KAA Christmas Festival: A Christmas Miracle
Christmas miracles do happen. And they happen when one least expects them.
Knots of students and teachers hanging around in the foyer of A4 nultý priestor in SNP Square shortly before 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, 2011, didn’t seem to suspect that they were about to witness a miracle unfold right before their eyes. Despite that, one could sense that the air was full of expectation.
No wonder. The venue that normally hosts alternative cultural productions (or the past tense would be more appropriate here as A4 nultý priestor will probably have to move as a result of the National Cultural Centre’s shady tender) was to play host to the KAA Christmas Festival, a historically first Christmas party organized by the students of the Department of British and American Studies at Comenius University’s Faculty of Arts and become a place with the highest concentration of talent in the city.
A similar event had never taken place at the department. There were some attempts about twenty years ago, as Ivan Lacko said, but they wouldn’t have matched up in size. The turnout really took everybody by surprise. There is rarely an occasion for which 150 students and teachers would assemble. And “the fact that students have prepared everything on their own—and that they came up with the idea by themselves,” added Mr. Lacko, “that’s simply unbelievable.”
The Christmas festival opened with The Potman Spoke Sooth, David Fulk’s theatrical spoof on Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, produced by a group of the department’s students under the director’s baton of Zdenko Tarasovič. Although the play was originally written for a predominantly male cast, all the parts were taken by female students (no surprise, at a women-dominated faculty). Seeing some of the most charming girls at the department clothed like quintessential cardigan-wearing English gentlemen alone provoked some chuckles from the assembled audience, but the nonchalance with which Detective Sergeant Gallagher a.k.a. Silvia Sekáčová had removed her troublesome false moustache put them in stitches. The ice was broken and a connection between the performers and the audience was established. Affectionate laughter rippled through them whenever the cast cleverly handled an odd moment or delivered one of the scripted jokes. As the play progressed and its characters engaged in a zany, farcical game of murders, accusations and arrests, the laughs became more frequent, richer and more spontaneous. All the cast were comedy naturals. They were having fun and the audience clearly enjoyed it. When the actresses finally stepped out of the play in a Pirandello manner, the whole theatre broke into a prolonged and well-deserved round of applause that took quite a while to subside.
“I expected a standing ovation,” said the director, but despite the fact that the audience didn’t grant his ensemble one, he wasn’t disappointed by their response. The applause was long enough to make him very proud of the job “his” girls had done.
The actresses overflowed with happiness at the success too. “I cannot even find the right words to express how happy I am,” said Gabriela Vaššová. The theatre group had taken quite a long time to choose the play. They hadn’t done so until the end of October, so they’d had only about fifty days to memorize their lines and rehearse the show. The success was thus not guaranteed. Gabriela admitted that they weren’t sure whether they would manage to prepare everything by 15 December. “The dress rehearsal didn’t go as planned,” said Andrea Sihelská. “But we told ourselves that things would be fine no matter what. We’d play things by ear and people would root for us just because there hadn’t been anything like this before. Even if there was a slip-up, it would be alright.” And it was.
The theatre spectators were full of praise using attributes such as “great”, “excellent”, “first-class”, “fantastic” and “hilarious”. Ľuboš Dudík found the performance highly original. “I had no idea that there were so many good actresses among us,” he said. Marián Gazdík appreciated the choice of the play. “It kept surprising me. I had expected a simple detective story, but it was more like Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I didn’t know where I stood all the time.” Peter Barrer praised the actresses for their naturalness and unaffected acting style. As a person from Down Under, he particularly revelled in the play’s mocking portrayal of the British upper class.
The evening then continued with students and teachers mingling in the foyer and several music numbers. Again, students from the department provided most of the entertainment. Adam Hudec introduced his jazz band Galéria Formácia, Andrea Kyslanová moved the audience singing to an acoustic guitar played by Kristián Sommer, and the multi-talented Silvia Sekáčová put on a short cabaret show.
The abundance of talent on stage nearly brought tears to my eyes. Watching our students grow and mature within a couple of minutes was as amazing as watching buds open up and blossom into beautiful flowers. And I wasn’t the only one who was moved. I glimpsed a glint of emotion in the eyes of my male colleagues too.
The highlight of the night was the appearance of Jeffrey Kirk, a very musical guitar player and singer from Idaho, USA, who brought the audience to a boil again. His original cover versions of famous songs made some of the audience dance and earned him a standing ovation. “I was surprised from the response we got from the audience,” he said, not hiding satisfaction on his face. “More than I expected. I had so much fun playing here. We want to do it again if possible!”
The party was wrapped up shortly before midnight with everyone wishing it would continue at least for another two or three hours. Maybe students would have enjoyed some more time to talk to their university friends and maybe the ice between them and their teachers would have cracked up a bit more or even melted.
The KAA Christmas Festival proved there is demand for more opportunities to meet and communicate to one another outside school. “It’s what university life should be like,” said Ivan Lacko. Peter Barrer, who grew up and studied in a different education system, nodded his head. “I think that a proper university is about students engaging in the things they enjoy studying outside of studies,” he said. “Study shouldn’t be just about cramming for your exams and learning about stuff which you probably won’t need to know in the future, but doing something you enjoy but using the language—that’s really important.”
Students overflowed with superlatives of praise. Some of them had been at university for four or five years and they hadn’t had a similar experience yet. “It was in a sense magical,” said Gabriela Vaššová. “I couldn’t believe that it all really happened when I woke up the next day.” Zuzana Hlubinová said the party was “one of the most amazing events this year” and it felt like a community finally. “I’m very satisfied to have seen most members of the department here,” she concluded.
Unfortunately, students were missing the presence of some teachers. “They promised they would come, and they didn’t,” said Klára Klimčíková. “Dr. Borošová, Dr. Ambrus, Ms. Steyne... I’m very disappointed.”
Students also expected someone from the department to make a short speech wishing everybody present a merry Christmas. I had a chance to say something, but I was too dumbfounded by being called to the stage and being thanked for something I hadn’t contributed to. My introverted—and moved—me came alive in the spotlight and rushed to find a hideaway from all the undeserved applause and attention.
As I was lying in bed and thinking about everything that had happened that night, my eyes filled with tears. They were tears of joy at finding out that miracles really exist. Maybe I’ll live up to see this institution turn into a university at which I always wanted to study as a student.
Miracles really happen, yet they never happen by themselves. Somebody has to make them happen and it takes effort. This time, it was Gabriela Vaššová and Katarína Huszárová, the editor-in-chief of Perspectives, who took on the organizational challenge and made the event an enormous success. Although the idea was Gabriela's brainchild, the idea would probably never have been brought to life without Katarína's enthusiasm and exceptional talent of motivating and bringing people together.
I wonder who will work miracles next time. The bar is high.
Katarína Koreňová and Lucia Náhliková contributed to the report
KAA theatre group (c) Katarína Koreňová
Katarína Huszárová & Zdenko Tarasovič (c) Katarína Koreňová
Adam Hudec's jazz band Galéria Formácia (c) Katarína Koreňová
Andrea Kyslanová & Kristián Sommer (c) Katarína Koreňová
Jeffrey Kirk (c) Andrea Sihelská
Dano Madarás, Jozef Lonek, Marián Gazdík, Lucia Otrísalová (c) Lucia Náhliková
Anna Kosperová, Soňa Ondriašová, Michal Chovan, Katarína Mojžišová, Patrícia Čaklošová (c) Lucia Náhliková
11th Floor Books (c) Katarína Koreňová
Martin Kolenič (c) Lucia Náhliková