With all public events now banned in Hungary, a dozen actors from Budapest and the surrounding area have established the First Quarantine Theater, which features streaming performances live from a stationary boat converted into a cultural venue on the Danube River.
The first performance of the group was a reading of French writer Albert Camus’ novel “The Plague” set in Oran, Algeria in 1947. It was read by the prominent Hungarian stage actor Géza D. Hegedűs.
The famed existentialist novel is believed to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage Oran’s population starting in 1849, but the novel is set in the 1940s.
Their second performance, and their first full play, was streamed on Tuesday. It was by British playwright Denis Kelly’s “After the End”, a post-apocalyptic play about an office worker who wakes up in a fallout shelter after the explosion of a suitcase bomb.
László Magács, managing director of the Trip stationary boat cultural venue, told theater portal Színház that this is the first time in Hungarian history when a mass closure of cultural venues has been ordered. Such a drastic measure never even occurred during the worst months of World War II.
The actors, with their home theaters closed anyway, delivered their performances for free, but Magács added that this model is obviously not economically viable, and they expect donations from the public.
According to the latest available 2016 data, Hungary had 179 theaters, of which 99 in Budapest, with over 7.1 million spectators nationwide and almost 6,600 full-time staff. Given that the country’s population is just under 10 million, the large percentage of people who attend a theater performance each year highlights just how important theater is to Hungarians.
Title image: The First Quarantine Theater performs British playwright Denis Kelly’s After the End on March 17 in Budapest. (MTI/Zoltán Balogh)