A Czech Perspective on ‘Audience’

We are now in our third week of rehearsal for AUDIENCE by Vaclav Havel, and the play is taking shape in an exciting way. Last night, we were privileged to have a friend of one of the actors who immigrated to the states from Czechoslovakia shortly before Prague Spring come to the rehearsal. Helena’s firsthand knowledge of the early days of the occupation, the stories of her friends and family who stayed, and her understanding of the play in its original Czech were invaluable in helping us delve deeper into the text (and ensureing that we were pronouncing the names correctly).

An audience member watching AUDIENCE would not need to know anything about Vaclav Havel or the Soviet period in Czechoslovakia to understand or enjoy the play, but seeing the play in context is terrifically revealing. During the crackdown following Prague Spring in 1968, Havel’s plays were banned from theaters in Czechoslovakia. Havel became more actively involved with dissident groups – including Charter 77 – and spent some time in prison as a result. When he was released, Havel was forced to take a job at a brewery, which inspired AUDIENCE. During the time of the occupation, the play was distributed secretly in samizdat form along with UNVEILING and PROTEST, two other plays that also center around the character of Ferdinand Vanek (a stand-in for Havel). Today, AUDIENCE is one of the most celebrated plays in Czech Republic, and has enjoyed continued popularity since it’s first publication in 1975.

The play paints a simultaneously comic, chilling, and beer-soaked portrait of the informant culture in Czechoslovakia during the occupation. Helena suspects that possibly as many as one in every ten people in the country at the time were informants of some capacity, and that citizens of all social levels experienced that pressure. Helena also offered some great insight on the “brain drain” in Czechoslovakia following the crackdown. Since so many members of the intelligencia fled to avoid persecution, Havel was among a dwindling minority of well-educated citizens. With this understanding, the character of Vanek in the play is a true outsider, struggling to keep his head down in an new and potentially dangerous environment.

Getting back into the script after Helena left us last night, the cast and I were excited for the possibilities these discoveries afforded. It is helping us work towards a tone that is both wonderfully humorous and grippingly tense.

-Bennett Fisher

AUDIENCE opens Tuesday April 13 at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, at Leavenworth) and plays April 13, 19, 20 and May 3 and 4. Shows are at 8pm and admission is free. Email theaterpub@atmostheatre.com for reservations.

San Francisco Theater Pub Launches into the Blogosphere!

On January 18, 2010, the crowd inside the Café Royale on Post and Leavenworth extended out the door. Inside, a standing room listened as Skye Alexander sang “Wayfaring Stranger” from the upper balcony. As the song came to a close, an actor stepped in front of red curtain emblazoned with the Café Royale emblem, stood for a moment, then shouted “Dionysus! Dionysus my master, you son of a bitch!” The first lines of the first performance of the San Francisco Theater Pub.

The San Francisco Theater Pub was founded in late 2009 by Stuart Bousel, Victor Carrion, Bennett Fisher, and Brian Markley, with the support of Les and Dan Cowan and their bar, the Café Royale. For the inaugural event in January, co-founder Bennett Fisher directed a staged reading his new translation of the satyr play Cyclops by Euripides – a ribald retelling of the famous story from the Odyssey and the oldest, as far as we know, play about drinking – accompanied by live music and flowing drinks from two very overworked bartenders.

You can read an interview with Fisher about Cyclops on Tim Bauer’s blog here and watch video of the production from UnfocusedSF here.

Since the first night, the San Francisco Theater Pub has hosted two more events, also playing to standing room only crowds.

In February, the day after Valentine’s day, co-founder Stuart Bousel directed A Valentine’s Day Post Mortem – a collection of original writing and songs from local artists offering all manner of perspectives on the subject of love and what (if anything) it has to do with the holiday.

Last Monday, co-founder Brian Markley presented How To Ride a Bus in San Francisco – a series of short scenes, songs, poems, and meditations on the perils and pitfalls of that infamous San Francisco Transit System.

And more is coming…

In April, Fisher returns to direct the first full production for the San Francisco Theater Pub – Vacláv Havel’s comic one act Audience. The event runs for five performances on Mondays and Tuesdays – April 13, 19, 20 and May 3 and 4 – 8pm each night and (as always) free admission. Reserved seating is limited, so be sure to make a reservation early if you do not want to stand.

The local community has responded enthusiastically. Even in these first few events we, the founders, have found a considerable thirst for a different type of theatrical event performed on nights – Mondays and Tuesdays – when cultural events of all sorts are scarce. We hope that the San Francisco Theater Pub will continue to serve as an inviting and inclusive nexus for artists and audiences – offering pieces that are short, lively, and engaging and in a relaxed bar environment with plenty of good beer on tap.

We’ll keep this blog updated with the latest in all things San Francisco Theater Pub, upcoming projects, behind the scenes perspective into the process, and ways for all those to get involved. To learn more, become fans of us on Facebook, email theaterpub@atmostheatre.com, and swing by on performance nights to talk with the team.

We look forward to seeing you there.

-Stuart Bousel, Victor Carrion, Bennett Fisher, and Brian Markley.