Theatre of Győr will bring together the theatres along the Danube. The amateurs and student actors will also have their festivals. The programme includes street theatre spectacles as well as trade events: book launches, workshops, master classes, exhibitions and conferences.
Focus on Imre Madách
The focus of the Olympics will be on Imre Madách, one of the greatest Hungarian dramatists, born 200 years ago in 1823, whose major work, The Tragedy of Man, a masterpiece comparable to Goethe’s Faust, premièred 140 years ago. Madách’s work will be presented not only through conferences and new books, but also in a unique performance.
Theatre school teams from all over the world will perform excerpts from The Tragedy of Man, and then put them together in a large joint production.
The slogan of the 2023 Theatre Olympics comes from The Tragedy of Man: “O Man, strive on, strive on, have faith; and trust!”
The organiser and artistic director
The organiser of the 2023 Theatre Olympics in Hungary is the National Theatre of Budapest. Founded in 1837, this institution has been the definitive hub of Hungarian-language theatre ever since.
The Artistic Director of the 2023 Olympics, at the request of the International Theatre Olympics Committee, is Attila Vidnyánszky, Director of Hungary’s National Theatre.
Under Attila Vidnyánszky’s leadership, the National Theatre has developed an extensive international network via a range of activities, including the establishment of the Madách International Theatre Meeting, MITEM, in 2014.
Founded in 2014, MITEM is Hungary’s largest international theatre festival, organised in the spirit of openness and dialogue. MITEM is an artistic meeting place where representatives of different cultures, ideologies and theatre aesthetics can present their work and represent their nations’ theatre freely, with curiosity and respect for each other. The success of MITEM led the International Theatre Olympics Committee to entrust the National Theatre and Attila Vidnyánszky with the organisation of the 2023 Olympics.
The Hungarian Theatre Olympics will receive a HUF 4.5 billon grant from the Hungarian government.
Our symbol: the ark
The symbol of the 10th Theatre Olympics is an ark. To use a biblical parallel, we can board this ark to save ourselves and our values. Where to? To a peaceful future, we hope.
The theatre is an “ark” where tradition and innovation walk hand in hand, even when they are in conflict. In theatre, both tradition without innovation, and innovation without tradition are dead ends. But when tradition meets innovation in the freedom of creation, we can always look at our lives in a new light and perspective. In this way, we can respond more accurately through art to the conflicts plaguing our world, such as globalization, power rivalries, the climate and energy crisis, migration and overpopulation, wars, pandemics, human rights, religious persecution… and all the problems of this global village of eight billion people, the Earth.
The artists’ job
In Europe, our neighbour is at war. Major powers and small countries are threatening to use nuclear weapons. America and China are at each other’s throats, not to mention numerous local armed conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East and Africa. And let us not forget: a pandemic has turned the whole world upside down, and we don’t yet know whether it’s over. The entire global economy is in recession…
The question then arises: what is the artists’ job? Is there a need for art? Are cultural events like the Theatre Olympics justified in such times?
In 1995, the founders of the Olympics emphasised the spirit of the ancient games. The Greeks, in perpetual warfare with each other, used to cease fighting for the duration of the contests. Today, in a time of international conflict and mistrust, when our daily life is disrupted by Covid, the message of peace is extremely relevant.
We, the artists organising the 10th Theatre Olympics, can protect and, where necessary, rebuild the bridges destroyed by politics. To do so, we need sobriety and moderation, faith in the future and trust in each other. And above all: to maintain dialogue. And this is only possible if artists and cultural representatives do not speak the language of politics and power, but strive for dialogue. Dialogue with the Ukrainian theatre artists who, because of the war, cannot be present at the 2023 Olympics, and we will keep the opportunity to be included in the programme open for them till the last minute. But we are also seeking dialogue with the artists of Russia, a major theatrical power of the world, the country of Chekhov, Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Lyubimov, Vysotsky and Vasilyev. Let us hope they, too, will be back in the circulation of the theatre as soon as possible.
From 1 April to 1 July 2023 – and beyond for many events – the diverse world of theatre will move to Hungary. One might say that Hungary will become the centre of world theatre.