Institutional Theatre


Erika Godlová

Theatre Romathan – History of the theatre

Establishment of the theatre

As early as 1983, under the direction of Daniela Hivešová-Šilanová, there arose in the ZPA Prešov engineering enterprise the Ensemble of Roma Poetry, Songs, and Dances known as Romane čhaja le čhavenca, two of whose members, Milan Godla and Marián Balog, later became the founding members of the professional Roma theatre Romathan.

unknown | Divadlo Romathan | photography | Slovakia | March 25, 2013 | the_02006 Licensed by: Theatre Romathan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Karol Adam

The Theatre Romathan was established by the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic (hereinafter ‘MCSR’) in Košice (Slovak Republic) in May 1992. Anna Koptová was appointed its director to the end of the 1997/98 season, and since the 1998/99 season its director has been Karol Adam. The theatre was established as the result of an initiative by both Roma and non-Roma intellectuals to encourage the emergence of a professional Roma theatre, which led to the presentation of a proposal by the then Member of the Slovak National Council A. Koptová at its last meeting in December 1991. Of the 102 MPs present, 53 voted in favour of the motion for the theatre’s establishment.

Until 1996, the Theatre Romathan, just like other Slovak and other minority theatres, had been under the direct control of the MCSR. Consequently, under the new structure of cultural-educational establishments under Act No. 222/1996, Book of Statutes on the Organization of Local State Administration, the theatre came under the management of the Regional Administration Authority of Košice. For the Theatre Romathan this fact meant the loss of legal personality, because, like other cultural institutions, it became part of the newly created Abov Cultural Centre in Košice. This situation was unfavourable not only in terms of any further funding for the theatre, but also for any future opportunities to fulfil its mission.

Given that the Theatre Romathan was set up as a nationwide theatre, in that same year, its management lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic, seeking to examine the legality of the procedure applied by Ivan Hudec, the then Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic. In coordination with the Hungarian National Theatre, the Government Council for National Minorities was asked for assistance. However, the legal status of the theatre was confirmed, and in October 1996 its management was taken over by the Košice Regional Administration Authority.

As of 1 January 1997, the Abov Community Centre was renamed the Regional Community Centre and Theatre Romathan remained part of it. This situation, which affected all the national theatres in the country, paralysed their activities, as the financial grant for 1997 was significantly reduced. In protest, the theatre’s director Anna Koptová gave in her notice in June 1997. The State Intendant of the Regional Community Centre accepted her resignation and in the same month appointed Karol Adam director of the Theatre Romathan.

After the change of government in 1998, the theatre became a legal entity again from 1 April 1999, but it also remained subject to the managerial competence of the Regional Administration Authority in Košice. As part of the transformation of the regions since 2002, its funding and management were transferred to the responsibility of the Department of Culture of the Košice Self-Governing Region.

The situation in the theatre, which is directly dependent on its funding, is illustrated by the number of employees. At the time the theatre was set up, over 100 employees were employed, while in 2002 there were only 37 artistic workers and four technical and administrative staff.1 This situation has persisted until the present day.

Interview with Karol Adam about the selected performances and Roma theater | the_01001_m1_i1 Licensed by: Dragan Ristić | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive

Professional Roma orchestra

The professional Roma orchestra has operated as part of the Theatre Romathan since 1992, with the support of the state. In the Roma musical arts, the theatre is a specific example of an unidentified operation of the Roma coherent collective; being an orchestra of both the musical and dramatic theatre it must indeed sometimes function as an accompanying component of the theatrical genre. In this context, the founders of the theatre designed the prospective dramaturgical function of the orchestra as a separate body as well. In addition to theatrical first nights, therefore, the Theatre Romathan presents separate first nights for its orchestra.

The Theatre Romathan Orchestra with its soloists represented Roma musical culture at major ventures abroad, for example at the Days of the Church in Germany (Munich) as early as in 1993, or at the international festival La Route Tzigane (Routes of the Roma) in Paris in 1994. It performed at the International Festival of Roma Culture in Moscow in January 2000, and in June 2001, on the initiative of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, it presented the culture of the Roma along with artwork by children from the village of Jarovnice to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Brussels and in Strasbourg.

The theatre attempted to fulfil its mission, to be a national Roma Theatre, also by staging first nights not only in Košice but also in Bratislava. As early as in 1993, the Romathan Theatre was hosted for the first time on the stage of the Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav Theatre, in a performance attended by the President of the Slovak Republic. After 1993, its touring activities became restricted in the eastern Slovak region for financial reasons. It is regularly invited to both Slovak and international Roma (and non-Roma) folk and theatre festivals.

Theatre management

Artistic Director

  • Ján Šilan (1992–February 1998)
  • Juraj Svoboda (01/04/1998–June 1999)
  • Soňa Samková (01/08/1999–31/01/2000)

Head of the Orchestra

  • Karel Adam (1992–June 1994),
  • Dezider Miko (August 1994–30/11/1997)
  • Dezider Balog (01/12/1997–June 1998)
  • Karel Adam (01/06/1998–)


  • Daniela Hivešová-Šilanová (1992–15/09/1995)
  • Daniela Miklášová (01/12/1995–31/07/2000)
  • Marián Balog (2002–)

The current theatre and its dramatic productions

When the Theatre Romathan started operating, the ensemble was highly proficient in music, dance and singing, but was in its infancy with regard to acting. In dramatic performances it simply lacked experience. The then artistic director Ján Šilan was a great support, making use of his acting, dramaturgical, directing and managerial experience from his work in the Jonáš Záborský Theatre in Prešov (Slovakia), and recruiting suitable persons for the ensemble. Later there was a chance to recruit graduates from the Music and Drama Section of the Secondary School of Arts in Košice. With few exceptions, every actor in the theatre is professionally well trained and qualified today.

Romathan Bavi | the_02020_m1_i1 Licensed by: Theatre Romathan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Karol Adam

Director Karel Adam

The theme of the contemporary theatrical production and mission of the Theatre Romathan is mainly the responsibility of the Director of the Theatre Romathan, Karel Adam. He has been working in the theatre since its inception in 1992, when he took part in a competition and was appointed to the position of chief director of the orchestra. He retired in May 2017 but remained head of the orchestra.

His name Karel is a Czech analogy to the Slovak name Karol, because he was born in Pardubice, in the Czech Republic. He comes from a musical family, or rather a dynasty of musicians. Karel Adam started playing the violin as a five-year-old boy, when he first got the instrument. In 1974, he graduated after studying Violin Playing at the State Conservatory with Professor Takáč. And why the violin? His father was a cymbalist, his brothers played the cymbals, and the tradition was that the younger son must choose another instrument. Violin for him, however, was not a case of drudgery, but of love. After graduation he was a bandmaster of the folklore ensemble Železiar in Košice and worked as a professional musician in the Slovkoncert and Pragokoncert, the prestigious agencies of the former Czechoslovakia, until 1992.

Karel Adam has three sons who are musicians too. The eldest, Karol Adam, graduated from the violin branch of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, while the two younger sons graduated from the State Conservatory in Košice; one of them completed his studies in the double bass, with viola as his second major subject. Karol Adam became the director of the Theatre Romathan on 1 November 2017.


The Theatre Romathan is by its nature a touring theatre, we would even say a nomadic theatre. It brings a whiff of higher culture, affectionate but critical humour, emotion, and virtuosity of actors, singers, dancers and musicians to municipalities and settlements where Roma live. The Roma are really proud of their theatre and are sufficiently motivated to attend performances, with amateur groups fairly often being formed after the performances in villages.

The theatre is for both Roma audiences and for the majority a chance to break down the barriers between people, to remove rooted prejudices. It represents the history of Roma culture, with dance, songs and music. After the political changes in 1989, newspapers, periodicals and literary works started to be published in the Roma language too, and later, after the establishment of the Department of Roma Culture at the Faculty of Education, Constantine the Philosopher University of (FE CPU) in Nitra (Slovakia) in the first half of the 1990s, when Roma Studies and the Roma language began to be taught, the Theatre Romathan started to employ the Roma language as its main language of performance.

In a New Dress | the_02019_m1_i1 Licensed by: Theatre Romathan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Karol Adam

The artistic production of the Košice Roma theatre performers was fully launched when they staged the drama by Daniela Hivešová-Šilanová, Than perdal o Roma [A Place for the Roma] as the first-night performance on 20 December 1992. During its 10 years of operation, by September 2002, the theatre had staged 29 first-night performances, a total of 1,116 performances, of which 500 were presented on tour in Slovakia outside Košice, and 178 were staged abroad. These performances by the Theatre Romathan were attended by 325,666 people, including 137,799 abroad.2

The Theatre Romathan’s mission is to preserve the cultural legacy of Roma. Its productions also try to address majority audience through their themes. On the one hand, theatre performances aim to create a varied, interesting and positive image of the Roma. But in recent years, they have held up a critical mirror to highlight various rifts that exist among Roma, such as the notorious problem of usury.

In this respect, the first bright spot was a successful black comedy entitled Prešibaná rodinka [A Crafty Family]. This found its audience and showed that the Roma are able to laugh at themselves. The sequel to this drama is being staged in this year's first night under the title A Well-meaning Family.

Another area to which the theatre is devoted is that of the fairy tale, because young viewers are extremely important and receptive. But here a paradox emerges, as traditional Roma tales were intended for an adult audience. Until a few decades ago, it was not rare to find a gifted storyteller whose narrative presentation was entertaining, instructive, provoking laughter or tears in whole families, neighbourhood communities or wider gatherings of Roma. Today that tradition of fairy-tale narration is in decline and is being increasingly squeezed out by television or the Internet.3

Mysterious World and The Fuzzies | the_02021_m1_i1 Licensed by: Theatre Romathan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Karol Adam

Similarly, in the history of the Theatre Romathan, which originally performed its tales primarily for adult audiences, e.g. the tale A Black Hair, there emerged some changes leading to a change in the target audience from adults to children. The current repertoire of the Theatre Romathan contains specially written fairy tales, which are increasingly of a more didactic, educational nature and are intended for an ethnically mixed audience – i.e. both Roma and non-Roma children. The aim is to bring together the different cultures; therefore the means of expression, language or imagery and costume design are used in such a way as to be acceptable to the widest possible audiences.

The most important first nights staged in the Theatre Romathan since 2012 were:

  • Vilko v lesnej ríši [Vilko in the Forest Realm]
  • Primáš Piťo [The Band Leader Piťo]
  • Dobroprajná rodinka [A Well-meaning Family]
  • Romathan baví [Romathan Entertains]
  • Škriatok [Devilkin]
  • Svedectvo [Testimony]
  • Najlepší huslista [The Best Violinist]
  • Láska včera a dnes [Love Yesterday and Today]
  • Múza divadla Romathan [The Muse of the Theatre Romathan]
  • Kto je na svete najkrajší [Who is the most Beautiful in the World]
  • Vtáčatko Koráločka [Birdie Beady]
  • Romathan baví [Romathan Entertains]
  • Husle, duša Rómov [Violin – The Spirit of Roma]
  • Tajomný svet a chlpáčikovia [The Mysterious World and Beasts]
  • Romathan v novom šate [New Dress for Romathan]
  • Kúzelný zvonček [The Magic Bell]
  • Čertovský čapáš [The Devilish Csapash]

During its 25 years of operation at the Slovak theatrical scene, the Theatre Romathan staged around 60 first-night performances. Its performances have been seen by nearly three million people across Europe. It is a paradox that the theatre is better known abroad than at home.

Violin, The Romani Spirit | the_02022_m1_i1 Licensed by: Theatre Romathan | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Karol Adam

Milan Godla, one of the founding members of the Theatre Romathan, speaks about his time in the theatre:

‘I've been in the theatre since its start. As an actor, a singer, a screenwriter, dramaturgist and translator. At first I only sang, later I started to learn acting.

I was a member of amateur ensemble in Prešov, lead by Mrs Daniela Hivešová-Šilanová. It was the amateur ensemble where I sang and danced. It existed for about five or six years. When the theatre was founded, I came for audition as soon as it was possible. Ten years ago I began working on scenarios, scripts and dramaturgy. Thanks to Mrs Šilanová, who was our dramaturge in the theatre, I learnt how to write scripts, lyrics, how to translate, and so on. I listened to my grandparents' and mother's stories. I combined them, to show the habits, traditions of olden times, the Romani law, the ancient one. It was the inspiration for the scenarios.

I mostly play some vaida. In the full-length plays I get the roles of vaidas, fathers mostly. It's because our theatre is full of young people. We don't have many older people here, we need to cover the roles, so that a young person wouldn't play the role of the father. I guess I'm the oldest one here, the roles are mine.

In the fairy-tales I play other roles as well, like the Devil, then God. The Romani audience mostly prefers songs, dances, music. Mostly, when playing the fairy-tales, the audience is non-Romani. The non-Romani children are so lively when they hear us playing in Slovak and Romani as well. I think they leave here happy, it's interesting for them, since they've never seen Roma doing something like this.’

Milan Godla

Marian Balog, a dramaturgist and director of the Theatre Romathan:

‘I was born into a musical family. Thanks to this I encountered music, singing and even acting at home, when still a child. In Prešov, where we lived, I met with Mrs Daniela Hivešová- Šilanová, who recognized my talent. Guess what? She started training me in acting, a bit of playing on instruments, reciting... and dancing. Thanks to her hard work I am where I am. If it had not been for her, I wouldn’t know what real theatre is.

And then the Theatre Romathan was founded. And Mrs Šilanová, she came and asked me to move from my cosy little theatre in Prešov, where I felt at home, to some uncharted territory. I refused at first, but she stood her ground. So I went there.

Mr Silan was the art director, a really respected, well-known person in theatres. So, he began working with me. He started teaching me how to direct the actors, how to build the performance, sharing his knowledge with me. When he left, it was up to me to continue. It wasn’t and still isn’t really easy but I enjoy every moment.

Here we are, the Theatre Romathan, preserving the Romani culture, language, music and Romani way of viewing the world.’

Marián Balog

Rights held by: Erica Godlová | Licensed by: Erica Godlová | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: RomArchive