Roma theatre companies can be found in several European states. But are Roma theatremakers—who represent the largest ethnic minority in Europe—also present on mainstream theatre stages? Not quite. The small state of Hungary has a large Roma minority of about 10% but an almost exclusively white theatre. Roma are also absent from theatre-related higher education in Hungary. Independent Theater Hungary, a Roma-Hungarian theatre company, is hopefully setting a new standard by publishing the volume Roma Heroes: Five European Dramas. By selecting five Roma stories and plays from five different European countries, this collection aims to support Roma theatre artists’ quest to become more visible.
Theatregoers and professionals often describe the Independent Theater as the “Roma Theater,” though this is far from accurate. Rodrigó Balogh, director-playwright and founder of Independent Theater, has stated that the theatre aims to focus on similarities between Roma and the rest of Hungarian society. Through its programming, the Independent Theater models a state in which Roma and non-Roma play, learn, and work together. In that sense it represents an emancipatory move: a prefigurative political model of a multicultural Hungary. Independent Theater is acting against the reproduction of exclusionary practices of the majority culture. The group uses radical imagination, not only on the level of performances but also on the level of operations, by imagining and operating a multicultural theatre culture. By its very existence, this small company pre-enacts a larger-scale future for the Hungarian mainstream, one in which the Roma and the non-Roma work together to achieve the ideal multiracial and multicultural state of theatre.
Each work features Roma self-representations—Roma characters with whom Roma audiences can identify. These characters give voices to a part of European society that is otherwise hidden.
Part of this mission is the annual Roma Heroes International Theater Festival, which Independent Theater has organized since 2017. This festival presents various Roma artists from across Europe. According to Rodrigó Balogh, when the company was formed they felt as if they were in a ghetto—as no other Hungarian theatre companies collaborated with Roma artists in the country—but couldn’t believe there were no Roma companies that would raise their voice to talk about their community’s issues. For that reason, Independent Theater started to look for companions globally. In the first year of the festival, they found several professional European Roma theatremakers and groups. Since then, these festivals have showcased Roma artists and groups from various European states: Romanio Svato from Vienna, the ART HUB in Bucharest, Mihaela Dragan with the Giuvlipen Company from Romania, and others. Each work features Roma self-representations—Roma characters with whom Roma audiences can identify. These characters give voices to a part of European society that is otherwise hidden and make it possible for more of society to find subjects of self-identification in theatre.