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American Dream/Czech Nightmare

The students of The Theater Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU) will begin preparations of their own original production in cooperation with students of the prestigious School of Drama at The New School mid-August in New York. They will team up for several summer weeks to exchange opinions about cultural differences and the pressing issues in their countries of origin.

If I were born in the USA, I could study at one of the most prestigious schools in the world. If I were born in the Czech Republic, I could attend university without racking up lifelong student debt.

One group comes from a country of 327 million people, the other from a country of a mere 10 million. One group is vaguely aware that the other country is located somewhere in Europe, the other knows the opposite side of the world from movies and shows they have been watching since childhood. How does the past shape our lives, how does the present enable us, and what fears can the future bring? The joint project of both students of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU) and the School of Drama at The New School will seek answers to what it is that connects a single generation divided by the ocean.

For two weeks, second year students of the DAMU theater ensemble led by Daniel Hrbek, the director of Švanda Theater in Prague, will cooperate with their American peers. The Czech group and the one overseas consist of six actors, one student of stage direction, and one young writer. “Our rehearsals start off with a carte blanche – the theme is realized by the individual students within the space itself, the directors shape it further, and the writers help us transpose it into dramatic language. Such rehearsals are an adventurous endeavor where it is impossible to anticipate the outcome. Our students have already had a similar experience in this respect when they cooperated with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. We started with a single sentence and within eight days, the students created a theater performance that was very well-received by the public at Švanda Theater,” says Daniel Hrbek, theater director and pedagogue at DAMU, about the rehearsals.

This cooperation between DAMU and The New School in August is merely the beginning of a long-term project. “During these team-ups, the students collect material that will be channeled into the open form of work in progress. The young artists will then part to work separately on the textual preparations of a fully-fledged, unique play that the student ensemble of both schools will premiere in June 2020 at the Švanda Theater in Prague at the FEST-END Festival of English Speaking Drama,” adds David Košťák, the dramaturge of the project.

Thanks to this international encounter, the DAMU students will also take part in the program of the Czech Center New York and the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in New York at the Bohemia National Hall in the very heart of Manhattan. They will prepare the staged reading of Milan Kundera’s “The Hitchhiking Game (Falešný autostop)” interpreted together with students of The New School. The staged reading of the excerpt from Kundera’s collection Laughable Loves (Směšné lásky) will be performed by American students of acting on August 21, 2019 at 7 PM on the rooftop of the historic Bohemian National Hall, followed by a screening of the adaptation of Kundera’s novel The Joke in honor of the author’s 90th birthday this year.