Summer in the City: the Margaret Island Festival

In Budapest

Teodóra Bán

With the COVID pandemic gradually easing, summer events such as the Margaret Island Festival are expected to return this year. The Budapest Business Journal quizzed Teodóra Bán, managing director of Margitszigeti Theater Nonprofit Ltd., about what is in store for 2021.

BBJ: What can we expect at the Margaret Island Festival this year? To what extent does the current state of COVID-related measures affect the interest of the public?

Teodóra Bán: The Margaret Island Theater has always been ready to fully comply with the measures in force, as this is one of the conditions for us to stay healthy, for the artists to come to the theater to work, and for the audience to enjoy the performance safely.

BBJ: What kind of income do you expect financially? How profitable do you think the event will be?

TB: We do not expect a profit for cultural events. Of course, ticket revenue contributes significantly to the economic equilibrium of operations, and although we cannot accurately predict this in advance, we consider the interest to be appropriate.

BBJ: Having looked at this year’s program, it is clear there are some illustrious foreign and Hungarian performers among the guests. How difficult was it to organize the event when we still can’t breathe easily after COVID?

TB: The artists are longing to be on the stage, and thanks to the domestic and international reputation and position of the Margaret Island Theater, foreign performers are just as keen to come as our permanent theater partners: the Opera House, traditional theaters, and large symphony ensembles. Our operation is long-standing, the management of the theater is sincere and safety conscious, and we always strive to achieve the highest quality productions. This guarantees that both domestic and international performers are willing to come here, even in such circumstances.

BBJ: The marking slogan says: “The festival represents a unique value in the life of the city; its wide genre palette offers real cultural attractions for all ages throughout the summer.” Still, if you had to narrow things down, which concerts do you expect to draw the biggest audiences?

TB: Of course, there are favorites and seemingly more serious interest in certain performances, such as Carmen Burana, with the National Philharmonic, the Sergei Polunyin performance, the Mozart film concert, and the Verdi gala, but light music performers also enjoy their opportunities. Spending habits are divided between pop music and the “heavier” genres. Tickets for pop music concerts do not often sell out early; instead, they usually go in the last few days. Classical music and theater performances, on the other hand, sell out much earlier, probably in part so people can get better seats. At the Margaret Island Theater, we want to stage this year’s season in the name of diversity, both in terms of age and genre. We want to satisfy better the need and hunger of those waiting to go to the theater and community cultural venues. As we have expanded our offering, we expect a much wider audience this year as well.

BBJ: Such a festival involves many guests, and litter can burden the environment. How will this be offset on Margaret Island?

TB: This is an vital issue for us, as environmental awareness has always been a major consideration in this highly protected and outstanding environment. According to the old saying, Margaret Island is the “fairy garden” of the capital. The theater has been integrated into this setting for almost 90 years, so we need to pay the maximum attention to our environment. I have to say that the artists and the audience who come to us are very conscious and disciplined. We have created every opportunity for them to collect the garbage from the products they consume selectively.

BBJ: What epidemiological precautions have been taken? For example, I think audience members will need a vaccination card to attend the event?

TB: We have to operate separate COVID protocols for the artists in the auditorium and backstage, in other words, the operating area, and for the audience. Theatergoers can enter with a vaccination card, and we are prepared to check this properly. Within the theater, the regulations do not currently require the wearing of a mask; however, we would be happy if people did so. We provide equipment for hand disinfection and we also pay attention to the admission process. We start the bus and theatrical boat trip service much earlier, two hours before the start of the performance, thus ensuring that the audience is not forced to wait in big crowds at the last minute. The auditorium will be opened earlier so guests can book a seat. Backstage, a certificate of protection is not obligatory, but it is mandatory to wear a mask, perform hand disinfection and maintain social distancing. The theater will take the utmost care of this.

BBJ: To what extent can you think that this long-lasting event can help the country’s cultural life to flourish?

TB: It is vital to have cultural events, services, and experiences in the community space as these, in addition to educating the student or the viewer, provide meaningful, valuable recreation. The theater has been 90-95% full in previous years; this year we do not expect such volume. But we are very confident that with the lessening of COVID obligations and the improvement of the epidemic situation, more people will choose Margaret Island’s beautiful big theater and performances.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  May 21, 2021.

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