Sunday, July 24, 2011

Budapest theater experiences

Some 55 years ago, I was in the 3rd grade -on a class trip to a puppet theater in Budapest... my birthplace. We were shown to our seats in a very orderly fashion... the show started and we were mesmerized by the story that was taking place on the puppet stage.

Suddenly... the lights went off and there was complete darkness. In fact it seemed like a very long time that we were in a kind of "will the play continue?" limbo.

And then a very startling moment took place. The theater's giant doors flew open -revealing a tremendous bright light that eventually subsided as our eyes got used to the change, revealing everyone in the streets running in everywhich way... and then the terse announcement: "All of you can go home..." -Just like that, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was under way -but none of us in the class knew that. All we knew was that a moment ago there was order -and now there was utter chaos. I knew where I was and I knew where I lived -and so I started toward my home. Luckily, my parents were somehow aware of what had been happening and were en route to intercept me... We all made it home -only to become refugees in the following weeks.

And now, in the present day -I am standing in front of these doors that flung open to a new life. Needless to say, I did not go to see a puppet show here again.

But my wife and I did go to see a show at the Budapest Operetta and Musical Theater. And interestingly enough, the musical we saw "A Nice Summer Day", deals with a teenager's dilema to escape from post-1956 Hungary or to "stay in the boat". The boy stays and he is heralded as a hero for doing so. As this was a very popularly accepted sentiment with the audience, who clapped for 20 straight minutes, I couldn't help but reflect on my own situation -wherein I didn't have a choice. But I was glad that my parents made the right choice -to leave the unstable future that communist Hungary would become.

One burning question remained for me after all these past years... one that kind of haunted me -perhaps even made me act strange... the question being: What would my life been like, had my family stayed in Budapest?". I had all sorts of phantasies, such as a champion gymnast (I was always very flexible), or a champion chess grandmaster (although I learned chess at 5, I had abandoned it until my college years... in Hungary my "talent" might have burgeoned -yeah... "burgeoned")... etc.

But my question was slowly answered from the various discussions I had with people in Hungary while touring now in 2011. The answer was not a pretty picture. Many people were arrested after 1956 and sent either to prison or to Siberia by the Russians and their "puppet" government in Hungary. Those who came back from prison were not treated as heroes... not commemorated until the iron curtain was eliminated in 1989.

So this was a very revolutionary reconnection for me... plenty of emotion-stirring experiences for me to draw on... for fututre gigs... albeit not in the Budapest theater.