Powerful Play Gets New Audience
Davis Performing Arts Center Artistic Director Maya Roth moderated an insightful and lively discussion following the performance with the founding members of the Kašpar Theater Company Jan Potměšil (Ferdinand Vaněk), Tomáš Karger (Brewmaster – Sládek), and Georgetown University students Johnathan, Chris, and Eliza who visited the Prague Quadrennial and studied with Švanda Theatre in Prague, Czech Republic.
When asked about performing the play today, actor Jan Potměšil said, “The play is still contemporary and alive...It is a great honor to perform the play in the United States because 30 years ago Václav Havel came here.”
The play Audience centers on a meeting between a brewery manager and employee Vaněk. While the manager is clearly opening too many beers and inducing binge drinking, it is less clear what he wants from Vaněk.
Audience (1975) is the first of Václav Havel’s partly autobiographical one-act plays known as the “Vaněk Trilogy,” followed by Protest (1978) and Mistake (1983) based on his experience of being subject to forced work while under constant harassment from the Communist regime.
“Originally the play was performed in people’s living rooms as ‘apartment theater’ because the plays were banned and could not be performed in public,” said actor Karger.
After the fall of the communist regime, Karger said the he performed Kašpar Theater Company’s premiere of the play in the presence of Havel. “Václav Havel was not only a playwright at the time of the performance but also the president. I thought that after this there was not much more that we could wish for because the dream came true.”
In connection to the Company’s premiere of the play, Potměšil said, “In the audience, we could hear Havel’s laughter that was irreplaceable – another miracle that we could never have hoped for...”
Karger continued, “If someone would have told me that I would be performing the play for Havel and then performing the play 30 years later for students in the United States, they would probably lock me up as a looney.”
Georgetown University students offered their perspectives as well on the play. Chris said, “I had a great appreciation for the humor.” Eliza said, “Having the play performed in its original Czech language evokes a different feeling – a closer connection.” Jonathan said, in regards to Havel, that it was extraordinary to have a “political leader of such self-awareness.”
“We are glad that the students understood the play even though they did not live it,” Kargar said.
An audience member asked the actors if they had the opportunity to speak with Havel about their rendition of Audience. Potměšil said, “We had the chance after our premiere of the play to ask about reflections and history of some moments that led him to write the way he did. We found common meeting points. He said the play read the way he intended – didn’t diverge.”
“We were happy to perform it for him and that feedback was important,” Karger said.
Professor Maya Roth asked students about their own experience in the Czech Republic during their recent visit there. Johnathan said, “I saw theater much more a part of the fabric of life.”
Eliza said that while studying theater at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU), under the leadership of Daniel Hrbek, they had deep discussions about “what they feared in future political structures.”
Chris added, “Speaking openly was really great for us – it is perhaps a hopeful thing to see for the older generation.”
Concluding the event, Potměšil said, “Performing for you is the greatest appreciation we could have ever received.”
The over 90 guests in attendance at the Devine Studio in the Davis Performing Arts Center at Georgetown University gave the actors a rousing applause. The performance was part of the Embassy of the Czech Republic’s Mutual Inspirations Festival and in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
Georgetown University was one of the first places Václav Havel spoke to students after the Velvet Revolution. Six years ago on October 2, Václav Havel’s Place in the Alumni Square at Georgetown University was dedicated in his name as a living memorial.