The baby has been thrown out with the bathwater – Zoltán Balázs about the abolition of the Corporate Tax
According to the director of the Maladype Theater, it would be worth to distinguish amongst the independent companies between the ones with serious past and early-stage companies.
The alteration of the Corporate Tax system puts the nearly 18-year-old company in a difficult position. At the same time, the theater director believes that the current situation creates a good opportunity to clarify the real professional questions, which have been swept under the rug a long time ago, and to radicalize the situation of the independent theaters. He finds this achievable on a strictly professional basis, taking in consideration real values and performances.
Can you remember what situation were you in and what was your first reaction, when you have been informed about the Corporate Tax decision?
We’ve been in a waiting position; we should have found out which companies will offer us the maximum amount of the Corporate Tax based on the number of the audience and income. The Corporate Tax support covers nearly two months of Maladype Theaters’ functioning. It is very important since as an independent theater with constant company and team of associates we have to maintain seventeen people. It was questionable, how we can agree with future backers, such as MagNet Bank, and when can we start the subsidy process. Then we received the news, that the Corporate Tax system will be abolished or changed, but we did not receive any information about the criteria’s of how all this will happen; unfortunately, the distribution ration is still unclear. We did not see the point of reacting to the initial rumors. We wanted to wait for unambiguous information. Since then, we know that the cost plan for theatrical support is ready and the cultural under-secretary of Ministry of Human Capacities, Péter Fekete, will be responsible for distributing the 37 billion HUF theatrical support budget.
What did you do about these unexpected situations so far?
Taking into consideration the changed situation, we tried to find a financing solution from alternative sources. We can handle the unexpected circumstances only if we are constantly ready for a change and we have multiple survival strategies. This can be a creative, puzzle game as well, but you can’t gamble with an artistically and structurally functioning company. A large part of our income it is from our foreign tours, our guest performances, and thanks to this are we still alive. It is a decisive question for us, that in the revised Corporate Tax system on what conditions will the payment happen, who will benefit from it, and will the independent and private theaters and cultural festivals have a place in this new package, and if so, what kind of place.
On your website, it says that you are a company that can always redefine itself, and you consider the actual changes as a natural process of theater making. Is this statement valid for the current situation as well?
As we know, some terrestrial life forms do not grow in a light and oxygen-rich environment, but instead they are found in hot water, alkali or acidic soils, nevertheless they live and exist. Translated to our theater situation: thanks to our adaptation, we are „survivors” among the independent companies and this gives us support and strength. If we would truly face the misuses and professional anomalies caused by the previous Corporate Tax, and the whole matter would be responsibly and prudently investigated, then this current situation could even bring positive changes by rethinking the entire support system of the performing arts.
There could be also a reconsideration in long-standing structural issues. For instance, selection between independent companies could take place and they could highlight those five truly independent theaters, that for many years have been showing earnest professional accomplishments home and abroad as well with little, incalculable financial support. I find it inappropriate that in 2019, the Maladype Theatre is in the same position as the start-up companies, that are often organized for a single event. This does not mean, that in the course of time these theatrical adventures cannot grow into a serious, considerable ensemble, but we, who have already been through this process, know from our experience, that a lot of things are necessary, first of all, long-term professional and operational concept and planning.
I do not believe that anyone could contest the almost eighteen-year-old Maladype with its innovative performances and special theater education programs for contributing to the current character of the Hungarian theater; which is why I feel that this secondary treatment that concerns us and other independent theaters similar to ours it is derogatory. It would be opportune reconsidering the value-based system of transparent financial and professional support and take accountability seriously.
What criteria do you think should be laid down for this?
Very concrete ones. The companies should present long-term functional plans built on genuine professional ideas, but not just on paper, but also in an effective and demandable way in the theater. They should be able to maintain and improve their function; they should be interested in the implementation of complex theatrical processes and in the restore of their achievements as widely as possible. They should have a place in their structural-intellectual strategy for innovative ideas and solutions, and a place in their communication, a straightforward, dynamic, and active tone addressing to a multigenerational audience.
However, the most definite measure of effectiveness is that, from a professional point a view, what can the company add to the canonized greater whole as a valid practical suggestion. Beside highlighting those five independent theaters that show proper function, it would also be important for these companies to have their functional support at the beginning of that particular period, to ensure planning and functional safety. Many suggestions have been written as a response in the previous years, but nothing happened. This is what the Board of Trustees, published on April 12, 2018, is about.
From this, I conclude, that there are people near the government who are well aware of this situation.
Yes, there are professional councils, curators, under-secretaries, and ministers who recommend the same thing year by year. To no avail. We all know within the profession which of the independent groups are really operable and which truly regular guests of foreign festivals are. The intention to change the Corporate Tax was, among other things, the fact that among the performing arts organizations were some, who misused the „whipped” data of the pseudo-spectators from foreign performances and thus received extra funds. The problem is that not only those, who caused this whole issue to explode had been affected, but also those who had done their job honorably compared to their own possibilities. The baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.
What could be the solution?
The most correct would be to account those responsible, and those, who were not part of this dirty game, would be given the opportunity to put a word in the reallocation of the Corporate Tax system. Now it seems, that following the example of the Film Fund, the Corporate Tax support of theater art community is also being resolved by distributing Corporate Tax offerings from a common pot. But what and who exactly this decision affects, we don’t know it yet. It is heard, those national and advantaged institutions will benefit the most. No one talks about us, the independents. It is also important to mention that the dust cloud swirling around the Corporate Tax was a good cover for the fact that the National Cultural Fund of Hungary’s production applications were not announced in the autumn of 2018. Also not to mention the fact that the announcement of the 2019/2020 operational applications is already in one-month delay compared to last year’s date.
How does the current situation affect Maladype in terms of premiers?
I hope that one of our two premiers planned for this season, Euripides Trojan Women will take place in the direction of István K. Szabó. In the midst of fateful wars, the play that focuses on different female principles is very relevant and a worthy task for the actresses from our company. Also, our audience can welcome Mária Varga as a guest artist in the performance. Witold Gombrowicz Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy would have its premiere at the beginning of April in my direction. The twelve actors of the company would play together in this performance, but the fate of this is still uncertain because of the mentioned reasons.
How do you find the silence of the theatrical scene?
We do not have a positive experience with different professional and interest organizations. We have also left the Independent Performing Artists’ Association a couple of years ago because we felt that it did not represent our interests at all. The fabric of theater society is also very damaged. Coming to a new age, a new dimension, I find it necessary to think and want to think together about the new theater life form, but I do not like the violent manifestation of criers and the those who call themselves „professional mouthpieces”. In my opinion, any ruthless and reckless statement about the common cause of our profession is extremely detrimental. For me, true professionalism means only one thing: the consistent and involved search and research work. How we are capable of artistic and human solidarity for the development of theater art, the launch of incentive and integrative creative processes and their widest possible completion and preservation. Do we strive for a greater understanding, consensus, dialogues of the past truths and the theatrical processes of our times. Today I feel timely the world-renowned Japanese writers, Mishima Yukio, an urgent call from the mid-twentieth once more, in which he draws the attention of artist to the risk of arts over-politicization: „It is time for artists to return to the art!” Maybe we should also think about why are we dealing with theater making; business and self-interest control our everyday theater activities or we have deeper, stratified connection with the essence of the Theater, which cannot be regarded as just a concept or an object. The FIVE GATES era-specific theatrical-methodology concept, which I started in September 2018, examines these theatrical and technical issues with seven young graduates.
It is also stated on your website that you support yourself from funding applications. The interviewees of this series of interviews so far have all said, that these funding sources are so small that they do not provide enough coverage for not even one new premier. How can you solve this?
With a lot of work and trained nervous system. We try to apply everywhere. Thinking responsibly, we have no other choice in the current rules of the game. Some other methods of obtaining money have also been developed, but for their validation deliberate supportive strategy and constant expanding contact network was needed. We have built our Maladype support programs with a lot of energy. For example, thanks to a part of the previous Corporate Tax support we could make happen the very successful poster campaign called I also watch Maladype. We are aware that we need to address new investors in order to stay alive. If everyone would contribute only a small amount to the projects of our company, that can get bigger. This, of course, does not solve our annual operating deficit at all, but it is convenient for gaining time.
Do you have somebody whose job is only this?
All of us are multifunctional because it is necessary, efficient and economical. Although the applications are not yet written by our actors (although I have seen an example of this kind abroad), and our staff did not have to perform, but it is important that our company members can turn their hands to anything and to have quick, flexible problem-solving skills.
In what way are actors’ moods affected by this situation? Do you perceive existential fear on them?
As constant members of an independent theater company, unfortunately, over the years, they have got accustomed to the regular presence of uncertainty about their future. They know that they are part of a problem-solving team, and if we already have valid information about them, we’ll share it in time. In the meantime, they concentrate on what is their main task on the rehearsals and performances. For this special form of life, it is needed plasticity and constantly renewing trust that distinguishes maladype actors for other companies actors’.
If you had to say today how long you see the future of Maladype, what date would you tell us?
By mid-march. All of this because we successfully managed to separate the costs for the seven young people we hired in September from the cost of the theater. Last summer we took a huge risk by inviting seven members of the graduate acting class from the University of Art Târgu Mureş to our three-year talent care/support program. However thanks to some of our enthusiastic backers, and especially the long-term cooperation concept with the director of the TRIP Ship, László Magács (director, theater director, initiator of Átrium –ed.) we managed to provide for this season the necessary resources for the research-work of our new actors. László Magács recognized the importance of the FIVE GATES concept and he became a professional mentor and patron of the juniors participating in the program.
Do you have any answer to what could be the purpose of the Corporate Tax action?
I have several possible answers, but I hope that the main aim of the change is to have a more transparent system to operate the target amount of the guaranteed aid to be distributed from the common pot. In my opinion, a Corporate Tax system that is selective and up-to-date cannot have the only starting point of maximizing the audience. The real change would be to determine the rate of Corporate Tax support for those concerned by other professional criteria, true values, and performances. Corporate Tax support for development could also play a very important role.
It is not clear from the government decree from December what the independent companies can expect.
Indeed. It should be taken in consideration the fact that there are beginners among the independents and there are teams that have been working successfully for several years, who have been able to prove their viability in hopeless circumstances. This fact itself could be a powerful filter for the long overdue and necessary reduction process. The operating and support conditions for the registered organizations should also be reconsidered.
Maladype is a theater open to the audience. Among other things, every performance is followed by a meeting with the audience where you talk about what they have seen. In the course of these conversations is the audience interested in what will happen to you?
They always ask about the company and us; it also happened that we had previously received some useful information personally from them and not from official sources. They keep an eye on us, on the changes. We also have some of them, who regularly supports our theater with a monthly transfer. We have always considered the importance to involve our audience in our creative processes and share the concerns we face on a daily basis about our function.
Is the old-time patronage system revitalized in Hungary today?
It is revitalized if there is a Prometheus of our time, who will share the flame between the patron gods and the creative people. Intelligence, sensitivity, empathy, professionalism, and last but not least, practical experience and relational capital. We can consider us lucky because in almost eighteen years we have met with such backers, and we are thankful for them.
If you had a situation where your company could not continue to function, what kind of personal plan do you have for the future?
We’ve been struggling for a long time to survive to be very experienced „situation managers”. We have different emergency scenarios. We flip through the pages and with little risk factor we try to bring it to effect. Certainly, this does not mean that we will survive this period under all circumstances because if there is no support and applications, this is simply impossible. Practicing theater directors know exactly what a long-term artistic concept is an indispensable prerequisite for stable administration and finance.
Without this in the 21st century, you can’t develop or improve; we cannot guarantee the rental cost of our permanent theater space, the infrastructural background required for quality work and the honorary payment for our artists. Our name is well known abroad and by our international appearance we can be active participants in the worlds theater events, but as we get closer to the jubilee year, I would like if Maladype would be appreciated at last at home as well, and to see our operating amount, based on our many years of operation and achievements. Simply because we deserve it.
Anna Rácz, Szinhaz.hu, 26. 1. 2019
Translated by Brigitta Erőss