Sex-workers’ theatre group play Prague festival on Saturday

This weekend sees the 19th annual ‘Babí léto’ festival take place at Prague’s Bohnice psychiatric clinic. The festival comprises of both music and drama and, for the fifth year running, a special showcase of homeless people’s theatre. One of the acts involved in that section is ‘Bliss’ – a Czech musical theatre troupe made up of sex-workers. The group is run by the Czech charity ‘Rozkoš bez rizika’ (‘Bliss without Risk’), whose work also includes counseling, and testing sex-workers for AIDS. When I met charity head Hana Malinová, she seemed slightly nervous about her theatre troupe’s upcoming performance:

“We had our first rehearsal on Monday, but nobody came. It was just me and my musician. So, we tried to play our piano and double bass together and practice a few new songs, but unfortunately there were no interpreters present. But we hope that our clients will come. They love to do theatre, but sometimes they forget that it is also necessary to prepare, or rather to be prepared and not surprised.”

This idea of a theatre group for sex-workers is quite unusual, what gave you the idea to set this up?

“Yes perhaps it is, but you know our everyday work is to motivate our clients and to maintain a pleasant space for girls to come and be tested for STIs. This space is for girls to come and spend a nice time with us and it’s where they can come and take care of themselves. So that is our main aim. Right now there is a Hepatitis A epidemic in Prague and we are at the head of a big prevention programme taking place at the main railway station. And we have a mobile ambulance where homeless people, drug users, and our own clients are vaccinated against Hepatitis A.”

When you set up Rozkoš bez rizika in 1992, as you said, a lot of it was about monitoring for Hepatitis A, B, C, syphilis and AIDS. All these years on, are there now lots of other people doing that in the Czech Republic, or are you still out on your own?

“You know that we have expanded our programme. We now have ten teams in ten different regions of the Czech Republic, and besides our organization, the most famous is JANA – they operate along the German border, and from the border region up to Plzeň. So that is approximately their area. Some small schemes are found in Znojmo – Charita works there, but you know, they have kind of pushed us out of that place [laughs]. But there are still many places in the Czech Republic where there is no team, and where no one is taking care of sex workers. Usually we take advantage of our travels - for example, when I go to a conference in Pardubice, where there is no team, there are just two brothers working for us there, and it is difficult for just the two of them, I go to work there too. Usually when we go somewhere we take the opportunity to do outreach work.”

Babí Léto takes place on Saturday, September 13 at Prague’s Bohnice Clinic. 'A Slice of Bliss' from the 'Bliss' theatre group will be on at 4pm.