Featured People: Krétakör

In two features, we present you the work of our 2016 ECF Princess Margriet Award for culture laureates: theatre-makers and community developers Krétakör, based in Budapest, Hungary (read below), and Medialab-Prado, a citizen laboratory for digital culture based in Madrid, Spain.

The Transformation of a Theatre Group into a Social Workshop

Free School Project. Photo by Máté Tóth-Ridovics

Free School Project. Photo by Máté Tóth-Ridovics

Krétakör is a foundation led by the renowned theatre maker Árpád Schilling. The group uses dramaturgy as a means to bring different perspectives into debate and conversation. Since 2008 Krétakör has made a determined shift from theatre as a stage-based experience to theatre as a social forum. The ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture jury selected Krétakör for their work as a collective that enters into direct dialogue with different communities and settings across Hungary. Most notably with their work in secondary schools which enables them to interact with and evoke the voices of young people. Krétakör's artistic work exemplifies a dynamic quest for new methods and theatrical forms capable of engaging with the changing landscape and social urgencies in today’s Hungary and Europe. 

Árpád Schilling started acting at 17, soon after which he decided to pursue a career as a director and founding Krétakör Theater in 1995. Beginning on the fringes without a permanent residency, under Schilling’s direction Krétakör became one of the most important and innovative theatre groups in Hungary, drawing worldwide attention through numerous performances by 2008. With a rich repertory, the group brought audiences from all backgrounds to be part of the theatre experience.

One of the key driving forces behind the change in profile in 2008 was the realisation of Krétakör’s management that in many instances theatrical art distances itself from serious problems, capable of presenting those only in a discursive sense. The management has decided that negative trends can be bettered more effectively, if instead of speaking about the problems, they can get physically close to the segregated, disadvantaged or in any way oppressed communities, and attempt to show them the way out using practical methods.

Building on and expanding from this work, following its 2008 - transformation into a foundation, Krétakör has been concentrating on social and community projects, such as the Free School Project, which aims nothing less than to make Hungary a more liveable country.

Initiated three years ago the Free School project has encouraged students to solve complex problems, gather information in a circumspect manner and think critically about the world surrounding them, instead of simply using their default lexical knowledge. Responding to the deficiencies of the Hungarian education system, the primary aim of the programme is to prepare students for community life, which the Foundation regards as one of the primary tasks of pedagogy. With this goal, in the past three years, the project enabled 150 secondary school students from various inland locations, cross-border Hungarian schools and German schools in Berlin to ponder and debate issues such as identity, migration, exclusion, housing poverty and conflict management, therefore encouraging them to better understand topics surrounding their world and one another.

FreeSchool project by Krétakör, © Dorottya Vékony

FreeSchool project by Krétakör, © Dorottya Vékony

Krétakör’s Free School programme has had a huge impact in the lives of students, making it possible for teenagers to gather information in key social, public life and political issues, and to express and discuss their opinion constructively. Bálint Juhász, project manager of Free School emphasises this objective, “We need to raise children who are capable of thinking and expressing themselves.” One example that illustrates well the enrichment provided by the programme has been the encounter between students of elite grammar schools in Buda with Roma students living in the segregated quarters of Miskolc. This engagement allowed students to get acquainted with their environment, away from their own bubble where they would hear censored narratives about the world, and to create their own independent opinions in a well-informed manner, based on a complex approach.

Moreover, such a project also intensifies thinking as part of a group or community, beyond the student’s immediate surroundings. The importance of learning cooperation skills is an advantage not only in the labour market, but it is indispensable for getting to know and being at home in a democratic system. Students from ecclesiastical schools, elite grammar schools regarded as liberal flagships, vocational training schools and Roma students arriving from segregated institutions are encouraged to solve a variety of tasks together. Through their collaboration and inclusive dialogue, they can work towards breaking down stereotypes and preconceptions.

In addition, the methods employed by the Free School in achieving these goals put emphasis on creating situations, where teenagers can communicate their experience and ideas in the open public: speaking with the press, making presentations at conferences or taking part in street guerrilla campaigns realised outside the isolated world of the classroom. The latter is well-represented by an eye-catching and awarded guerrilla poster campaign that was conceived and realised by Free School students. During the campaign students got acquainted with homeless people who they interviewed, and then created posters showing them together with the homeless person’s thoughts printed on the poster. These posters were placed at busy locations all over Budapest, so several tens of thousands of citizens could see them.

Combining these intellectually challenging goals with creative, collaborative and impactful methods ultimately allow participating students to put themselves to the test in a variety of conflict situations, where they can learn to effectively express their opinion and think in a more sophisticated manner. In addition to the intrinsic benefits of the project, the initiative also gives Hungarian students who are showing deteriorating results at international tests a chance to be more competent when looking for their first job in the labour market and be no longer excluded by the adult society from issues that have an impact on the future of Hungary or Europe.

A film about Krétakör and Goethe Intsitute Budapest's Democratic Education programme.

Regarding the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture, Árpád Schilling stated that: 

“This Award legitimates our decision made in 2008 to change our profile and commence the transformation of a theatre group previously acclaimed throughout Europe into a social workshop. It was worth taking this challenge. Although we never had any doubts about being on the right track, the encouragement we had been lacking arrived just now.”

In recent years the same mentality lead to projects such as May Day, initiated in the framework of Pécs Cultural Capital of Europe; the theatrical-educational reality called MOBIL taking place in a school milieu, or IllumiNation, inviting participants to explore their own definitions of national identity. Each project can be characterised by the strive for new methods and community forms that use democratic frameworks to allow experiencing the distribution of knowledge and enforcement of interests in the ever-changing societies of today’s Hungary and Europe.

Árpád Schilling illustrates this point with the work of Krétakör:

“When creating theatrical-pedagogical study groups, discussion forums or open air events, the goal is to ensure maximum freedom for the participants within the agreed framework. What the [Krétakör] Foundation is engaged in is not theatre, but community development. Krétakör is a manifestation of potential, a declaration of never dying hope.”

The Award is not only Krétakör’s achievement, but that of countless professionals, volunteers, supporters and spectators having helped the Foundation’s work in the past seven years. For Krétakör, the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture also coincides with the start of the Foundation’s third era. From 1995 to 2008 they worked as a theatrical group, and from 2008 to 2015 theatre making and social projects were both dominant. The second era is now ending with a last play A harag napja’ /Day of Fury, which premiered on 30 November 2015. Following this event, the Krétakör Foundation has been allocating all their innovative resources for the benefit of community projects, for furthering their ultimate goal of creating more liveable communities for all.

Kretakör (Hungary) is one of the 2016 Princess Margriet Award for Culture laureates, together with Medialab-Prado (Spain), both chosen for their exceptional bodies of artistic and cultural work in developing critical spaces of social participation and political experimentation through culture. 

By honouring these two laureates, ECF is highlighting the importance of culture in creating a more open and inclusive Europe. This is a Europe that ECF believes in and supports through its entire body of work, from its grant schemes and cultural managers’ exchange programme to its Connected Action for the Commons programme, which connects cultural change-makers at grassroots level and encourages new models of participation and democracy.