Budapest in the 21st Century continues to be a center for the performing arts, drawing artists from all over the world. One of the burgeoning stars of the local theater scene is Čarna Kršul, whose recent performance in House of Asterion has sparked interest in her work by locals and expats alike.
I met Čarna in 2016 and recently had the chance to sit down with her for a more in-depth interview. Her observations and comments on the Budapest theater scene are most illuminating.
Čarna has always been interested in the artistic side of life, a vocation she comes by naturally; her father, Zoltan Kršul, is a well-known Croatian poet and her mother is a painter. Čarna admits she was rather shy as a child. When she was ‘chosen’ for a part in a play in her home country and she stepped out on the stage for the first time ever, however, she recalls how a change came over her. A heretofore unrecognized energy seemed to infuse her body and spirit and her initial performance that day left her with the certain knowledge that her future lay in the dramatic and theatrical arts.
She attended university in Zagreb, where she also performed in several student productions. After graduating, with special interests in Sociology and Psychology, the better to help her understand people and their motivations and also to be able to put herself in the mind of her characters on stage, Čarna came to Hungary. She learned Hungarian “pretty quickly and easily,” having a penchant for languages (she speaks several, as needed). She joined the Theater on the Roof and performed plays in English and Hungarian.
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The Budapest theater scene
The Budapest theater scene was lively and varied when Čarna arrived in the city. She found many opportunities for plays, English-language theater, musicals, comedies, improv and other performance styles. It was – and is – a good place for new projects. One drawback, according to her, is the lack of good venues for putting on the works of lesser-known playwrights. It is apparently also rather difficult to market new plays, i.e., very few media sites, such as Facebook and email lists.
In addition, there is a decided lack of venues for English-language theater, as many of the former venues, such as the Merlin Theater, have closed down. The Thália Színház and Bethlen Square Theater are good places, but offer only smaller stages.
The Minotaur’s reality
At any rate, after performing in Budapest for several years, Čarna decided it was time for her to put on a work of her own devising. She chose to combine acting, music, visuals and dance to bring to life a quirky esoteric short novel by Jorge Luis Borges, House of Asterion, the story of the Minotaur told from his point of view.
Čarna wrote, directed and starred in this performance, using her father’s poems to connect the audience with the story and also enlisting the aid of János Feledi for the dance sequences. Čarna had her own vision as to how to interpret this play. She decided to use Borges’s style, i.e., to engage the audience to hold up a mirror to reality and to assume the role of an outsider looking in to the Minotaur’s reality.
While struggling with the meaning and staging of the play, she realized she would be unable to develop Asterion (the Minotaur’s) character, dialogue and monologues, which is when the inspiration to use her father’s poems came to her. Coupled with the dance sequences, the production took the shape she envisioned. An audience with an inquisitive, artistic point of view could then see and understand what the Minotaur saw and felt. Not an easy task at the best of times.
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Absorbing the characters
Čarna said she wants to present her subjects without detailed, specific, obvious explanations; in other words, the audience needs to think about what they are seeing and feeling about the characters; they must absorb the characters, thus creating the appropriate rapport between the observers and the observed.
Apparently she succeeded, as the audience Question and Answer session after the play brought forth many perceptive and interesting questions and comments, indicating the audience members understood many of the stranger aspects of the performance. Several of the questioners even asked for copies of Čarna’s father’s poems!
And what of the future? Čarna was understandably vague about her next theatrical project, other than it will be an ‘unusual love story’ and will incorporate many of the elements used in House of Asterion (visual animation, original music, etc).
Theater buffs who are always looking for new English-language performances would do well to follow the productions of Čarna Kršul, one of the brightest lights in the Budapest theater scene.