The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest


Trash aesthetic:
Meet The Symptoms

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The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest Photo © Csaba Mészáros
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What is waste? Who is trash? Réka Szabó and Dániel Szász of The Symptoms speak about recycling a street performance

Founded in 2002, The Symptoms are among the most important independent dance and theatre companies in Hungary. Their pieces often raise awareness about burning social issues. Lena Megyeri met up with artistic director Réka Szabó and founder member Dániel Szász to reflect on the idea of sustainability – particularly in relation to their street performance You trash! – Big cleaning in the big outdoors, first performed in 2008 and revived in 2017. Filled with humour and melancholy, it drew attention not only to the ongoing global crisis of waste, but also to the trashed lives of people no longer needed by society.

How did You Trash! originally come about?

Réka Szabó: One of the theatres in Budapest commissioned five companies to create pieces in connection with eco sustainability. Many members of The Symptoms feel a deep connection to nature and the environment, and we watch with great concern what’s happening to the earth right now. After we had started rehearsals, the theatre backed out of the production – then I decided to do it on our own. We premiered in Moscow Square [since 2011, Széll Kálmán Square], which I think was probably the best location in the history of the show.

You weren’t only interested in material waste and pollution, but also in trashed human lives.

RSZ: It’s very interesting to see what a certain society considers waste – how they use things and how they get rid of them when they are of no use anymore. I think that today’s society handles things and people very similarly: their worth depends on what you can suck out of them, and when there’s nothing left to suck out, they are simply thrown away.

Dániel Szász: There’s a scene at the end of the performance, where István Gőz [a senior company member] is reaching out from under a pile of trash. The meaning of this is not only that we are covered by waste, but that an elderly person gets buried under waste and becomes waste himself. It was Réka’s idea that elderly people, who are associated with being worn out, are handled by society like waste – it is an unsettling, raw and sad thought. We ourselves were raised to respect elderly people and perhaps people are still raised like that today. But you don’t really see that in society any more.

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The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest
The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest. Photo © Csaba Mészáros

What were the reactions to the piece back then?

DSZ: After our first performance there was a fantastic immediate response: some members of the audience grabbed brooms and helped us clean our ‘props’, our waste, as we make a lot of mess during the show.

RSZ: I have an even more powerful memory from the first revival performance at Móricz Zsigmond Square. There were two homeless people who genuinely scared us in the beginning. There is a scene where the performers interact with the audience with the help of dustbins, and these homeless people had a very aggressive and disparaging attitude towards what was happening. Then after the performance, they came up to us with tears in their eyes and apologized for their behaviour. They were so touched and surprised by what they experienced.

In a theatre, the audience is already filtered, and there’s a certain agreement between the performers and the spectators. But these rules don’t exist in the street. It’s not your usual audience that shows up for a 20–25 minute street performance – you have to be able to grab the attention of passers-by who are constantly running somewhere. In Hungary, street performance is appreciated very differently from a theatre show, while it’s also part of our artistic work. When we took You trash! to Germany, we were surprised by how different their attitude was – we felt that they considered it an important piece of art.

Why did you revive the work in 2017?

RSZ: The French Institute in Hungary wanted us to perform the piece at their conference on eco sustainability. At first we said no, as the original dancers weren’t available, but they asked us again next year. The Café Budapest Festival was interested as well, so we decided to go along. I had other commitments at the time, so Dániel was commissioned to rethink the piece, together with director and choreographer Máté Czakó.

DSZ: The basic philosophical background of the performance remained unchanged, but we created a few new scenes and a new musical atmosphere. I think that the company needs this kind of performance, as it is easy to take to festivals. Sometimes there is no possibility or money to travel with our theatre shows.

Ten years on, what do you think has changed about both eco sustainability and ‘human waste’?

RSZ: I think it’s getting worse and worse. There’s a scene in the piece where the space is divided into four parts. There’s a performer in each part, and they are all trying to sweep their mess into each other’s parts. In my opinion this is exactly what’s happening in the real world as well: we are trying to get rid of our mess, and we are always sweeping it to the parts of the poor, the oppressed and the less developed – when in fact we should join forces and stop producing so much mess.

DSZ: It is interesting to see that the performance had a currency back in 2008 and it has a currency now, while a lot of things have changed. For example, selective waste collection was not very prevalent in Hungary in 2008, while it is fairly prevalent today. But progress is very slow, and economic destruction much faster.

RSZ: There’s nothing in today’s society that forces us to restrict our consumption It is not considered a merit, but I think it is key to humanity’s future.

DSZ: As for the human side of things, in our new piece [The Symptoms reality in the basement] we are trying to deal with the fact that we are starting to feel worn out ourselves.

Is this a sense of burnout or something imposed on you by society?

RSZ: We’ve been talking about these things for the past 3 months and we don’t have a definite answer, but it’s a bit of both. The current situation of the performing arts scene in Hungary is exposing us to a lot of difficulties. But it’s not only us – for example, the value of academics is also questioned. The very values that we built our work on – tolerance, the importance of debate, democratic values, intellect, creativity, the possibility of progress based on talent – are questioned.

In the constant struggle for survival we are forced to work at a pace that burns us out. The sustainability of the artist’s work is an important topic as well. Emerging artists have a lot of opportunities: residencies, conferences, scholarships, meetings, but there should be opportunities for artist in later periods of their careers as well, when they need to recharge. Looking around our generation I see a lot of artists being tired, in a bad condition. In Western Europe, academics have the institution of the sabbatical that they can use to recharge. I think it comes from the recognition that scientific and artistic work cannot be pursued 24/7 for years on end. But this point of view is completely absent in Hungary.

The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest
The Symptoms’ 2017 revival of You Trash! in Budapest. Photo © Csaba Mészáros
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Budapest, Hungary
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