Petr Sourek - artistic director of theatre for the homeless

16-01-2006

The Jezek and Cisek theatre here in Prague is most unusual in that all of its members either are homeless or have spent time on the streets in the past. Its dramaturg, or artistic director, is a young man called Petr Sourek. I caught up with Petr after a recent show at Prague's NoD club, and began by asking him to tell me a bit about the history of the Jezek and Cisek theatre group.

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek "It's been in existence approximately five years. It was a hobby of people who sold the Novy Prostor street newspaper..."

Which I should say is like the Big Issue, it's the Czech equivalent I suppose.

"Yeah. It grew bigger and is now independent of Novy Prostor. And around 200 people have come through it, some were playing and some just going to rehearsals and in contact with out theatre."

Do you find that people drop out, so to speak, when they have more difficult times in their lives - if they're actually homeless, they're less likely to come at that time?

"Yes, it's very interesting because we have to find people who are really in trouble but not in the real homeless routine. Most of our actors, or clients, are people from small towns.

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek "The first idea if you lose your job, if you are actually homeless, if you have serious family problems, the first idea is to take a train to Prague and to look for better living.

"These people just drop in the central railway station in Prague and they don't know what to do. These are typical homeless people in Prague. They are just in a big urban area and they don't know the area, actually. So we do a kind of street work. We offer to them, you can come, you can do rehearsals.

"For us are especially interesting are people who have not been homeless for years, but who have been homeless for, let's say, a month."

You think it's more possible to save them?

"Yes, to help them at least, because we are no kind of charity, we have no one aim or one end for all homeless people. We just help them to find their own solutions to their own problems."

I know a couple of them at least have had problems in the past with alcohol - does that make it harder to organise them, so to speak?

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek "Alcohol is a big problem, but there are drugs as well and other problems. We have just one rule - if you drink you can't play."

I was a bit shocked after I saw the theatre group a couple of months ago to learn that one of the members had AIDS. I presume the other members are OK about that, it's not an issue within the group?

"I think people on the street probably have a lot of prejudices, but the street teaches you a bit of tolerance very fast, so I don't think it's a big issue inside of the group."

How many of them can really act? Or how many of them are just enthusiastic and keen to do something?

"Really act...they have no acting training, so they can't act, really act in the theatre, in the state theatre or somewhere like that. But at the same time they can play, and we make them play, not act."

What's the difference?

"I think to be a little more playful. Because acting is a bit of a more serious job, and playing is without limits."

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek I visited the theatre's rehearsal space, which is a basement in Zizkov. You don't have a permanent theatre - what kind of places do you actually play in?

"We play in different clubs or different festivals, sometimes even on the street. Yeah, we can find a lot of places to play."

You were telling me earlier you played at some train station.

"Yes, we play at the train station as well. But it's quite difficult to arrange with the railway company."

They don't like the idea?

"I think if you say, we are here for homeless people, many people say, it could bring problems - we do understand it. But we don't want it."

Just to digress for a second, what would you say in general is the attitude of Czech people towards homelessness? In this country it's a relatively new phenomenon, I think you could say.

"On the one hand, it's like a new word for them. There were no jobless or homeless people: really there were but officially there were no such people. So they have to get used to them.

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek "On the other hand I think that some people really can't understand how fast is the way from their apartment to the street."

From you experience of homeless people here in Prague, do you know if they often encounter trouble or violence, or any kind of abuse?

"There's a Czech song that says clothes make a person, so it depends on dress. If you are well dressed...and I think most of our actors are something like the top class of homeless, they are not well dressed but they are acceptably well dressed, so I think they can't meet this kind of violence.

"But if they are badly dressed, if they even smell bad, people of course have a distance from them."

When you say that your clients are the top class of homeless what do you mean by that?

"It's about this routine - if you are in the homeless routine you are not trying any more, you probably drink more. Our clients, or our actors, are trying, are playing. So they aren't like hopeless cases."

Photo: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizekPhoto: www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek What do you hope, or what do you want them to get from the experience of being a member of the Jezek a Cisek theatre?

"I think the first thing is that they are members of a group which accepts them. As they are - not as they should be or as they would be but as they are.

"The second thing is that they learn they can do something, and that they should probably act a little bit if they are looking for a job. It's good training for job interviews."

Would you say it gives them confidence?

"Yeah. Confidence is actually something that Czechs in general are lacking. And homeless people more than others."

For more information about the theatre go to www.divadlo.cz/jezekacizek/

16-01-2006