Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in ‘Revolution!?’

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Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (www.czechmarionettes.org) will probe revolution with stilts and strings in “Revolution!?,” a theater spectacle that examines revolutions throughout the history of mankind as a backdrop for the extraordinary peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia. Manhattan’s Theater for the New City will present the work March 4 to 21, 2010.

“Revolution!?”, the brainchild of Pavel Dobrusky and Vit Horejs, has been brewing over the last 18 months, including script development and a rehearsal period in Brno, Czech Republic last August. As of this writing, the work is undergoing rehearsal and further development in the Czech Republic in a final one-month residency, for which the U.S. team has travelled to Prague. The Prague workshop will last from January 26 to February 26, 2010.

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Traditional Czech marionettes in a scene from Revolution! Photo by Pavel Dobrusky.

The piece will be performed in the tradition of Central European medieval street and traveling circus shows, using puppetry, object theater and circus arts. Czech and Czech-American theater artists will collaborate to offer their particular perspectives on the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and an overview of the very notion of revolution. Characters, live and puppets, will include Prometheus, Jesus, Jan Hus, Jean Paul Marat and the “Cleaning Lady” who repeatedly mops up bodies and rubble. Dobrusky and Horejs will draw script materials from the Titanomachy (when the Olympian gods overthrew the Titans), the Agrarian Revolution (when organized agriculture started and animals were domesticated), the Spartacus Rebellion, the rise of Christianity, the 15th century Hussite movement of peasants in Czech lands, the American, French, Industrial and Russian Revolutions; the Counterculture, the Computer Revolution and the Czech Velvet Revolution.

“Revolution!?” will be written and directed by Pavel Dobrusky and Vit Horejs. Set, costumes and lighting will be designed by Pavel Dobrusky. The performers will be Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre members Theresa Linnihan, Ronny Wasserstrom and Vit Horejs, together with four guests from the Czech Republic: stilt walkers/perfomers Adela Jirackova and Sergej Sanza, and dancers Pavel Strouhal and Hana Kalouskova.

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre made an auspicious Theater for the New City debut last season with “The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes, and about Their Untymelie End while Sitting in a Small Room at the Correctional Facility in Ossining New York.” The company is excited to return to Crystal Field’s theater, a venue which embraces new work and enables socially-engaged performances like “Revolution!?” to reach receptive audiences at affordable prices.

Vit Horejs, an emigre from Prague, founded Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre in 1990, utilizing century-old Czech puppets which he found in the Jan Hus Church on East 74th Street. His trademark is using puppets of many sizes, from six-inch toy marionettes to twelve-foot rod puppets which double as scenery. CAMT is dedicated to preserving and presenting traditional and not-so-traditional puppetry. Horejs is well known for innovative re-interpretations of classics. At La MaMa E.T.C., the company has performed “The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald” (2004), “Don Juan or the Wages of Debauchery” (2003), “The Prose of the Transsiberian and of the Little Joan of France” (2001), “Johannes Dokchtor Faust” (2000), “The Little Rivermaid Rusalka” (1999), “Golem” (1997, which was featured in the 1998 Henson International Puppetry Festival), and “Once There Was a Village” (2007), an ethno-opera with puppets, found objects and music by Frank London.

“Johannes Dokchtor Faust” was featured in CAMT’s first season (1990) and was re-staged in 1994 as part of NADA’s Obie Award-winning “Faust Festival” in Soho. It was revived at La MaMa (in 2000) and at Manhattan’s Bohemian Hall (in 2007). Other NYC productions include “A Christmas Carol-OY! Hanukkah-Merry Kwanzaa,” “Kacha and the Devil,” “The White Doe – Or The Piteous Trybulations of the Sufferyng Countess Jenovefa,” “Snehurka, The Snow Maiden” and “Twelve Iron Sandals.” CAMT’s signature piece, “Hamlet,” debuted at the Vineyard Theater in 1995, was performed at outdoor venues in NY, and toured to the 2004 Prague Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle. In 2007, “Hamlet” was revived on Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

CAMT’s “The Bass Saxophone,” a WWII fantasy with music based on a story by Josef Skvorecky, played eleven weeks at the Grand Army Plaza Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn during the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006.

The troupe performed “The Very Sad Story of Ethel & Julius, Lovers and Spyes…” at Theater for the New City in December, 2008. Anita Gates wrote in the New York Times, “Vit Horejs has written and directed a first-rate, thoroughly original production and made it look effortless. The cast gives charged, cohesive performances, and the staging is expert.” That production was followed in the spring by “The Historye of Queen Esther, of King Ahasverus & of the Haughty Haman” at The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater of the West Side Y. In November, 2009 at La MaMa, the company performed a much-celebrated Czech marionette version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night (or What You Will)” on three tea trays. The New York Times (Anita Gates) described the company’s work “improbably fabulous” and the production as “sublime.” Curtain Up (Deirdre Donovan) wrote, “This is an event to be enjoyed for its rich artfulness…. Vit Horejs directs with an elfin touch that casts a magical aura over the entire evening’s proceedings.”

The Company has also appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center, the Smithsonian Institution, The World Trade Center, the Antonin Dvorak Festival in Spillville, Iowa, the Heart of the Beast in Minneapolis, the Lowell Folk Arts Festival in Massachusetts and in international festivals in Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, and the Czech Republic.

Pavel Dobrusky (co-director) was born, raised and educated in Prague. In 1983 he defected to Western Europe and in 1984 he moved to the USA. Now based in New York City, he works all over the United States and in Europe. He co-directed CAMT’s “Hamlet” with Vit Horejs. Among others, Mr. Dobrusky mounted “Richard III” in Gothenburg, Sweden and the International Festival in Bergen; “Carmen” and “Pelleas and “Melisande” at the National Theatre in Oslo; and “The Cherry Orchard” at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, among other projects. His U.S. credits include over 50 productions at various prestigious theaters including Cleveland Playhouse, Denver Theatre Center, McCarter Theatre, L.A.’s Theatre Center, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dobrusky has received numerous awards for his writing, direction and set/light/costume designs. In 2005 Pavel co-founded Agentura Dell’Arte, an organization that produces international and domestic performing and visual arts projects. Both Mr. Dobrusky and Mr. Horejs are emigres, and this production reflects their personal experience and mutual interest in the Velvet Revolution and revolution in general.

“Revolution!?” is presented by Theater for the New City as part of “Performing Revolution in Central and Eastern Europe,” a performing arts festival marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, which is presented by The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in partnership with key New York City cultural organizations and academic institutions from November 2009 to March 2010. (www.performingrevolution.org)

Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre is a program of GOH Productions, a NYC based arts services organization. This event has been made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support comes from Trust for Mutual Understanding, Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Society, Puppeteers of America, Materials for the Arts and private donors.

Agentura Dell’Arte (“Arts Agency”) was founded in Prague in October 2005 by Pavel Dobrusky and Tereza Hofbauerova, with a focus on producing theater projects, representing a selection of visual and performing artists fields and providing backstage tours for foreign students and professionals. The company serves as a portal to projects from both the production and the creative side-from writers, directors, designers, painters, musicians, sculptors and photographers to producers, institutions, agencies, companies, galleries, grant-makers, donors and governments that are involved in sponsoring, supporting and employment of creative talent. Dell’Arte = improvisation, that is, artists working together in a spirit of mutual enjoyment and is committed to the arts and artists in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Theater for the New City is located at 155 First Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Streets, in Manhattan. Showtimes are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased through the box office at (212) 254-1109 or online at www.theaterforthenewcity.net.