Tonight’s Performance is Cancelled

Jiří Havelka & Co.


Jiří Havelka

TONIGHT’S PERFORMANCE IS CANCELLED Can actors be believed? Or do they play-act in life as well? When does an actor tell the truth? On the stage? On the square? In November 1989 the Slovak National Theatre went on strike for a month. Did it help? What was the role of actors at that time, and what role do they play today? The November revolution as entertaining cabaret from an acting milieu. Jiří Havelka’s auteur production asks whether theatre is meant only to interpret a dramatic text, or whether at a certain point it can fill a social role. The title is inspired by a declaration by employees of the Slovak National Theatre that stated: We never thought the time would come when the basic task of an actor would be not to act. The production combines authentic materials from 1989 with crossovers to the events of today. Those appearing include people who played a role in the events of 1989, and questions are asked about the fundamental nature of theatre. There is a blurring of the boundary between the stage and the auditorium, between documentary and fiction, and between the past and the present day.
The thoughts of real people and literary figures are thus intertwined, and it is hard to determine what is reality and what an illusion. The mosaic includes extracts from speeches by Slovak actors in 1989. From the formal point of view one of the most successful scenes is that in which Dominika Kavaschová interprets a well-known speech by actor Marián Labuda in which he accuses the regime of stealing actors’ faces from them. Kavaschová’s powerful acting, making sensitive use of dynamics and intonation, causes her to become the centre of attention and to focus the vast Drama Hall on a single point – her face and body, in which for a moment the energy of the whole stage and auditorium is concentrated. Even more interesting for me, however, is the passage in which Emília Vášáryová recites her own speech from November 1989, in which she calls on people to join hands and cry love. The fact is that practically immediately after the initial revolutionary enthusiasm died down, the urgent tone of her speech had an effect that was almost more comic than emotionally-strong, which logically pushed into the background the actual content of the actress’ words. In the production, Vašáryová interprets her own words in a way that is diametrically different – calm, almost matter-of-fact. If this part was meant as something of a rehabilitation of her own speech from 1989, then it has definitely worked. At a time when words such as decency and mutual respect are on everyone’s lips, but the reality of life is often different, it is suddenly clear how strong were the words that she used back then.

This is not a nostalgic look back, full of pathos, for the middle generation (although for this generation it is clearly most emotional), but a reminder for the current generation and for that which seems to have “forgotten”. You may find yourself laughing during Tonight’s Performance is Cancelled, but it is no laughing matter. It is an uncompromising and extremely painful play about truth and conscience and about playing at them.

JIŘÍ HAVELKA (1980) A distinctive figure in Czech theatre, the director, author and actor Jiří Havelka graduated from the DAMU theatre school in 2002 in alternative and puppet theatre. From the beginning he has focused his theatre work on collective improvisation as a method of creating auteur productions. His plays are frequently on the boundary of drama, alternative, movement and artistic theatre. He was initially connected with Prague’s Studio Ypsilon, where with colleagues from the same generation he created a number of thematically-connected auteur productions, of which the greatest attention was attracted by his original theatre about theatre, Drama in a Nutshell (2005, nominated for a Divadelní noviny award) and the new play Kam vítr tam pláž (2008, nominated for a Divadelní noviny award in the alternative theatre category), which brings windsurfing on to the stage. At DAMU he helped students create their graduation productions, including the “reality trainer” Try it! (2006, Zlomvaz festival award, Reflex magazine award) and Very Social Dances (2008, nominated for a Divadelní noviny award in the Alternative Theatre category) and most recently a theatre documentary reconstructing the deeds of the Mašín brothers I, Hero (2011). The repetition of a banal situation in various permutations gave rise to the production Black Hole at the Dejvice Theatre (2007, 1st – 3rd place in the Divadelní noviny Production of the Year survey) while at HaDivadlo he turned Einstein’s theory of relativity into theatre in Indian in Danger (2008), freely continued in through a World in Danger (2012) at the same theatre. He is the winner of an Alfréd Radok award in the Talent of the Year category. He has also worked with the Theatre on the Balustrade (Ubu Has Fun, 2010, Madness, 2014) and the Vinohrady Theatre (Tyl’s Fidlovačka, 2010). He has directed several international projects, including the Czech-German EXIT 89 (2008), a concert show with Britain’s Tiger Lilies entitled Zde jsem člověkem! Here I am Human! for Divadlo Archa, and several Czech-Canadian projects featuring Indian actors. Exceptionally he stages dramatic texts, mostly original and contemporary – at the Dejvice Theatre he created a stage comic-book western, Wanted Welzl, from a text by K. F. Tománek in 2011, followed by the auteur production The Murder of King Gonzago (2017). Plays he has staged with DAMU students include I, Hero (Disk, 2011) and The Regulation of Intimacy (Disk, 2013); his award-winning direction also includes The Last Trick of Georges Meliès (Drak, 2013), Brass Band (VOSTO5 2013 – Divadelní noviny award), Correction (VerTeDance 2014 – Divadelní noviny award) and Elites (2017) at the Slovak National Theatre, drawing on the archive of the StB secret police. He also works with the National Theatre in Prague – Colonel Švec (2018). In his auteur productions Havelka always probes the possibilities of theatrical time and space and the creation of theatrical illusion, and emphasises the uniqueness of the theatre as a tool of direct communication. He seeks a new role for the theatre in the age of virtual media, and finds it above all in the power of the imagination, in the demands that are made on the audience’s creative ability to be imaginative. His productions have been presented at festivals in, among other places, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Finland, Austria and Ireland, and at them he often leads workshops focusing on mastery of the elements of theatre language. He has held the position of head of the department of alternative and puppet theatre at DAMU. Recently his activity has been closely connected with his “home” theatre company, Vosto5, of which he is a member. The group has long brought Czech theatre pure improvisation, word juggling, persiflage and mystification, above all on Czech national themes. In recent years the theatre’s most successful production has been of Havelka’s original play The Owners’ Association (2017).

THE DRAMA SECTION OF THE SLOVAK NATIONAL THEATRE was launched in 1920. The famous tradition of exceptional acting personalities who worked in the theatre for a whole century is continued by today’s company under the leadership of the most recent artistic heads. Between 2012 and 2017, the artistic head was Roman Polák, who implemented his dramaturgical vision of open, socially- and politically-engaged drama. In January 2018 he was succeeded as artistic head by director Michal Vajdička, whose production of Before Sunset was successfully shown at last year’s Divadlo festival. In September 2019, however, Vajdička was suddenly dismissed and his place taken by Peter Kováč. The theatre’s repertoire consists of classic plays, productions of original plays, adaptations of prose works, and the mapping of the blind spots in Slovak history. In the last few years the Slovak National Theatre’s Drama Section has regularly taken part in theatre festivals in Torun, Hradec Králové, Zlín, Brno, Olomouc, Pilsen and Nitra, as well as showing guest productions in Prague (National Theatre), Brno, Budapest, Bucharest, Ljubljana and Vienna.