Csaba Antal: Trust in Theatre
Theatre is divided and it has been facing this division, a hallmark of its condition, since the emergence of staging. Two camps are opposing each other, both defining themselves in terms of their radicality. They are the ones having shaped the destiny of the European stage, while the rest, the undecisive, the lukewarm, have been ”vomited out”, as declared in the Apocalypse. Jerzy Grotowski liked and used this biblical reference to conflicts opposing steadfast enemies to… conciliators rounding out the rough edges, soothing confrontations and making compromises without explicitly taking sides.
Which are these camps facing each other?
On the one hand, we have theatre people indicting theatre in order to improve it and to arrive at some kind of an original essence. This group has Gordon Craig for leader, joined by “empty space” advocates from Copeau to Brook, with Grotowski and his “Poor Theatre” at its extreme. They are all invested in the effort to save theatre by elimination and by acceding to a purity of actor/audience relationship.
The other group unites artists mobilising theatre resources, summoning and exalting them in the name of a common dream, without any reluctance or suspicion. They make theatre without any reservation, indulging in the exercise of their art. They are best exemplified by Meyerhold or Reinhardt, however opposed they appear to be; or later by Wilson and Mnouchkine.
Csaba Antal clearly belongs to this second group. He identifies with its spirit. He embraces it, cultivates it and works wholeheartedly for its fulfilment. His settings and costumes, beyond the diversity of the plays put on stage, assert his trust in theatre. A trust without any suspicion, a trust allowing him to roll out theatrical expression in all is diversity, to highlight sources of beauty and to represent tragic cases of desperation. He does not use elimination but does not fall in the trap of inordinate decoration either. In his work, everything reflects the pleasure of inhabiting the stage and the desire to enjoy it. Without guilt or any indictment, because Csaba Antal stands for agreements, founding his work on an intensive and tangible “yes”. His way of reading or presenting a script is always on the basis of a positive relationship with the stage.
Csaba Antal is on the side of art theatre but it is not a theatre folded on itself, captive to a refinement risking to sap its energy. His work is made of and is dressed by tangible theatre material, its resources explored with passion and engagement. He has no doubt in theatre. He is fully vested in his approach, based on what constitutes theatre and what supports communication.
Csaba Antal’s scenic work seduces by its diversity but this is a diversity indifferent to the sort of neutral availability, which is deprived of any identity. His work is a signature reaching across an abundance of solutions and a journey through great texts as well as famous operas. He is one and manifold, as any theatre man, strange to the slightest accusatory tone. He does not indict theatre, he embraces it.
Decidedly, Csaba Antal stands with the camp of artists who have believed in the powers of theatre. The exhibition we are invited to view confirms this without any reservation.
Born in Hungary, Csaba Antal studied stage design in Prague with Josef Svoboda after graduating in architecture, and then continued his studies at the Université de la Sorbonne in Paris.
During his career, he worked for numerous theatres, including the Katona József and the Vígszínház theatres in Budapest, the Comédie Française and the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris, the Théâtre National in Strasbourg, the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, and the Teatro Argentina in Rome, the Emilia Romagna Teatro Fondazione in Modena, the Fundació Teatre Lliure in Barcelona, as well as the Opernhaus Zürich, the Oper Bonn, the Hessisches Staatstheater in Wiesbaden, the Baadisches Staastheater in Karlsruhe, the Volksbühne and the Staatoper in Berlin, the Opera München, the A.R.T. in Boston Cambridge, the Arena Stage in Washington DC and the theatre of Epidauros.
He organised the UTE Festival in Budapest and the Venice Open Stage Festival. He participated in the organisation work of the International Visual Art Festival in the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle in Budapest.
He has received numerous prizes and awards. His works have been exhibited at the Prague Quadrennial and the Triennial in Novi Sad, Serbia, the Avignon Festival, the Budapest Palace of Exhibitions and the Petit Palais in Paris.
He is a founding member of the Union des Théâtres de l’Europe, created by Giorgio Strehler in 1989.
He has taught courses at the Budapest Conservatory, the Giessen Institut für Angewandte Theaterwissenschaft, the Théatre National in Strasbourg, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Brera Academy in Milan, the Harvard University in Boston/Cambridge, the IUAV in Venice, the ENSATT in Lyon, the Mali Theatre in Moscow, the Conservatoire in Paris and the Theaterakademie in Munich.
Important awards: Jászai Mari Award (1991), Theatre Critics’ Award (1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 2010), Silver Medal of the Triennial of Scenography in Újvidék/Novi Sad (1998), Award of the Festival of Hungarian Theatres (1998), Elliot Norton Award (2001), Hevesi Sándor Award (2000), Stage Design of the Year (2017).