The life of St Ignatius sung and danced – a musical? Although most people think of him as a rather dry character whose story would not even offer a love story worth mentioning, the Hungarian Jesuits did not think it as absurd to have the first Ignatius musical created. They enlisted the two leading Hungarian authors, playwright David Agoston Toth, and composer Marton Vizy to create a musical about the founder of the Society of Jesus. The two authors proved to be the perfect pair: devout Christian men of deep faith, and famous: another musical of theirs has been filling one of the most prominent theatres in the Hungarian capital for over ten years. The two authors called the creation of the musical an eighteen-month long prayer with the Jesuit saint: “The creative process had been like doing the Spiritual Exercises, it was an intense and deep spiritual journey for both of us.”
The Magis Choir – about 120 of the higher-grade students of the JEZSU high school – presented the brand-new musical to the public as one of the closing events of the Saint Ignatius Year to honour the 500th anniversary of the conversion, and 400th anniversary of canonization of author of the Spiritual Exercises, by which Ignatius of Loyola has become the spiritual father for generations and generations of believers over the centuries.
Mrs. Klara Velkey, leader of the choir directed the play. She with a dozen JEZSU alumni helped the 120 choir members to put it on stage. She believes in allowing creativity flow as the text and notes are being transferred from the paper to a living performance on stage. “The Magis Choir is carrying on the tradition of the Jesuit school-drama in the 21st century. We perform a new musical almost every year. It is a mission: this complex genre – music, songs and dance – seems to be the most effective medium to touch the hearts, minds and spirit of the audience, to convey the message of God’s everlasting love for us.”
The students worked in 11 small groups or workshops – which is not a traditional way of putting a play on stage. Everyone was free to choose a workshop according to what they felt closest to them or their life situation, and this is how it was possible that not only the lead characters, but all 120 actors had important and meaningful roles in the play. Soldiers, the First Jesuits, angels, demons, citizens of Rome or Paris, Inigo’s friends, Dominican inquisitors all created and formed their own scenes, moves, dances, made their own outfits and props. It was not only a great responsibility, but also a space of growth: “The students learn and practice important life skills as they listen to one another, cooperate, communicate their ideas, try to be both gentle and assertive, and strengthen important character traits like creativity, tolerance, discipline and patience without even noticing it,” explained Mrs Velkey. She added that the workshop method is that it is extremely efficient and fast.
There is no screening, the Magis Choir is not a select club of for special talents: “We have no casting or entry audition, everyone can be a member of the Magis Choir and part of the play if they agree to come to the singing practice and occasions where the Choir sings. The choir not only offers a yearly musical to the audience, but it also serves in the weekly school assemblies, holy mass, special days, city events and church services.”
The first time anyone can see the whole play together is the first public(!) rehearsal, in front of an audience of younger JEZSU students and teachers. “From that day the director, the workshop leaders are able to start fine-tuning the performance, and the technicians – also JEZSU students with the leadership of an alumnus – can see where to make some changes, more or less light, volume, smoke, where to change a colour, etc.”
Both the alumni and the present members believe the choir is not only great fun, but also a place of community building. “During the workshops, rehearsals and performances, on the national and international tours a very strong community is being formed, and as an alumnus I already know, it has been a sustaining, inspirational and life-nourishing power for me ever since.”
Many students admit that being members of the choir have helped them to choose their vocation. Seminarists come back to the Alma Mater saying, “Singing in the Choir and making the JEZSU plays strengthened my decision to become a priest.”
The previous JEZSU musicals have always been performed in Miskolc, (the hometown of the school), Budapest, (the Hungarian capital), and several other locations around Hungary, Transylvania (Romaina), and other Hungarian speaking parts of the neighbouring countries. Domonkos Kajtor SJ, the young magister coordinating and managing the creation process of the musical explains that the Hungarian Jesuits believe the new Jesuit musical will reach not only the friends and supporters of the school and the Jesuits but will touch even wider audiences.
“We foresee an organic development: we start as a high-school musical, but our hope is that Ignatius will move on to a prominent theatre company in the capital, and there are already plans to translate it into English so that its message can reach the widest international audiences as well.”
Photos: Peter Pasztor