We thought it would be appropriate here to state the history and origins of the company. Why? Partly to set the record straight for they have already been some misconceptions about how it all started and partly because it is possible that sometime in the future someone, with an interest in theatre -Czech theatre – may very well ask the question: How did it all begin?
The initial idea came about in 2013 when Emília Machalová suggested to Brian Stewart that if he wanted to understand anything at all about Czech culture then, he really needed to understand the work of Jára Cimrman. Together they watched the 1994 Czech TV recording of Záskok (The Stand-In) and given that Brian didn’t speak – let alone understand any Czech – the comedy was very clear to him: if you can understand the comedy without understanding the language, it meant that it was something very special. It had elements of farce, slapstick, word play and clever references to Czech history and literature (Which Em explained to him) – but above all – it was hilariously funny. And, after some discussion, they decided that they should work together to produce an English translation.
Emília and Brian asked for permission to translate the play from Aura-Pont, who represent Mr. Svěrák and the estate of Ladislav Smoljak. After completing and submitting the first draft, Mr. Svěrák asked if his daughter, Hanka Jelínková, who is an English teacher, could check the script and get involved. This was an important next step because, Brian and Emília wanted to keep the script as close as possible to the original and include all the original Czech references, [Emília and Brian thought that, from the outset, keeping the ‘Czechness’ was important] and Hanka, almost as the guardian of her father’s and Ladislav Smoljak’s work, agreed yet wanted to ensure that their work was afforded due reference – and it was. All the translations have gone through a lengthy process to ensure that those values are adhered to. There are other English versions of Cimrman plays on the internet, but we would claim that our versions are the only authorised versions and have the backing of Mr. Svěrák and the Smoljak family.
Completing a translation was all well and good but finding someone interested enough to produce the play was something different. Brian and Emília contacted a number of different people in Prague who they thought might be interested in staging the show, but without much success. But then Emília and Lukáš Průdek ( who is now the director of the South Bohemian Theatre in České Budějovice), suggested approaching Agentura Echo (Alena Koteková and the late Vašek Kotek ) the producers that manage the Divadlo Jára Cimrman – the Czech Jára Cimrman theatre – about the possibility of producing the play. However, before that…they needed proof that the play would work in English.
Brian recruited six actors from the Abbey Theatre, St. Albans in the U.K., to do a rehearsed-reading of the script before an invited audience of 40-50 people which was held on February 9th, 2014. It was the first time it had been presented to an audience in English, or so we believe, and judging by the audience’s reaction – it was well received. Brian made a video recording of the reading and armed with the video of the audience’s reaction, a meeting was arranged with Vašek Kotek and Mr. Svěrák in the foyer of the Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana for March 11th, 2014.
THE 11th MARCH MEETING, 2014
The meeting was arranged for 5pm because that evening there was a performance of Záskok and Brian and Em had arranged to see the live show after the meeting. At the meeting, a number of different possibilities were discussed, and Brian showed Mr. Kotek and Mr. Svěrák the recording of the rehearsed-reading performance in English where it was clear that the audience had laughed in all the right places. At the end of the meeting it was agreed, in principle, to do a rehearsed reading in order to gauge the audience’s reaction and the potential to stage the play in full at sometime in the future. Mr. Svěrák was very supportive and curious yet cautious for his words were ‘ Krok za Krokem’ which in Czech means ‘ Step by Step’.
FINDING THE ACTORS
Following the meeting, it was agreed to hold a rehearsed reading on June 20th at the Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana. The next step was to find essentially four English speaking actors in Prague – only four because Brian/Ben would take one role and Adam Stewart another. Now, Adam Stewart is the nephew of Brian Stewart (Yes, keep it in the family!) but he was a trained actor himself and agreed to help Brian find four additional actors for the rehearsed reading. Brian already knew Kevin Michael Clarke, a UK actor based here in Prague, and Adam suggested Peter Hosking, Michael Pitthan and Brian Caspe all of whom were Prague acting- veterans and so an initial meeting was held in the Bruxx restaurant, Námestí Míru on Sunday May 4th 2014. This is the first time that 5/6 of the current Cimrman English Theatre cast all met for the first time. It was an interesting and lively meeting and afterwards, Em and Brian then spent some time discussing – no arguing- as to who should play each role. And, after much discussion, and several glasses of wine, we arrived at the cast we have today – save for Kevin Michael Clarke – but we will come back to that.
REHEARSED-READING JUNE 20th, 2014
Given we had the green light for a read through and recruited the actors, they then set about trying to drum up enough interest from the expat community here in Prague, ( we got very welcome support from the British Council) but more importantly from the Czechs, too. And, we are pleased to say, this was achieved because we had a great turn out for the rehearsed-reading. The audiences loved it – and, for those that are interested, we have a small video from that initial first reading.
Following the audience’s positive and effusive reaction, it was agreed, that after few changes to the script, that the play would receive its official premiere on October 25th, 2014. However, Kevin Michael Clarke decided that he did not want to continue with the project and so, Curt Matthew was invited to join the company and the rest, as they say, is history…