Albright to unveil bust during NY festival honouring Havel

Rehearsal for Truth is a weeklong theatre festival dedicated to Václav Havel that gets underway in New York on Tuesday. Alongside plays and stage readings, it will also see the presentation of a human rights award and the unveiling of a new bust of the dissident turned president at Columbia University. I discussed the festival, which is focused on Central European theatre, with organiser Pavla Niklová of the Václav Havel Library Foundation.

Pavla Niklová, photo: Ian WilloughbyPavla Niklová, photo: Ian Willoughby “The main idea is to extend the legacy of Havel.

“We are the Václav Havel Library Foundation and we had the idea that we would promote his legacy with theatre, because he was a man of the theatre.

“Another idea was that Havel advocated strongly for the Visegrad countries to work together, and all of these countries have really strong theatrical traditions – theatre institutes that are used to working internationally, collaborating and working on big projects.

“So that was the idea: to put together a showcase of Central European theatre in New York.”

All these years after the fall of communism and after those countries joined NATO and the EU, do they still have something in common, especially as regards their theatre scenes?

“Yes, I think they have good things and bad things in common and I think the theatre is one of the great things that they have together.

“They work together on many European projects where they support and present each other, both in a practical way – in presenting theatre – and in a theoretical way: organising seminars and symposia in Europe.”

Apart from the theatre side of the festival there’s also a human rights element. Can you please tell us about that?

Photo: archive of Václav Havel Library FoundationPhoto: archive of Václav Havel Library Foundation “That’s another project that’s connected with Václav Havel. We established an annual award for a courageous writer at risk.

“We call it the Disturbing the Peace Award and this will be the third year.

“The idea is to acknowledge a writer with a similar life story to Václav Havel’s – meaning you are trying to pursue your artistic or writing career but all of a sudden it happens that the regime doesn’t appreciate it and doesn’t like you to disturb their peace, and you become a dissident.

“These writers are people who refuse to be silenced.

“We would like to acknowledge them, to promote their names around the world and to attract more and more people to fight for them and to support them.”

Who is this year’s recipient?

“This year it’s a Chinese writer and dissident named Liao Yiwu.

Liao Yiwu, photo: Czech TelevisionLiao Yiwu, photo: Czech Television “He’s a writer who recited his poem about the Tiananmen Square massacre and was afterwards put in prison for four years. But now he lives in Germany.”

Also this week there’s going to be the unveiling of a bust of Václav Havel at Columbia University. Is that part of the festival?

“Yes, it is. We are very happy that Columbia University has joined the festival.

“It was at the last minute, I would say, but we are totally thrilled.

“The bust will be dedicated by Madeleine Albright, with a short lecture and discussion.

“The author of the bust is the Czech sculptor Marie Šeborová, and she will be in attendance as well.”