BUDAPEST – Roma Heroes, the only international Roma theater festival in the world, will continue to tear down stereotypes, discrimination and racism with performances from nine countries in an online edition due to pandemic restrictions.
“Our drama, that of European travelers, is that they do not know us. They think of us as stereotypes,” Rodrigo Balogh, artistic director of the Independent Theater in Budapest, tells EFE.
Fighting this lack of understanding was what prompted him in 2017 to invite artists from different countries to Budapest to present their works.
With some 10 million Roma travelers in Europe, they are the largest minority and one that faces endemic discrimination.
Productions often focus on telling the story of different European communities, showing how they live and laying out the daily problems and struggles they face.
The Independent Theater has tasked itself with the job of gathering the stories scattered around the continent to build a solid collection of Roma cultural heritage and to celebrate its important role.
The idea is that by highlighting that most people share problems and challenges, communication will be much easier, the director explains.
“As an artistic director, I looked for those narratives that are related to the responsibility of the individual or how to generate changes,” adds Balogh.
Balogh’s company operates a strict policy whereby there is an equal representation of men and women among staff and of Roma and non-Roma actors.
Amid the lockdowns in place across Europe, this year the festival will focus on a retrospective online edition with recordings of 12 works performed at the Festival in recent years.
Over 11 weeks, a performance will be streamed every Thursday at 9:00 pm on the festival’s YouTube channel. All works include English subtitles.
The catalog includes Tell Them About Me by Michaela Dragan, which tells the story of four Roma women in Romania. Young Roxana confronts her community and refuses to marry in order to continue studying.
With Profound Dignity, directed and interpreted by Sonia Carmona from Spain, the play tells the story of Emilia Fernandez, the victim of religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War and who in 2017 became the first beatified gypsy.
Zdrava Kamenova and Kalin Angelov’s Gipsy Wheels will provide some humor with a tale of a Bulgarian woman who hails from a ghetto and is on a voyage of self-discovery.
The festival will close on August 27 with a performance by Frantisek Balog’s Roma from the Duvet or Enter the Majority!
A community outreach program takes the festival to schools and universities in different countries to shed light on the challenges Roma communities encounter.
“We have the support of the European Union and this program is already being applied in the Spanish city of Seville, where Sonia Carmona has trained a group of instructors who are already delivering workshops. But the same thing happens in Rome or in Bucharest,” Balogh adds.
The director says actors are similar ages to students to make workshops more fluid.
Balogh is confident that, if a new wave of coronavirus does not prevent it, the festival will be able to return to its usual format of live performances in October.