Independent Theatre, a theatre company by and for the Roma community in Hungary, has been awarded the prestigious International Ibsen Scholarship 2012 for its project Peer Gynt’s Children. The International Ibsen Scholarships was initiated by the Norwegian Government in 2007 and awards innovative and thought provoking projects in the field of drama and performing arts. This year’s three winning projects were chosen from 57 applicants.
Independent Theatre’s project draws on Peer Gynt, a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen, itself loosely based on the fairy tale Per Gynt. Peer Gynt’s Children, seeks to investigate the parallels between Ibsen’s emblematic figure Peer Gynt and the Romany people. Peer Gynt’s Children argues that the character Peer Gynt is synonymous with gypsy intellectuals, coming as he did from deep poverty and with no firm roots. As the subject of collective disdain and stigmatization, the theatre group suggests Peer Gynt shares other comparisons with the Roma people’s current situation in Hungary and in Europe.
The Ibsen Awards jury was particularly impressed by the production’s intention to employ a variety of techniques and methods—performances, media productions, workshops—to show the relevance of theatre in society as a vehicle for social and cultural change. Ibsen’s play emphasizes the importance of identity and roles in society. Peer Gynt’s Children builds on this theme and addresses the dismantling of stereotypes through interpreting and staging versions of what creates social and individual destinies.
The members of Independent Theatre are mostly young Roma who, though amateurs, regularly produce professional level performances on a range of topics. The group focuses in particular on how current social upheavals are affecting Roma youth in contemporary Hungarian society.
Other projects by Independent Theatre include Feather Picking, a drama based on real cases of discrimnation and violence against young Roma. Feather Picking allows an insight into a little known universe of agression and exclusion experienced by young Roma as well as their hopes and desires. Since its debut in 2010, there have been more than 30 performances of Feather Picking in Hungary, as well as tours in France, Switzerland, England and Norway.
Initiated by the Open Society Foundations Arts and Culture Program and Youth Initiatives Program, the play was filmed this year and will serve as educational support material to aid innovative learning on active citizenship and Roma inclusion.
Independent Theatre and Peer Gynt’s Children will be awarded the Ibsen International Scholarship in Skien, Norway on September 9, 2012.