Roma heroes on stage and in the everydays

The workshop series based on the methodology of the 1st Roma Storytelling Festival was a huge success

The team of Independent Theatre Hungary developed an educational material based on the video recordings of plays by European Roma authors, performed at the RomaHeroes – 1st International Roma Storytelling Festival in July 2017, presenting the stories of example-setting contemporary Roma people and based on a draft methodology put together with the artist. Our goal was to make visible the hardly known values of Roma theatre and the challenges of European Roma communities as well as reactions to these challenges by responsible people who bring along changes and can serve as an example both for the members of the Roma communities and the social majority.
Atmosphere of the test-workshop

In order to tailor each session to the needs of the participants, the group leaders were interviewed before the workshops. The trainers finalized the lesson plan of each workshop to fit the given group based on this information. Thus each workshop session was unique, while there were some aspects and activities which always stayed in the spotlight.

Workshop in Dr. Ámbédkár School in Miskolc
At all workshops, the group collected general characteristics of heroes. We claimed that, although Roma theatre has a more than 130-year-long past, and in most European countries there are active Roma theatre professionals, we know almost nothing about them. Thanks to the methodology, the participants had the opportunity to watch video scenes from four plays, which were not available in Hungarian before and which were performed at the festival last year. After, they could decide which play they would like to learn more about. The students worked in small groups and, based on excerpts of the playscript, relevant social context and question, they worded for themselves what the story of the given hero is about, what its message is and what questions it raises. What might be the risk and advantage in claiming our identity? How can we assert our rights against the authorities or even against the will of our own family? How can even a victim of a genocide stay active citizen and give voice to the stories of a silenced community? The group members presented the results of the groupwork on the four plays to each other, and these presentations were often followed by heated debate. The youngsters got to know not only the four plays but also four Gypsy communities and the stunning example of four committed women.

Workshop in Wislocki Henrik Roma College in Pécs

At the second workshop session, video interviews with the playwright were screened sometimes and in all cases we shared our own heroic deeds and stories of heroes who are important for us. Often, the youngsters found it difficult to believe that there are heroes in their own environment, that they might have heroic stories. However, after a little while, stories came pouring out: about parents, grand-parents, teachers and themselves. The stories which most participants found exciting were adapted with creative means, and the small groups presented the resulting writings, videos or scenes to each other. Some of these works were also published on Roma Heroes blog – as it is not only heroes that we can find everywhere when looking for them, but also youngsters can create works in a short time which are worth to be shown to the world. As a result, the workshop series did not only bring high culture to the communities but also the members of the communities could also communicate their stories to thousands of people.
Workshop in RefoRom, Budapest

We found that positive approach inspired the youngsters. Finally they participated in a program that presented heroes instead of victims, and met trainers who wanted to hear their stories instead of telling them how is everything, and who helped them to formulate and present the stories that are important to them on their own way. The workshop series reached 202 youngsters all together in autumn 2017.

Workshop in the Lutheran Roma College in Nyíregyháza

Eight students, who were most devoted to the topic and common activities, also had the opportunity to take part in a 5-day-long common workshop in December. During this event, they had the chance to dig deeper in the genre of storytelling, learn more about European Roma drama literature and theatre performances, draw the portraits of value-led, example-setting people from their environment, and to plan and realise creative actions.

Workshop in the Greek-Catholic Gypsy College in Miskolc

Besides non-formal education, the methodology also got into universities. The Department of Media and Communication of Eötvös Lóránd University not only hosted the workshop, professor András Müller also spent a semester with discussing the four plays, their background and the media communication of the festival in the frame of his course “Case Studies on Communication”.

Workshop at the Department of Media and Communication, Eötvös Lóránd University
Our experiences proved that the works of Roma theatre artists have a place not only in theatres but also in education, at non-formal, empowering workshops as well as in the academic sector. And what is even more important, it also proved for several Roma youngsters that they have their own heroes, whose example is worth to be followed. Moreover, they can live as responsible people, who make decisions led by their own values, and who initiate changes in their own life and in their closer or broader environment.

Workshop for the informal youth group of Hajdúhadház, in Debrecen

Feedback from the participants

Roma special college students
They want to learn more about Roma dramas and get to know more plays

“I’d need more of this, I’d keep opening up these topics in myself” (Salgótarján);
“Why aren’t these plays in the public domain? Why do I have to learn at the age of 25 that they exist at all? They could inspire Roma people to keep studying. I believe that there’s a way out of this shit!”(Pécs);

The living protagonists of the plays inspired them to be more active and carry out projects of a greater scale

“It is so good to see what impact art can have, I would do the same, to show positive Roma image, for example through films.” (Nyíregyháza);

Their identity was strengthened, and their shame for being a Gypsy diminished

“We should come out as Gypsy and not feel ashamed for where we came from.” (Dr. Ámbédkar);
„It was hard to claim my identity. I asked myself how I identify myself. I realised that my family and friends are talented and after I came out.” (Romaversitas).