Pécs-based actress and leader of the English-language theater for foreign university students, Judit Fekete explains, how these two things both have an effect on her life.
First of all what were the biggest milestones in your life?
I was born and raised in Pécs and while I was always into theater and film I barely thought I should seriously pursue it professionally. Then - while attending the University of Law in Pécs - I got involved with the university theater group, JESZ and my love for performing emerged again, so much so that I applied to the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest. I didn’t get in but I got the „acting bug” so I applied to take a year off and go to the US on a scholarship. Well, that year got extended and I ended up earning a BA in Acting from Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah, GA. Then I worked in the Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina area in various films, short films, commercials and started working on my demo reel – which is kind of like a business card for an actor in the States - but I felt I didn’t know enough so I applied to the prestigious The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and – to my great surprise – I got accepted so I pursued my MA in Acting for Screen there. Then after 2 years in London I thought I should move to Los Angeles, since I just studied acting for film techniques. There I appeared in various commercials, short and feature films but the vibe of the city didn’t suit me in the long run so in 2011, I returned to Hungary where I appeared in Hungarian and international television series and feature films and I also got involved in improvisational theater and started working as a co-trainer at a communication company. This is where I realized how interested I am in training and using theater techniques to improve communication skills. The next step was applying to the Doctorate Program to pursue and study social skills techniques for mentally disabled patients. So I moved back to Pécs in 2016 to study that and – with close cooperation with the University Theater of Pécs, JESZ - I started an English-speaking acting „department” of JESZ specifically for non-Hungarian students in Pécs. This is where I am now. I diverted a bit from the original acting track, but now I feel I get to combine and pursue all my interests simultaneously.
How does one have to imagine your work at JESZ?
I don't actually work for JESZ. I am a full-time PhD student working on my research and in my extra time I work with my English-speaking team. The casting process ended in April so we spent most of May training, doing acting exercises, learning techniques, getting to know each other and so on. JESZ has been kind enough to provide us with rehearsal space and admin support and I am hoping to be able to put up a new show with the team in the fall semester, a play I will be directing. It is still a small group, but I am planning on expanding it so I will probably hold auditions yearly in order for us to grow slowly but surely.
What exactly do you study now? What are the main differences between studying in Hungary and abroad (in the US for example)?
My research topic contains social communication, social skills trainings, the idea of theory of mind and mentalization which has incredibly rich and fascinating research literature. I would say overall where these mental illness trainings link and overlap with communication trainings using theatrical tools.
To be honest I can only compare my two-year law school years and another one-year psychology studies in Hungary with the four-year BA program in the US where I majored in theater - so it’s a very subjective and narrow scope. Overall I could say that the biggest difference is in the size of the classes: in the States we had small seminars where everyone had a face and a name whereas in my Hungarian university experiences I was just another headcount sitting in a huge auditorium. Also because I studied performing arts, I had more practical classes where we actually had to get up and try things out, voice our opinions, and express in some sort of way with a two-way interaction between us and our teachers. But we have to keep in mind that different fields require different teaching approaches so what works for acting students isn’t necessarily appropriate for law or psychology students. When I studied in London, interestingly their approach was a mix of both: practical classes intertwined with some straight, one-way methods. Coming from Europe, the American style was always a bit too liberal for me, so I flourished in the British teaching system. I also got very lucky studying at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama so I cherished every minute of it. Attending the same school as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Lawrence Olivier, and Carrie Fisher gave me the feeling of pride and a sense of belonging, not to mention, that when I was an MA student, Kit Harington from Game of Thrones was finishing his BA there.
That sounds really uplifting. If you had to highlight one or two achievements in your life, that you are the proudest of, what would they be? You had a role in the widely-known Hungarian soap opera "Barátok Közt", maybe that?
I can only think in terms of things I am proud of: I am proud of getting accepted to the MA program in London as 12 people were picked from applicants from all over the world. That I am proud of.
I am proud of getting into this doctorate program and I also consider myself lucky for getting the chance to work in various international series and films in the past 5 years. Though they were smaller parts but some of them were quite challenging. “Barátok közt” was fun and I was grateful to get screen time after having just moved back to Hungary and nobody knew me, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a highlight of my career.
I guess becoming an expert in my field of study, doing trainings, making the English student theater program flourish both in the long and the short run.
I am very dedicated toward building this English theater for students as I believe this is somewhat of a "niche" here in Pécs. Of course the city is trying to catch up in terms of providing enough English-language channels in entertainment so my goal is simply to add to this. I hope that more and more foreign students decide to participate or just come and see our shows.
For those interested:
Janus Egyetemi Színház
Zsolnay Cultural Quarter
7616 Pécs, Zsolnay Vilmos u. 16.
Edit Hazenauer, UnivPécs International