Theatre Festivals as Part of Cultural Tourism

Music and film festivals have become an increasingly growing crowd-pullers, as part of cultural tourism worldwide. In addition to international sports events, or political protests it is basically the only place where you can gather thousands of people who have something in common. Pohoda in Trenčín is the best known Slovak music festival, and the Art Film Fest in Košice is one of the most prominent film festivals. Some of us buy tickets for high-profile cultural events a couple of months in advance, we plan our days off for those days and want to fully enjoy the atmosphere and selection of the best pieces. We set aside some money because we know that in addition to the tickets, there will be many other expenses. Accommodation, food, transportation, souvenirs. If there is some free time during festival, we can look around the area and we learn that there is also an excellent art gallery, and in a short walk’s time there is a beautiful castle, there is an interesting museum right around the corner, and maybe we will stop in a water park on the way back.

However, besides music and film festivals, theatre/performing art festivals are worth mentioning, too. Festival d’Avignon in France is the oldest and largest theatre festival in the world. Held regularly since 1947, when founded by director Jean Vilar, the festival gives performing art enthusiasts the opportunity to come to dozens or hundreds of theatre plays, street performances, and various side events of all genres, all through July every year. The event is among the most prestigious events of the year and the French are aware and proud of that. In one month, more than 100,000 spectators from around the world come to visit Avignon. The participants include ensembles from almost all countries, creating a unique space for confrontation of nations, languages, and cultures, in particular. In July, Avignon becomes the Mecca of theatre and everyone must come there at least once in their lifetime.

In Slovakia, we have a similar opportunity to enjoy contemporary performing art, too, only to a much lesser extent. The Divadelná Nitra festival can be considered the largest performing art festival in Slovakia. According to statistics, there were just over 6,000 participants in 2017. As part of its main programme, it offers only a few foreign ensembles within a week’s time, and, moreover, after 19 years of the festival, Nitra lost the privilege of awarding every season’s performing art awards – DOSKY (the “STAGE BOARDS”). Starting from 2015, the awards ceremony has moved to the Slovak National Theater in Bratislava, and so Nitra lost what had been previously considered as the top moment of the festival.

In order to raise the artistic level and show us, Slovaks, more of the big world of theatre, the management of the Slovak National Theater (SND) decided in 2014 to start a festival called The European Theatre Festival of SND has got a nature of a biannual event, alternating drama theatre with music and dance theatre. To a large extent, however, the programme includes domestic plays, while performances by ensembles from abroad represent a minor part only. It would be too naive to think that there are any visitors travelling from abroad with a specific purpose of seeing our theatre festivals, perhaps except a few individuals.
Well then, is there is a theatre festival in Slovakia, which would have the potential to develop cultural tourism? Sure, all of our festivals have got the potential, but to what extent it is their intention? Probably there is a prevailing ambition to attract foreign participants, but not foreign visitors. To a certain extent, it is also connected with the programme itself. We know that when we are going to a festival, we are attracted to big names, interesting titles or something “exotic”. In the Central European area, however, there is a unique festival that meets these parameters. It takes place in Bratislava every two years from 1997 and it is organised by the Faculty of Theatre Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. We are talking about the Istropolitana Projekt festival. It is a meeting platform for prospective theatre professionals and for confrontation among young artists from domestic and foreign artistic schools. In its history, the festival presented over 100 schools from all over the world, including Israel, the U.S., Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Italy, India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran, the Czech Republic and many other countries. There were more than 200 different performances and participants includes celebrities such as Baz Luhrmann. In comparison with the aforementioned Slovak theatrical festivals we are talking about an accumulation of the largest number of foreign ensembles. On average, there are about 15 ensembles, which in combination with big names, carefully selected titles, and exoticism in the form of the participating countries, creates perfect conditions for attracting many visitors, including from abroad. Nevertheless, the Istropolitana Projekt still remains, to put it mildly, a closed festival intended mainly especially for the participants. Is the evidenced by the fact that the festival’s name resonates particularly in professional theatre environment, or in individual schools, which participate regularly. It would be interesting to see what would be the outcome of making the festival more open and accessible to the public. Now that we have it.

Denis Farkaš

The Cultural Oxygen online quarterly project was supported from public funds by the Arts Council (Fond na podporu umenia)