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History of the University

A brief history of the University of Theatre and Film Arts from the early days to the present.

The first institutional actor training in Hungary began on January 2, 1865, when the School of Acting opened its gates. Its residence was in a 3-bedroom 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 acting students and 37 opera students. The candidates were first admitted to a 6-8 week trial period after which the teachers decided who was fit to continue on with their studies and who was not. Female and male students attended their lectures separately.

The first thirty years of actor training were marked by 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, it was relocated in 1875 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 was replaced by the Academy of Music for the complete training of opera singers. By 1905, the Academy of Drama found a permanent home for teaching and weekly student performances in Rákóczi út, where it still remains today.
During the 1920s and 1930s the Academy's image was shaped by the most influential theatre director of the time, Sándor Hevesi. His style of actor training placed emphasis on unaffectedness, empathy, the simultaneous presence of intellect and passion, and a wide variety of form. In 1929, Hevesi also introduced a two-year directing course.
Following World War II, key figure of the left-wing Hungarian avant-garde Ferenc Hont commissioned to revamp the school’s educational structure to transform the institution into a college. Hont was responsible for a large-scale concept that led to the introduction of new programs to the school’s curriculum including stage directing, film directing, cinematography, choreography, dramaturgy and dramatic theory. With the help of a talent scout, dozens of young people from the peasant and working classes were admitted into the newly expanded academy. These students completed their secondary school education in parallel with their acting and directing studies. On January 1, 1948, the institute was given the title: College of Theatre and Film.
In 1949, following the establishment of one-party communism, Ferenc Hont was removed from his position. The Stanislavski Method became the basis of the training in all departments, replacing many of the theoretical subjects with ideological ones. At the same time, some outstanding teachers began teaching at the college.
It was also at this time that some outstanding teachers began at the college. Géza Radványi taught film directing while playwright Gyula Háy taught dramaturgy. György Illés, teaching for almost 50 years, instructed internationally acclaimed artists whose work later became the hallmark for the Hungarian school of cinematography. Other distinguished faculty members included the National Theatre’s renowned director, Endre Gellért, as well as its artistic director, Tamás Major.
In 1958, the school’s biggest dream came true when opened their very own theatre, which they named after the legendary teacher of the 30s, Árpád Ódry. The film students attended classes in a palace and worked in a studio that was formerly a chapel.
In the 60s and 70s, 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 some new departments were introduced, such as dramatic theory, television directing and cinematography. 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.
From 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 began offering drama classes to secondary school students in the hopes of cultivating the next generation of acting candidates. After a break of many years, Várkonyi helped restart dramaturg education in 1979.
The change of regime from 1989-90 was followed by the development and introduction of college reforms. The most spectacular results of these appeared in the film training. New courses were introduced 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 merging of the acting and directing departments created the Department of Theory of Art which focused on training drama educators instead of the previous ideological courses.

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, in an attempt to prove their abilities and eligibility.

When Péter Huszti became Rector of the College, the international biannual cinematography workshop came about, which impacted the reach of the College’s international relations significantly. Between 1995 and 1999, the College continued to advance rapidly: puppeteer training began, Sándor Simó developed an educational reform concerning digital technologies for film students, and the Doctoral School started its work in the fields of theatre and cinema.

On January 1st, 2000, the institution was given the title of University.

One of the most unique features of the University is that all members of the academic staff are active artists. They are outstanding figures 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.

Today, the University of Theatre and Film Arts is one of Europe’s most versatile institutions, providing quality education of the highest standards. It is truly one of a 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 to create conditions and programs that favor quality above all else and achieve the highest possible standards.

Student works have often received and continue to receive awards at festivals around the globe. 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 the University of Theatre and Film Arts.

To this day, the University continues to grow in quality and appeal. We value a centered approach even when market relations appear in the artistic life and education. The number of applicants also continues to grow year after year, as we receive 20 times more applications than we can accept. In addition, the number of those with preliminary training has increased and with it, the number of students studying for their second degrees, as well.

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.


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