THE EMPEROR OF AMERICA

Martin Pollack, Michal Ditte

ŠTÚDIO 12 and PÔTOŇ THEATRE

Iveta Ditte Jurčová

A coproduction created on the basis of the book of the same name by Austrian journalist Martin Pollack.

Awards
Best Slovak production of the 2017/18 theatre season – Dosky award 2018. Jury’s special award for Iveta Ditte Jurčová and Katarína Caková for the production’s at concept at the 2019 Nová dráma / New Drama festival.
Production nominated for a Dosky 2018 award in the categories: Best direction of the theatre season (Iveta Ditte Jurčová) and Best set design of the theatre season (Katarína Caková and Iveta Ditte Jurčová).

EMPEROR OF AMERICA A stage composition based on the book of the same name by Austrian writer and journalist Martin Pollack. Looking at the subject of mass emigration at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it shows that the refugee crisis is not just a contemporary issue. The east of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was at that time undergoing an exodus of massive dimensions, and those leaving were suitable trading commodities for speculators, people smugglers, agents and fraudsters of all kinds. Pollack brings the period closer to us using a large number of historical facts, together with the moving stories of concrete individuals. Michal Ditte, the author of the theatre adaptation, has put together from the facts, events and newspaper articles in Pollack’s book a story about the fate of Mendel Beck, whose name appears in the book several times. “A concrete person, his name, brings something specific and unrepeatable to the story,” writes Marek Godovič, the production’s dramaturg. “His name is Mendel Beck and he’s leaving. He becomes part of a web, with his dreams of owning a general store. He leaves behind his sister Rifke. He’s leaving, and she’s staying. One leaving, one watching (…) We were fascinated by the poverty in which the Galicians lived, or rather survived, by their way of life dependent on the earth, its gifts and its curses, their dependency on the rain and the sun, dependency on agents and shipping companies (…) on an administrative machinery that throws people around like nameless products that have to be shipped from one place to another, after having stripped them of their finances and dignity. (…) We played with language. A mixture of Yiddish, German, Ruthenian, Slovak, Šariš, Polish and Ukrainian, together with English as the language of the Eden across the sea, lent itself to possibilities of verbal tragicomedy (…) We were inspired by the American Interpreter, a manual for Slovaks emigrating to America in search of work (…) and by the yellowing photographs of our ancestors who decided to leave.“

The production evokes in the audience sympathy and fellowship, which they experience alongside something like a chorus of the suffering, represented by three men and two women. All the men in the same role of the Galician refugee Mendel and all the women in the role of his beloved. The close proximity of the cast members to the audience emphasises the fragmentary descriptions of hard-to-bear moments from the hero’s life and work.
– Barbora Pokorná, nadivadlo.blogspot.com

Director Iveta Ditte Jurčová and author of the dramatisation Michal Ditte have not only attempted as faithful an illustration of history as possible, but they have created a universal gallery of figures looking for a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones. The solution presented may seem simplistic in today’s advanced stage of the refugee crisis, but the production of Emperor of America in the end invites us to consider whether we would be able to once again recognise ourselves among the foreigners.
– Jakub Molnár, mloki.sk

Martin Pollack’s non-fiction work Emperor of America (Mass Flight from Galicia) is like a boat full of emigrants. Like the ocean liner that Iveta Ditte Jurčová projects on the screen in the production of the same name by Bratislava’s Študio 12 and the Pôtoň Theatre from Bátovce. The reader may even feel sick – not as the result of seasickness, but the rapid sequence of pictures from the lives of Poles, Slovaks and Ukrainians willing to risk arrest, death and isolation in their new country just so that they can meet their and their families’ basic needs.
– Milo Juráni, Týždeň

IVETA DITTE JURČOVÁ (1968) A graduate of the VŠMU Theatre Faculty in Bratislava, she is the founder and artistic head of the Pôtoň Theatre in Bátovce and a director there. Her work focuses above all on contemporary social themes, and her productions, which she creates in tandem with Michal Ditte and which form the mainstay of the theatre’s repertoire, are connected by a feeling for distinctive metaphor and poetics. When creating productions, the duo often make use of their own sociological and ethnological fieldwork regarding the issues concerned. Jurčová’s directorial approaches are characterised by an oscillation between realism and naturalism, and heavy exaggeration verging on the grotesque. She mixes the real and the unreal, the traditional and the modern, the symbolic and the concrete. Her productions are based on sophisticated visual concepts and a marked artistic imagination.

The PÔTOŇ THEATRE was created in 2000 and is firmly based in the Slovak countryside. Its productions are created from fieldwork and characterised by pressing social issues (the production Terra Granus captured reminiscences and events in a village that was resettled in order to make way for a nuclear power station, while Psota was preceded by ethnological research among socially-deprived people and Country of Unscythed Meadows looked at Slovak national identity). The theatre undertakes educational projects connecting art and other areas (sociology, ethnography, history) and organises workshops and residential stays. In the course of a year, over 150 events take place on its premises, visited by over 6000 people. It has won several awards for its artistic and informal educational activity.

ŠTÚDIO 12 Created in 2001 on the initiative of the Theatre Institute in Bratislava as a unique theatre space for the presentation of new Slovak and international drama and contemporary art. Štúdio 12 supports the creation and realisation of auteur-style theatre projects, helps to present and reflect upon plays and authors from European and non-European countries, and organises workshops and other educational activities.