The Love of the Stage

I love performing on stage. Not just the moment of performance, but everything surrounding it: the rehearsals, the working out of details, the practice at home, the dress rehearsal, the backstage, the different stages of waiting on the day of the performance itself, the performance itself. I love even those times when I think I don’t want to do it, when I can’t wait for it to be over, because that’s just one of the many moods along the way. I love the tension of performance, the relaxation too, the things that come out in the moment. This week I had the great joy of playing cello in the performance of Varga’s drama club (the Varga Diákszínpad) in the gala Ádámok és Évák show, which took place at Szolnok’s big theatre house, the Szigligeti Színház, and featured groups from many schools. This year’s theme was the poet Sándor Petőfi; the performances drew on his poetry and themes. Ours centered around the theme of love. The other musician was the Varga student Brigitta Szabados, who played with me in the Shakespeare festival too.

It was the drama teacher, my colleague Zsuzsanna Kovácsné Boross, who invited me to be part of this. I had seen the Ádámok és Évák performances several times before and was excited to be in one. This meant many rehearsals close to the last minute (since they had put so much into the Shakespeare festival and now had to switch gears rather quickly). Brigi and I figured out the music between us; instead of playing as a duo, as we did in the Shakespeare performance, we traded back and forth. My parts were tiny—a few seconds at a time—but like the Dude’s rug in The Big Lebowski, they helped tie everything together.

Rehearsals and rehearsals: at the Verseghy Library, in the Drama room at Varga, and then at the Szigligeti Theatre, where the performance was to be. The piece, which told a story of the thrills, bitter disappointments, and ultimate promise of love, wove poetry, movement, and ingenious touches together. Streamers, roses, dances, punctuation of words and feet.

The day came. The final dress rehearsal. Then the waiting backstage, the actors getting ready, putting their makeup on. Announcements coming through the speakers, telling this group, then that group, to get ready. Then our turn came to get ready, then to go down near the stage. Another long wait. Then, at last, the stage. The rows and rows of faces in the audience, down below and up in the balcony.

The whole thing swam by, but it looked lovely out of the corner of my eye. I hit what I thought was a sour note toward the end (not out of tune, but slightly dry and squeaky), and felt bad about it, but it seems no one noticed, and in a recording I later heard, that note actually sounds fittingly fragile. It’s in the background, behind the two lovers who are coming together.

There will always be mistakes in performances—but, while no one wants to mess up, the tiny slips here and there can even give something to the show, if the performer stays focused and goes beyond them. The show was beautiful. Afterwards a student told me that he appreciated how I kept on going despite the mistakes. I thought he was referring to my mistakes, but no, he meant his own—and I hadn’t even noticed them.

After all the performances, there was an intermission, and then we all reassembled to hear the jury’s decisions. István Sasvári (in the red shirt, above and upper left corner below) won the award for male lead, and Varga Milla (who played opposite him) won a special prize. Other performances and schools won prizes as well. The prize for best overall performance was carried off by the Tiszaparti Roman Catholic school—but even at the level of awards, the Varga group held its own. Never mind that that’s just one level.

For a little while, I was still worrying: had I let them down with that sour note? But no, they hadn’t even noticed it; what’s more, it was accompaniment, and brief accompaniment at that. And they were so happy to have the cello and flute in their performance and to have pulled this off so well, with so much spirit and grace.

Today the Drama Club had a farewell celebration for its graduating seniors: gifts, refreshments, games, and a wonderful tradition of leaving handprints on the wall. I will leave off with that. We will be receiving a high-quality video of the performance; if it’s something that I can share here, I will add an update later.

Photo credits: The top photo was originally posted by Ferenc Szalay, the mayor of Szolnok. The other two I took.

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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