a collaborative creation 

Dinnyeköztársaság (Watermelon Republic)

For our village play in Hungary we decide to return to a place we know—to the village of Nagykamarás and the town of Medgyesegyháza, ‘watermelon capitals’ of Southeast Hungary, where we have worked together with the farmer János Sallai on Antje’s long-term project I like being a farmer and I would like to stay one in 2017. We revive old contacts in the still pandemic times of early May 2021, deliberating whether to meet outdoors or inside, with or without mask. Despite the circumstances, everyone is happy to see us and to catch up after all these years.

The village play takes its start where our previous collaboration ended: in the closing scene of the farmer’s film we made with János, he drives home from the Budapest wholesale market in the middle of the night—after hardly selling any melon—and talks about how small-scale farmers will not survive, unless they start cooperating. Local farmers should create sales cooperatives to strengthen their positions, he claims. This proposal is the first building block of our village play: we re-start our conversation by asking János how he envisions this cooperative. Farmers should join forces with local municipalities, he explains, together they could set up a stand at the wholesale market and sell their melon collectively, without traders as middlemen. The idea of a shared market stand not only becomes one of our storylines, we also give it shape as the scenography of our village play.

We re-connect with Gábor and Tündi (János’ sister), also melon farmers, who have recently started specialising on smaller-sized watermelons for the German market. Their 13-year old daughter Viki tells us about her newfound passion for autocross racing and Tündi shares how participating in these races has brought new friendships and a close-knit community for the whole family. We accompany them to a race and start thinking about different ways of combining melon farming and autocross racing in the village play.

With Zsuzsa we sip coffee in her hair salon and talk in conspiratorial tones in the pine grove behind her old family home. As a young woman she used to sell melons at the fruit and vegetable market in Szeged. She tells us about her clients, seamlessly interweaving her experiences as a hairdresser with running a melon stand, and punctuating each story with her signature laughter. We decide to follow suit in the village play: Zsuzsa plays her multi-faceted self, reminiscing about her times at the market, while doing the hair of our collaborator Orsolya, who she transforms into a younger version of herself with the assistance of her daughter Anita.

Zsuzsa’s stories also inspire us to create an apron with deep pockets and a special watermelon design. This launches us on a search for local embroiderers—however, we quickly learn that despite boasting a sizeable embroidery group a few decades ago, Nagykamarás now lacks people with such skills and expertise. We meet Piroska who offers to give us the yarn she has, but she can no longer embroider due to the soreness of her hands. Our search ends in Battonya, a nearby town where we find an active group who agree to take on the making of the apron collectively. They inspect the design Antje has made, we choose colours, decide on stitching styles, and then one of themselves says cheerfully: “It’ll be beautiful.”

Our interest in village history brings us to István, a former school principal and history teacher, who is working on a book about the local history of Nagykamarás. He shares with us what his research has revealed about the happiest times of Nagykamarás and how he came across a written document of the first melon in the archives. István agrees to participate in the village play, always reminding us that he is not an actor.

Through István we get to know Aladár, the son of Teca, István’s friend, in whose garden he always invites us to meet. Aladár is a collector who is passionate about LPs and books. When showing us his collection, he surprises us with a short poem he had jotted on a small piece of paper. One of the two thousand he has written, he adds. We are moved by his unadorned, sincere words—his contribution becomes the closing scene of the village play.

Not all encounters lead to collaborations. Sometimes we have to look for other solutions. An angry opinion shared with us anonymously becomes a song sang by a performer. Snapshots of seasonal work on the fields become a calendar. We negotiate terms of participation, sitting for long hours around kitchen tables. There is hesitation between the desire for visibility and the exposure it entails. Some people are in more vulnerable positions than others. We spend a lot of time listening.

We premiere Watermelon Republic in Szeged, at the city’s main fruit and vegetable market on Mars Square—where Zsuzsa had sold melons years ago. An ideal setting for a village play that moves between rural and urban situations, unpacking everyday realities. Also for our collaborators it is attractive to share their stories in Szeged; it is the regional capital they are most connected to. We withstand the heat of the early August days and the response of the audience is enthusiastic.

After the performance in Szeged we start working with Máté on the film, combining the efforts of the whole artistic team to view the many hours of footage Máté had made. Antje selects the strongest images, while Katalin and Orsolya work on the narrative and build the script. We convene for several sessions of collective editing. The film is a companion work to the performance; it introduces us to many people who contributed to the village play, but did not appear on stage. We are excited to share it at our film premiere in Nagykamarás that we organize together with the cultural house in November 2021. We invite locals to a ‘village assembly on the future’: after the screening we set the stage for a collective discussion, followed by a celebration to thank all our collaborators.


Dinnyeköztársaság (Watermelon Republic)

Nagykamarás, Medgyesegyháza, Szeged (HU)

Public events:
6-7 August 2021, Watermelon Republic (performance premiere), Thealter International Theatre Festival, Szeged (HU)
20 November 2021, Village Assembly On The Future, Nagykamarás (HU)
17 July 2022, Watermelon Republic (film premiere), Ceau, Cinema! Festival, Timişoara (RO)

Artistic collaboration:
Orsolya Török-Illyés (actress, co-creation), Máté Kőrösi (film)

By and with István Fehér, Zsuzsa Nagy, Anita Nagy, János Sallai, Tünde Sallai, Gábor Tóth, Viktória Tóth, Aranyszál / Golden Thread embroidery group, Tímea Frank, Aladár Gulyás, Edit Győri and family, Piroska Szakál

Project assistant: Zsófia Varjasi-Kispéter
Technical support: Attila Varga-Bogdanov

Special thanks:
Mercédesz Csordás / Nagykamarás Cultural Centre, Katalin Kiss and Attila Rácz / Szeged Market, Zoltán Lengyel / Grand Café Szeged, Márta Palkó, Magdolna Puskás, Zsuzsanna Simon, Thomas Sprenger, Irén Vámos

Supported by: Goethe Institute – International Coproduction Fund, Allianz Cultural Foundation
Partners: MASZK Association / THEALTER International Theater Festival Szeged, Grand Café Szeged, Szegedi Városkép és Piac Kft (Szeged Cityscape and Market Ltd)

© Image Performance: thealterphoto2021
© Image Group: Jana

Dinnyeköztársaság (República sandía)


Dinnyeköztársaság (Wassermelonenrepublik)





5.3.2023 – 3.9.2023
Exhibition | Exposición | Ausstellung | Kiállítás


Fundación Luis Seoane, A Coruña, Galicia