BWW Interviews: Guy Roberts Discusses His Work with Prague Shakespeare Company
This is the third interview in a six part series for Shakespeare Spotlight featuring players of Shakespeare.
Guy Roberts is an actor/director with a mission. As Founder and Artistic Director of Prague Shakespeare Company, he dreams of leading his company to recognition as the premiere English-language classical theatre in continental Europe. Now in his sixth year of living and working in Prague, he has already made great strides toward that goal.
DC: Tell me about how your artistic journey from America to Prague.
In 2007, I was running Austin Shakespeare Festival. The City of Austin gave me a grant to come to Prague and direct MACBETH with a multilingual company. I came and loved it. I was 35 years old at the time and in my sixth year at Austin Shakespeare. I realized if I was going to make a big change, that was the time to do it. And so I came back in early 2008 and started the Prague Shakespeare Festival [now Prague Shakespeare Company]. We have just finished our fifth year, so we're in our sixth season now.
DC: Can you describe the theatre scene in Prague?
Prague is a magical city. Both the communists and the Nazis loved Prague, so it's one of the few cities in Europe that wasn't bombed by anyone. The legend is that one Allied bomb accidentally fell. So there are a lot of original structures and beautifully historic places in the city.
The respect for theatre in the Czech Republic is phenomenal. I mean, this is a country that selected a playwright [Vaclav Havel] as its first democratically elected president. And Prague is a very special place. It's remarkable for a city that has just over a million people to have a hundred professional theatres, each playing a different show every night. People go to theatre in Prague the way people go to movies in America. They'll just show up sometimes not even knowing what's on that night, just knowing they want to go to the theatre. It's really unique to feel that theatre is actually respected and admired.
DC: Tell me about Shakespearean performance in Prague.
There is a very rich Czech tradition of Shakespeare. There's a long history, we think, of English language Shakespeare being performed back as far as 1596 when Robert Brown and some of the English comedians toured Europe. There is also a large Shakespeare festival that was started by Havel at Prague Castle every summer.
Most of the Czechs know Shakespeare from one source. There's a man namEd Martin Hilsky who has translated the entire canon. His translations are always in iambic pentameter, but it's very difficult. In Czech, the first word of every syllable is always stressed. So the beginning of every line will always be a trochee. It's impossible to have it any other way. But Hilsky is very careful about trying to stick to ten beats per line and maintain as much as he can of the original rhythm.
How is Prague Shakespeare Company structured?
We have an artistic core [ensemble] that lives in Prague year round. I believe when you are doing Shakespeare and Moliere and Chekhov, you have to have a core company. But our company changes and is fluid. We've had actors from the UK, Canada, France, Russia, China. It is a multi-national company, although all performances are in English.
Every year, we have an open casting call in Prague. This year, we held auditions in London and New York as well. We also have several Associate Artists around the world who come here from time to time. Obviously, a lot of people are willing to come to Prague. We've been very fortunate in that it has not been difficult to find people who want to do plays with us in Prague.
How do you handle the language barrier?
I speak poor Czech. It's a difficult language but one I respect, because I'm a quarter Czech myself. English language is so pervasive here, and everyone wants to speak English with you. So it's a bit of a challenge getting to practice your Czech.