“Always one Step Ahead,” Teodóra Bán has Run the Margaret Island Open-Air Theater for 20 years

In Budapest

Teodóra Bán

Photo by Gergely Vogt.

The Open-Air Theater on Margaret Island is one of the most distinctive venues of Budapest’s cultural life. Teodóra Bán, the theater’s managing director and artistic director, is a prominent member of the capital’s cultural life. This year is her 20th directing the venue. She says her motto is “Always one step ahead!”

2023 is not only her 20th anniversary; a year of landmarks and celebrations will be marked on Margaret Island: the Open-Air Theater is 85 years old, the capital Budapest is 150 years old, the bicentenary of the birth of Sándor Petőfi falls on this year, and the first Jurassic Park film is 30 years old, which the theater has also decided to celebrate.

BBJ: In 2023, you will have been running the Open-Air Theater on Margaret Island for 20 years. How do you assess this period?

Teodóra Bán: Running the Margaret Island Theater, its professional goals and its benefits for the audience and the performing arts profession is a major challenge and a unique task. Looking back on 20 years of operation, I have formulated my motto, my ars poetica: “Always one step ahead!” Translated into busy everyday life, this means looking ahead and constantly developing and building in search of new goals.

BBJ: Besides the theater, you have always had other positions, tasks and vocations. Could you briefly take us through the stages?

T.B.: During these 20 years, I spent eight years in parallel in the service of culture and tourism, managing two large companies in the capital under Mayor István Tarlós. Budapest is the capital of culture and the four seasons. That was our slogan! We have achieved significant successes in national and international communication through the production and transmission of cultural content. Under my leadership, Budapest won the European Best Destinations award. In addition to the Budapest Spring and Autumn Festivals, we added cultural value to the Christmas and Easter fairs on Vörösmarty tér, the Budapest Card enjoyed its heyday, and our tourist center and office network attracted foreign visitors to the capital with record results.

BBJ: From 2022, you will also serve as the director general of public relations and communications at Károli Gáspár Reformed University and lead the theater.

T.B.: Yes, I was able to build up the major tasks and concept of the 30th anniversary of the KRE Commemorative Year, alongside Rector László Trócsányi. The synodal commemorative meeting opening the commemorative year was organized in the spirit of science, culture and education at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, a charity concert was organized at the Academy of Music to present social commitment for the city of Aleppo in Syria, a city hit by the earthquake, and the 30-year commemorative book and the documentary film in preparation present the historical past and significance of church higher education today. We continue to organize a number of international and national conferences, and the concept of the conditions for a sporting university has been realized - to highlight just a few of our projects. 

BBJ: Can you choose between positions and tasks? I see that in all your roles, in your everyday life, the dissemination of culture in a broad sense, the theater and production work, is of particular importance.

T.B.: As you can see, theatre for me, as a cultural community space, man-made and man-made products, wherever I am, will always be present in my life in this context. So I can say that the most important part of living in a community is: making theatre, which is a source of joy for me.

BBJ: What happened in practice?

T.B.: Going back to 20 years, I can say that in the past two decades, the environmental and economic changes in our living space and in society, both domestic and international, have significantly transformed the consumption of culture. The management of the theater has necessarily had to follow this period, to use and incorporate its experience, to react to the current trend or challenge, developing its own flexible professional and operational strategy, able to generate demand and increase its audience base.

BBJ: What was and what is your philosophy today?

T.B.: For me, the biggest patron is the paying and returning audience, which, if appreciated and not underestimated, enables a theater to maintain its high quality and valuable professionalism. The only way to consciously increase the number of theatre-goers is not primarily by increasing the number of performances but by expanding the range of genres. Thus, each genre has its rightful place in today’s almost four-month season of the Margaret Island Theater. Opera, ballet, folklore, dance and music performances, prose performances, musical and operetta performances, classical symphonic concerts, pop, rock, and jazz concerts, children’s performances, family activities, and exhibitions all play a part in maintaining the theater. This complex community-theater space is run by constantly inviting national stars, ensembles, international stars, and companies.

BBJ: As usual, the Margaret Island Theater has an extensive range of performances. What would you highlight for us from this year’s repertoire?

T.B.: Just a few of the most exclusive ones: the Sukhishvili Georgian National Dance Company, the concert of the star orchestra Chico and The Gypsies and the Romengo pre-band, the operetta premiere of “The Count of Luxembourg” with the Kecskemét National Theater, the ballet performance of “Romeo and Juliet” with the wonderful Maribor Ballet Company, “My Love is Tango!” a sultry Piazzolla evening, “Tango with the Stars!” with a symphony orchestra, the “Golden Age Opera Gala” stars Pretty Yende and Nadine Sierra, and Verdi’s magnificent opera “Attila,” with the Canadian John Relyea in the title role, one of the most charismatic and best opera singers of our time.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 19, 2023.

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