San Francisco International Arts Festival presents the West Coast premiere of “Antiwords” by Spitfire Company, a leading ensemble from the Czech Republic

by Charles Kruger

The author of this feature article is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Surely, there is nothing new under the sun. And surely it is the new that creative artists must seek, and hopefully achieve. Do you detect a contradiction? Of course you do.

Creative artists are in the business of resolving this contradiction by combining the ancient, the tried, and the true in ever new ways. What is old is new because it must be rediscovered in every generation and for every time. A beloved chant by Will Shepardson (aka Pagan musician Morning Feather) would have it like this: “We are an old people/we are a new people/we are the same people/different thatn before.”

In the theatre world, contermporary artists often speak of the concept of “Total Theatre.” It is a term that is hard to define. Perhaps it is best described as an aspirational approach, rather than a particular style. Devotees of “Total Theatre” strive to include as much variety in theatrical art as possible with every performance. On their website, the Total Theatre Network (a highly-respected organization that sponsors a yearly conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the reknowned Fringe Festival) tries to describe what the concept includes:  “theatre, live art, visual performance, mime, puppetry, physical theatre, experimental theatre, dance, clown, circus, street, immersive, outdoor, site specific performance and more.” That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

The Spitfire Company, one of the Czech Republic’s leading theatrical organizations, has often been described as “Total Theatre,” and was nominated for a “Total Theatre Award” at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. They now bring their unique aesthetics to the San Francisco International Arts Festival for the West coast premiere of “Antiwords.”

“Antiwords” is inspired by the play “Audience” by Václav Havel, a Czech poet, playwright, and statesman who served as the first President of the Czech Republic, from 1993 t0 2003. In Spitfire’s interpretation, the play is performed by two female actors wearing expressive masks. Almost all dialogue is eliminated, making it almost entirely a piece of pure physical theatre. “Antiwords” has toured extensivly throughout Europe, to Bejing, and to the East Coast of the United States.

Petr Boháč , artistic director of Spitfire.

Artistic Director Petr Boháč kindly welcomed several questions from TheatreStorm and his written responses follow.

How would you describe your work? (And/or the work of the company.)

Spitfire was founded in 2007 with a strong focus on physical theater. We are rooted in the heritage of Jerzy Growtowski, Eugenio Barba, DV8, and others. We began with  a lot of experiments with body and voice and extreme performance, crossing over the performers’ limits. Since then we have moved more towards the visual with dance, conceptual and crossover projects bringing together different forms, genres and expressions. There are now two main directions: the first brings always an appealing topic that discusses burning questions of our lives in a dialog with either the past, contemporary politics, or social issues. The second  is more poetic where we explore the truth of a body in a dialog with intimacy, frailty and deeply personal existence on the stage.

The company is built on artists with strong personalities who come from different backgrounds and we collaborate closely with painters, sculptors, and composers. Recently we have added installations and site-specific performances to our list of forms. We also run the International Zero Point Festival In Prague that offers  performances that don’t fit into any box or category, but are exceptional in their forms.

What have been some of your influences?

I have studied literature, so a lot of influence comes from French post-structuralist philosophy and its predecessors, as well as the European avant-garde, American abstract expressionism, and, of course, the Theatre of the Absurd is in our very blood.

If I have such a thing as a muse, that would be my wife who has an inspiring artistic practice of her own.

How would you describe your (and/or the company’s) daily artistic practice?

When we started, we used to rehearse each new performance from six to twelve months for ten hours a day. That was was extreme,  but it was important as we were searching for our theater language which we have developed further since then.

Now we usually create two main shows a year, plus some smaller works or collaborations. Each show is typically rehearsed for three months. Then it remains in  repertory for a few years, performed either in our home venue in Prague or abroad at festivals or on tour.

We also do international collaborations and co-productions. We feel it is important to share our experience and reach out to work with others having different ideas and inspirations.

How does the upcoming performance planned for SFIAF relate to the theme of “The Path to Democracy?” Or, what are you specifically seeking to address in the upcoming performance for SFIAF?

“Antiwords” is based on the play, “Audience” by Václav Havel.  “Audience” is absurd and tragic comedy from 1975. It is set  in a small Czech Brewery and follows two male characters, the protagonist Vaněk, (Václav Havel’s alter ego) and his superior, a brewer who is attempting to convince Vaněk to spy on behalf of the state secret police. In our production, Havel’s play is transformed into physical theatre with masks, dance, and performance art. On the surface, the play’s situations is simple, but it is also multilayered, deep,  and powerful as it speaks about the dominance of power, manipulation and oppression. Havel himself was a banned author, and he was several times imprisoned and had to undergo forced labor. This play comes from his real life experience working in a brewery as a laborer and facing the communist regime on a daily basis. Havel’s wit and sense of absurdity, as well as the play’s skillful construction, make the both funny and dark.

Spitfire Company will perform “Antiwords” at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on Thursday, May 30th through Sunday June 2nd. For further information, CLICK HERE.

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (FMCAC) hosts this performances as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, which runs from May 23, 2019 to June 2, 2019. The Festival features performances by more than 50  different artists, ensembles, and companies including dance, theatre, music, and comedy, plus various educational activities and public receptions.  Get discounts on tickets to see multiple shows  by buying a Festival pass. More details CLICK HERE.

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