Euroregional Theatre Festival TESZT in Timisoara, RO, European Capital of Culture 2023.

(by Dieter Topp) One of the most important projects of the Hungarian State Theatre Csiky Gergely, the Euroregional Theatre Festival in Timisoara - TESZT, has taken place annually since 2008. The festival is international, aims to promote knowledge of multiculturalism and inform the audience about the latest theatre in the region: as a platform for cultural exchange and an invitation to dialogue with artists and other professionals in the field.

Due to its special location, Timișoara is at the crossroads of different cultures. Close to Budapest and Belgrade, next to Arad, Novi Sad, Subotica and Szeged, all cities known for their special, cultured values.
Despite their geographical and cultural proximity, the theatres in these cities have little contact with each other. Psychological borders block the flow of information between them. This is where TESZT steps in as a mediator to promote closer and more frequent cooperation between the theatres of this region, to exchange experiences and to offer audiences a better understanding of new theatre forms.

Today, this festival has become one of the most important cultural events in the region and, due to its location on the Romanian, Hungarian and Serbian borders, it contributes to being a place of encounter between cultures, introducing the cultures of the different nations to each other and creating the ground for the presentation of their own values and all the new values that have emerged during the meeting of these countries.

TESZT can be more than a cultural and artistic meeting place for different art forms, a place for experimentation and research, for dialogue between the audience and the artists, where especially the young generation is considered as a partner. "We think it is important to stimulate, encourage and educate the youth. Based on our past experiences, we consider it necessary to constantly rethink and define our main objectives in order to expand the festival's programme," the organisers said.

A spirited diversity characterised this year's festival edition in particular. Also, or perhaps especially, intended by the organisers as a contribution to the programme of Timisoara European Capital of Culture 2023.

The eight days of the festival successfully propagated social growth. Culture moves and moves, so "Fluid Views" played a weighty role in the concept of the 14th festival edition. In this festival, "Fluid Views" refers to the section around diversity performances, which necessarily gave space to the LGBTQ+ community, a postulate in the programme framework of a European Capital of Culture.

The opener was SADBOY by Panos Malactos, a Cypriot with a fast-paced one-man-movement show about his gay life as an Instagram and dating app user. Full performance and cheers from the audience.

"Heart Emoji", an interpretation by the German troupe SZENE 2WEI (William Sanchez H. and Timo Gmeiner from Germany):

The piece DANCE transmitted the real meaning of each dancer's emoji from electronic anonymity into their real, private lives. The inclusive contemporary dance performance in slow motion form made both the meaning and the problems of the not easy but all the more heartfelt form of choreography clear, in which people with and without disabilities interact with each other on an equal footing. Unfortunately, some "professional critics" were not willing or able to understand and accept this and to understand the social level. One of them insulted the organiser, saying she did not want to spend her precious time on such dilettantism. This is also possible in a European Capital of Culture 2023 and clearly shows how much work still needs to be done.

The contemporary dance piece LORDESS by THE GARDEN // performing arts burst full of joie de vivre into the middle of the discourse on sexuality, gender, constant transformation and performance. The body as political discourse on stage and the fine arts as the foundation for movement. Inspired by queer artist Lorenza Böttner, the piece showed what is possible - under the premise that the boundaries of creativity and art are not dependent on our bodies or our idea of normality.
Anyone expecting hip travesty numbers at this queer show was disappointed. With Sanchez and his company, there had been once again the rare phenomenon of a queer presentation on a rather intellectual level.

The performance SWORN VIRGIN was invited as another part of Fluid Views, the festival section of TESZT, a cooperation with the Identity. Education NGO from Timișoara. This evening of theatre turned out to be a special one in more ways than one:

Jeton Nesiraj, probably the most famous and globally influential writer of the New Balkans at the moment, provided the template in the form of a fictional story about a so-called sworn virgin, or burrnesha, a woman who takes on the role of a man in her family and in society, generally completely renouncing relationships, marriage and children. The woman takes an oath and is henceforth treated as a man, wears men's clothes and weapons and can assume the position of head of the family. The main reasons for the decision to live as a man are the avoidance of an unwanted marriage or the lack of a male head of the family, as well as the desire for a free life with more opportunities.

Neziraj transported the story from the social niche into a lesbian constellation that ultimately ends queer. Director Erson Zymberi put this fiction on stage in a media-determined environment by having Burrnesha appear on a drag queen's talk show in London, covered with the usual clichés. She resisted - like a man - and eventually began a relationship with the TV announcer in the Balkan mountains. With that, she started a different, self-determined life.

Thanks to the author and director, the play went beyond a mere portrait of a social Albanian minority and shaped itself into a queer feminist interpretation.
The Sworn Maiden speaks about the phenomenon of sworn virgins in the light of the current debate on gender issues. It looks at the concept of freedom or lack of freedom in societies with different values, concepts and social constructions.

It is a stroke of luck that Story and Gender Show came from Kosovo in terms of diversity, where a lot still needs to be done in this regard. On the one hand, it can be seen as an emancipatory endeavour on a cultural basis to push the queer subject in the other Balkan states at festivals. On the other hand, it means a clever way to present Kosovo positively in the West in this regard. And ultimately it turned out to be a gain for Timisoara, European Capital of Culture 2023, in homophobic Romania, because diversity in the cultural programme is explicitly provided for in the postulates of the European award.

In the TESZT Festival section "Fluid Views", for example, a permanent platform was opened up for the queer community, which was accepted in several events through extremely lively audience participation. A step forward and a win-win situation in many respects. The task now is to consolidate these beginnings.

Although not attributed to Fluid Views, the Serbian production "Our Son" by Patrik Lazic, who also directed it himself, was definitely one of them: For years, perhaps forever, no one in this family knew how to say an honest word to anyone. Now the son is grown up, lives as far away as possible, and sometimes he visits them - after all, he loves them and needs them, and this time he hopes that honest words will come. The parents also love their son, and they would love him even more if they only knew what the mistake was, what the reason was, and who is to blame for their child not being "like the rest of the normal world". Everything would be fine, but the only problem is that the son is already like the normal world. An intimate, honest, poetic, humorous and sometimes tragic story about parents who deep down cannot find a way to accept the identity of their non-binary son.

And last but not least Ivo Dimchev, the now international trademark for cheekiness, meanness and triviality with subversive, provocative messages and songs. You can love him or hate him, but you have to see him once.

Thank you TESZT and the brave organisers for this special festival section. All the other excellent big and small productions can be read in detail in the festival programme,