The Prague Shakespeare Company draws talented individuals and embarks on an impressive expansion
Posted: September 25, 2013
Guy Roberts, seen here in the title role of Henry V, founded the Prague Shakespeare Company in 2008 and currently serves as its artistic director.
Guy Roberts has accomplished a lot since just five years ago, when he established an English-language theater company in Prague that would focus on bringing Shakespeare to the Czech Republic in the language of the Bard.
This native of Houston, Texas, founded the Prague Shakespeare Company (PSC) in 2008; it has grown at a remarkable pace and recently moved from Roberts' apartment-cum-office to the stately setting of the Kolowrat Theater, where it now occupies the second floor, including two rehearsal spaces, and is used for administrative and dramaturgical offices as well as for storage of props and costumes for some 60 actors on staff.
This will be the first year the program for the season does not exclusively comprise works by William Shakespeare, but the company has no plans to diminish its output. In 2012, the PSC staged Richard III and Venus and Adonis in the summer, while from September to November the Kolowrat was the venue for immensely successful and entirely sold-out performances of Hamlet, As You Like It and Women of Will: The Complete Journey, the latter directed by and starring the Shakespeare powerhouse Tina Packer, who will direct Julius Caesar in Prague with a cast of seven actors at the beginning of 2014.
The summer performances last year lasted one week, and the shows at the Kolowrat took up around two months in total, but starting this year the PSC aims to be a much more permanent presence on the Prague English-language theater scene. Starting Oct. 4 with Henry V, and with plans to perform (at least, but perhaps more than) 12 productions, the company's 2013-14 season will end June 30 with the final performance of As You Like It, a charming play that effortlessly produced many exception moments of comedy when it played at the Kolowrat in November last year and was easily one of the highlights of the previous season.
And the PSC will hit the stage running with plans to perform four Shakespeare plays (Henry V, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), Cymbeline and Macbeth) within the first month, including one in the south Bohemian town of Český Krumlov Oct. 16-17.
"We really want [Český] Krumlov to be an ongoing part of our identity," says Roberts, who is also the PSC's artistic director. The PSC performed As You Like It in the historic town center in 2011 and returns with another comedy, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). "We really want to go there at least once a year in the future. … It's a special, magic place."
The privately financed PSC shares the Kolowrat Theater with the National Theatre and use the theater itself two-thirds of the month while the state-subsidized National Theatre uses it during the other third. It is a relatively small space, but Roberts says this setup suits their current needs very well. "A smaller venue [like the Kolowrat Theater] is perfect for the audience interaction we want to develop," he says, "but for some of our bigger productions, we would need a larger theater."
In fact, they moved to the Kolowrat as a result of their success there last year, as discussions between the PSC, the National Theatre and the Kolowrat family started at a time when their shows were sold out - with some people even flying in from abroad to see Tina Packer at work in her five-part production of women that examined female characters in Shakespeare's plays - but they could not add more shows because the theater was fully booked by the National Theatre.
Having moved into a building where they can use the theater for their shows two out of every three days in the year, Roberts says the PSC is moving closer to the way Czech theaters are producing plays. It certainly helps that they have up to six theater directors on their staff to cope with this schedule. "The exciting thing is that if anyone wants to see English-language theater, we will have something playing every week."
First up on the program is Henry V, playing six shows Oct. 4-19, which Roberts says would present "both the good and the bad aspects of war. ...Our main artistic agenda is to show and share Shakespeare - or what we think he is doing - with the audience. There is no slant. Henry V is not an anti-war Henry and it's not a pro-war Henry."
Next up is the rip-roaring The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (CWA), which Roberts says is one of the most exhausting and demanding "but completely exhilarating" roles any actor can have because of the constant energy needed to move through Shakespeare's plays at lightning speed in a short amount of time.
CWA will be followed by Cymbeline, directed by Caroline Boone, an interpretation of the play that Roberts calls the "best I've ever seen," and this first month of the season culminates with a production of Macbeth, the first show the company put on in 2008 at the Divadlo Komedie.
Roberts says the PSC has "an open-door policy," and if anyone is committed enough, they can have the opportunity to rise through the ranks at the company. His vision is to have an organization that enables talented and dedicated individuals to have the same kind of experience the distinguished theater actor Ian Holm had at the beginning of his career.
"When [Holm] started as an actor, he was basically carrying a spear. And he has since graduated to being knighted and playing King Lear. That kind of progression through the theater is not really possible anymore, [but] we really want it to be possible in our organization. ... Providing an artistic possibility like that is very important to us."
The "open-door policy" also extends to its audience, and in collaboration with renowned Shakespeare translator Martin Hilský, the PSC provides Czech surtitles at all its performances in order to make the shows wholly accessible to local spectators, as well.
See the PSC website for the season's program at Pragueshakespeare.com.
André Crous can be reached at
Tags: Shakespeare, Prague Shakespeare Company.