SMOKEOUT In his new production, Jiří Havelka takes an ironic and imaginative look at the theatre affair that shook Czech society five years ago. The controversy concerned a play showing Jesus raping a Muslim woman on stage, which outraged the far-right ‘Decent People’ group, Cardinal Dominik Duka, and many Brno politicians. The Cardinal himself brought the case before the Constitutional Court. A stage ceremony, based on real events in which Czech society played the main role, brings fragments of legal texts, online articles and interviews, letters from the audience, witness testimonies and quotes from the New Testament to the stage. Documentary elements mix with wild associations – historical figures, cultural symbols, grotesque and horror, disputation... Intended for the whole ensemble, the production literally and figuratively cleans the air and the theatre stage where it all began in 2018, raising broader questions about artistic freedom and the role of theatre in contemporary society.
‘This is the best piece of culture Brno has seen this year,’ said someone behind me just before the performance began. Having seen it, I can only agree. This is truly the event of the year. Certainly not for everyone, though, because of the genre and the ideas the production presents. However, if you are prepared to be confronted with other people’s/our/your own prejudices, Smokeout is the performance that will take you as far into your soul as you let it.
– LENKA HLOUŠKOVÁ, novinky.cz
Christianity is a leitmotif of every story, and as such compels each of us – even atheists – to contemplate its meaning in our lives. Was the whole affair in Brno just a fight between atheists and Christians? Havelka spares no one and nothing, exposing the dark sides of everyone involved. Indeed, the world is full of mistakes and paradoxes, where everything stems from a historical background that is never pure and unstained. (...) Rather than imposing a specific point of view, the production presents a rapid sequence of differing statements and makes people think for themselves. Hearing the occasional contemptuous laughter from the audience, I must admit that I also reflect on our (in)ability to navigate between the conflicting views of others. At moments like this, the character of Oliver Frljić, portrayed by actor Dušan Hřebíček, seems to take words right out of my mouth. ‘Theatre is not what one sees on the stage, but what is going on in the viewer’s head at that moment,’ he says.
– MAGDALÉNA ČEVELOVÁ, Deník N
JIŘÍ HAVELKA (1980) He is a remarkable and versatile figure of contemporary Czech theatre and film – a director, playwright, actor, presenter, and also a former head of DAMU Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre for several years. Havelka often conceives his distinguished and award-winning productions as collective improvisations. He has collaborated with a number of Czech theatres, directed several international projects, and recently found a home with ‘his’ ensemble Vosto5 in the Vzlet theatre in Prague-Vršovice. Vosto5 is a Czech theatre group that concentrates on pure improvisation, verbal juggling, persiflage and mystification, especially taking on national themes. In his original plays, Jiří Havelka always explores the possibilities of theatrical space-time, the creation of theatrical illusion and emphasises the uniqueness of theatre as a means of direct communication. He searches for a new role of theatre in the age of virtual media and finds it mainly in the power of imagination, the principle of play and the shared presence on site. He has also recently taken up film directing.
GOOSE ON A STRING THEATRE A leading Brno theatre, founded in 1967. Its strong point has always been its irregular dramaturgy, making use of new themes in originally non-dramatic texts. The progressive theatre formed around the dramaturge Bořivoj Srba and the directors Eva Tálská, Zdeněk Pospíšil and Peter Scherhaufer. One of the country’s freest theatre groups, it managed to retain its courage and freshness despite its troubles under the previous regime. The ‘Stringers’ performed in the House of Art, which was otherwise (and still is) an exhibition space. The theatre keeps true to the principles of freedom of expression, openness to dialogue and pluralism of opinions, and aims its productions at spreading these values and cultivating civil society in Central Europe. In January 2019, Anna Davidová, an award-winning Czech director, took over as artistic director of the Goose on a String Theatre. She brought with her several new collaborators, including dramaturges Kateřina Menclerová and Martin Sládeček. The latter replaced her as artistic director at the end of the 2020/2021 season. They have developed a concept focused on non-pandering dramaturgy, where they look into topical questions and adapt original works. Another key element is their efforts to open the theatre to various aesthetics and audience groups.