The first institutional actor training in Hungary began on the 2nd January 1865, when the School of Acting opened its gates. Its residence was in the three rooms of an apartment in a residential block near the National Theatre in Pest.
At the time, the National Theatre produced opera as well as theatre performances, thus the School had a double duty to fulfill: to train opera singers and dramatic actors, who are well educated both in theory and practice. In its first year of operation the School had 28 actor and 37 opera singer students. Initially the candidates were admitted to a six-to-eight week probation period, and it was only on the completion of this that the teachers decided whether they were fit to continue with their studies. Female and male students attended their lectures separately.
The first thirty years of actor training were a hallmark of Ede Paulay, the highly acclaimed director and manager of the National Theatre. It was during his teaching career that the School's curriculum and educational objectives were established. The School quickly grew out of its three-room residence and following several moves, in 1875 it was relocated to a larger and more comfortable space in a residential block belonging to the National Theatre. However, the public exam performances and the shows that were running during the academic year were still held either at the National Theatre or at the Várszínház.
In 1893 the National Royal Hungarian Academy of Music and Drama split up, and the Academy of Music took over the complete training of opera singers. It was in 1905 that the Academy of Drama could finally move into a permanent home, where the weekly student performances could also be held. It was the same building in Rákóczi út, where the training is still taking place today.
During the 1920s and 1930s the Academy's image was shaped by the most influential theatre director of the time, Sándor Hevesi. In actor training they laid the emphasis on unaffectedness, empathy, the simultaneous presence of intellect and passion, and a wide variety of form. In 1929 Hevesi introduced a two-year directing course.
Following WW2 it was Ferenc Hont, the key figure of the left-wing Hungarian avant-garde between the two world wars, who was commissioned to create the conditions for education and prepare the institute for its ... into college. Hont prepared a large-scale concept, as a result of which, besides the actor training, they began the training of stage directors, film directors, cinematographers, choreographers, dramaturgs and experts of drama theory. As a result of a widespread talent scout they enrolled dozens of young people from the poor peasant and working classes. These students completed their secondary school education in parallel with their acting-directing studies. On the 1st January 1948 the institute was given the title: College of Theatre and Film.
In 1949, following the establishment of the one-party communism, Ferenc Hont was removed from his post. The Stanislavski Method became the basis of the training in all departments and some of the theoretical subjects were replaced by ideological ones. At the same time some outstanding teachers began to teach at the college.
It was Géza Radványi, who started the training of film directors and György Illés, who, for almost fifty years, taught those internationally acclaimed artists, whose work became the hallmark for the Hungarian school of cinematography. The acting students at the time were taught by Endre Gellért, the renowned director of the National Theatre. While the directing students were taught by Tamás Major, artistic director of the National Theatre and playwright, Gyula Háy taught the dramaturg classes.
In 1958 they opened a theatre named after the legendary teacher of the 30s, Árpád Ódry. With this a hundred-year-old dream came true, the theatre department finally had its very own theatre. Film students were working in a studio, which used to be a chapel and their classes were held in a palace.
It was during the sixties and seventies that a new generation of Hungarian filmmakers began their career, whose members laid down the foundations for the success of Hungarian cinema and who had the opportunity to learn from such masters as Károly Makk, Félix Máriássy or János Herskó.
During Kálmán Nádasdy’s directorship they introduced some new departments, such as drama theory, television director and cinematographer. It was his personality that integrated an academic staff consisting of the most outstanding theatre directors of the time: Zoltán Várkonyi, Tamás Major, Ottó Ádám, László Vámos, Géza Pártos, to name a few.
Between 1974-79 Zoltán Várkonyi, director of the Vígszínház, was the elected rector of the Academy. He established the technical basis for educating television professionals and it was at his initiation that they introduced secondary school drama classes to provide the next generation of acting candidates. Following a break of many years, it was him who prepared the 1979 restart of dramaturg education.
The change of regime in 1989-90 was followed by the development and introduction of college reforms. The most spectacular results of these appeared in the film training. They started new courses for producers, television program editors-reporters and TV presenters; they introduced the two-level training and the common, complex form of training for directors, cinematographers, editors and producers. The acting and directing departments were merged, they created the department of theory of art, ideological courses were cancelled and they began to train drama educators. In 1994 the admissions procedure changed. In the third round of entrance exams the candidates spend one week working together, led by their future head of class, thus proving their abilities. Following this it is easier to make decisions about their eligibility.
It was during the time, when Péter Huszti was Rector of the College that the international biannual cinematography workshop became regular, event and the College’s international relations were extended. Puppeteer training began in 1995, in 1996 the educational reform utilizing digital technologies for the film students began (developed by Sándor Simó), and in 1997 the Doctoral School started its work in the field of theatre, and in 1999 in the field of cinema.
On the 1st of January 2000 the institution was given the title of University.
The continuation connecting generations secures the utilization of the achievements of the predecessors and the continuous renewal of education to meet the requirements of the time. One of the most unique features of the University is that all members of the academic staff are active artists. They’re outstanding personalities of Hungarian theatre, film and television, passing on the essence of their professional experiences to the students. They closely connect the University to the circulation of artistic life.
The University of Theatre and Film Arts is one of its kind in Hungary. It is the only institution that gives BA and MA degrees to the future creative artists of theatre, film and television. Thus it strives at creating conditions and programs that favor quality above all else and can secure the highest possible standards.
Exam works by students often receive awards at international festivals. The most important indicator of the achievements is that the graduates of the University belong in the frontline of their artistic fields. The majority of nationally and internationally awarded theatre, film and television professionals received their education at this University.
Today, the University of Theatre and Film Arts is one of Europe’s most versatile institutions, providing quality education of the highest standards.
The University has been able to keep its appeal and its quality and value centered approach even at the time when market relations have appeared in the artistic life and education as well. The number of applicants hasn’t dropped. Year after year we get 20 times more applications than we can accept. The number of those with preliminary training has also increased and with it the number of paying students studying for their second degrees.
We shall use the support in the framework of the project titled “Knowledge Depot of the University of Theatre and Film Arts – User-friendly Expansion in the Library of the University of Theatre and Film Arts”. The project is realised with the support of the European Union and the co-financing of the European Social Fund.