The English-speaking community in Prague has few chances to see drama performed in English. But this is just about to change, as The Prague Post - the country's leading English-language newspaper - has decided to encourage English-language theatre in the city, and founded its own festival of short plays.
To arouse the interest of authors in the First Annual Prague Post Short Play Festival, the paper organized and sponsored a playwriting contest. The scripts had to be in English and the plays were supposed to last no more than twenty minutes. Another important criterion was that all entrants had to be either current or former residents of the Czech Republic. Out of nearly 100 plays the jury selected the best three which will be staged at the Minor Theatre in Prague's Vodickova Street, with the first performance this Saturday. On the last night, March 19, the winner will be awarded a cash prize worth 20 000 crowns (900 US dollars).
Richard Byrne is one of the three finalists. He spent a whole year in Prague in the early 1990s, and has come back about ten times since. His play "Burn your Bookes [sic]" was clearly inspired by Prague and its history.
"When I first lived here in 1991 I was interested in those stories, though I was a little more interested at the time in learning about Czech culture. I was reading about the Good Soldier Svejk, and I was really trying to learn as much about this culture instead of my own culture, coming to Prague. But later on, after I left Prague, I started doing a lot more research into [would-be alchemist Edward] Kelley, and it really started to become fascinating for me, and it seemed like there was a good chance to maybe make a play out of it."
What do you personally like about the days of Rudolph II and all those alchemists?
"I find it a really stimulating period for two reasons. The first is that, of course, it was such an ornate, opulent period. Prague was literally the centre of all sorts of intellectual life, poetry, art, alchemy and all these things. But also, there are so many parallels to our own situation today: alchemy and those kinds of arts really were sort of proto-science and they were the research and development arm of the Renaissance empire. The stakes were very high and people were losing their lives if they failed. I find that kind of extremity very interesting and very dramatic."
What do you think of the production of the play? Are you happy with it?
"Yes, I'm absolutely extatic. My director Julek Neumann is amazing, brilliant, I have three wonderful actors who were really playing their hearts out, and I think we are going to have a really good show!"