MÁJ This lyrical-epic poem by Karel Hynek Mácha, published in 1836, is considered a masterpiece of Czech romantic literature. A feared bandit leader kills the man who seduced his sweetheart, unaware that he was his own father. Sitting in jail the night before his execution, he contemplates his fate and bids farewell to the world. His confession reveals the soul of a poète maudit, a romantic torn by relentlessness and doubts about the meaning of life. Yet, Máj is often interpreted as a mere apotheosis of nature and love. Jiří Austerlitz and the Boca Loca Lab platform focus on a ‘voice-band’ stylisation of texts and scenic interpretations straddling theatre and music. In their stage adaptation, they strip the classic Czech 19th century romantic poem of sentimentality to emphasise the undertones of passion, cruelty and sorrow. Their version of Máj conveys the fear of nothingness and searches for the meaning of life. Four actors virtuously navigate between voice-band choruses and intimate solos, echoed by the sound of various musical instruments, noisemakers, tapping instruments, bird calls and a modular synthesizer played by musician Michal Cáb on stage.
The true essence of Máj is mostly omitted in textbooks, which is quite understandable: it concerns highly intimate, painful and uncomfortable questions. Yet, that is why it can bring a catharsis. Máj sadly illustrates how the way literature is taught in schools can stifle deep personal experience in potential readers.
I am fascinated by Mácha’s masterful alignment of the content of the verses with the rhythm and sound of the syllables. Just one example: the prisoner in chains suddenly raises in his cell, and ‘through the night roars the rattle of fetters‘. It sounds exactly like real chains! I thus use theatrical means that help uncover these connections and let the musicality of the poem shine through. My aim is to move the audience to abandon the cultural pigeonholes of a ‘poem’, ‘Sunday poetry’, ‘classic literature’ – and to actually hear and feel.
– JIŘÍ AUSTERLITZ, in an interview with Renata Venclová for Czech Radio
JIŘÍ AUSTERLITZ / ADÁMEK (1977) He studied directing at DAMU in Prague, where he now teaches. He conceived an original type of sonic theatre, where the emphasis is laid on vocal expression and voice compositions. In his scripts and librettos, he de-composes words into syllables and sounds and uses rhythmic speech and imaginary language. He explores this distinctive approach mainly with Boca Loca Lab, a theatre group he founded in 2007. Their original projects include Ticking Politics (2006, received awards at the Music Theatre Now! festival in Germany and the Contact festival in Poland), Europeans (2008, received an award at the Mess Festival in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Fire 1911 (2011), Say Something (2013), Four Three Two One (2014) and an opera The Infinity of Lists (2016). He is also a regular guest director at the Minor Theatre in Prague. For the New Stage of the National Theatre in Prague, he created a stage collage from the period after the 1989 revolution Post Velvet (2014) and a social-political show New Atlantis (2018). He also creates sound compositions for Czech Radio (an audio version of Ticking Politics, Marital Minutes, etc.). He also explores the connection between theatre creation and musical and compositional principles in theory, especially in his essay Théâtre Musical/Music-Bound Theatre (NAMU, 2011) and in a number of articles for Svět a divadlo, for which he worked as an editor for several years.
MICHAL CÁB (1980) He is a musician, artist and teacher. He studied theology and continued his postgraduate studies at the Academy of Performing Arts in Intermedia III studio led by Tomáš Vaněk. As a musician, he focuses on noise improvisations and programming in Pure Data language. He collaborates with several theatre and visual artists on theatre and exhibition projects. He often makes his own synthesizers and other musical instruments.
BOCA LOCA LAB The Boca Loca Lab theatre group was founded in 2007 by director and author Jiří Adámek (who later adopted the name Jiří Austerlitz). The group implements scenic forms based on the principles of musical composition encompassing, in recent years, even the elements of art installations. Other signature features of their creative work include minimalist acting, experimentation with text and voice, and a specific use of objects reminiscent of puppetry and artistic conceptualism. The group’s recent theatre productions include Eye Roll (2019), People Go Here and There (2021) and Máj (2022).