For over 30 years I have been sharing and making theatre between Theatretrain and the Czech Republic. I didn’t know it on my first visit but I was destined to play a tiny part in Czech history.
“We drove there in a school bus and van and had to pass through the Iron Curtain – the highly militarised border between East and West.”
In 1989 I took a young people’s production from London to the then Czechoslovakia. We drove there in a school bus and van and had to pass through the Iron Curtain – the highly militarised border between East and West. We weren’t tourists we were travellers touring our play about the suffragettes and some of the speeches were in Czech. Catherine Tate played Mrs Pankhurst. This was a highly unusual play to take to the Eastern Bloc but we had some exciting performances in different places. At one of them we discovered hundreds and hundreds of seats. I asked why this was and was told that we were part of a huge annual open-air arts festival and performing immediately after us was to be the top Czech rock group! No pressure then! I was also asked if I would say a few words for the TV cameras.
It was longer than I expected and unexpectedly for me I had to remember the questions because when they came, they were in Czech and they would subtitle what I then said. The first question came. Easy. “What did I think of this beautiful castle that we were performing in?” I agreed that it was indeed beautiful and compared it to some beautiful castles that we had in the UK. Then the second question which was, and I paraphrase, “What is your play about and why did you choose it?” I started on about who the suffragettes were and how their struggle to get the vote for women was so important. That they battled with the prejudices of their day and were brave enough to withstand prison – even forcible feeding. I began warming to my theme a little (it may have been the lovely green liquor they gave me that day) and I said that all nations and cultures had had to struggle for their rights and their political freedom and those that believed in their struggle had to be ready to sacrifice in some way.
“On the night that Vaclav Havel (playwright and later President) stood before hundreds of thousands in Wenceslas Square, the communist party pulled the plug on the nation’s TV.”
We had a lot of adventures along the way and I made some friends for life but eventually we returned. A few months later the Berlin Wall came down and the Czech Republic had their Velvet Revolution. On the night that Vaclav Havel (playwright and later President) stood before hundreds of thousands in Wenceslas Square, the communist party pulled the plug on the nation’s TV. Then a few moments later the screens came back on with yours truly saying “Every country has had to struggle for its political freedom.” Presumably some enterprising TV producer had seen our arts programme in the summer and had filed it away for possible later use.
So, when people tell me that plays change nothing in the world – I beg to differ.
Theatretrain is proud of the relationships that we have built through our international work. Our Award-Winning performing arts schools, teaching young people skills in dancing, acting and singing can provide your child with a performing arts class that encourages teamwork, confidence, friendship, communication skills and so much more. If you would like to find out more about our weekend stage schools or your child has shown an interest in attending drama, dance and singing lessons then visit our website www.theatretrain.co.uk to book a trial session.