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  • Transformative Cross-Cultural Dialogue in PragueAmericans Creating Czech History Plays
  • Karen Berman (bio)

Through a series of study abroad journeys, students at Georgia College under my direction as the chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance have presented original plays that address, from an American standpoint, Czech heroes who fought the Communist and Nazi regimes. The plays, co-written by me and my husband, Paul Accettura, and directed by me, have fostered cross-cultural dialogue between Czech audiences and American actors as we brought both well-known and little-known personages of the Czech Republic to life for the Czech people. Performances took place in Prague theatres and museums and in the Eastern European Regions International Theatre Festival in Hradac Kralove during the summers of 2010, 2012, and 2014. Indirectly describing our experiences with Czech theatres, Dan Rebellato in his book Theatre & Globalization states: "The ever-greater interconnectedness of theatre cultures is visible in the post-war phenomenon of the international festival."1 Although not all Georgia College performances in the Czech Republic have occurred during international festivals, the pursuit of cross-cultural dialogue seems to be a shared goal.

Utilizing global theatre techniques of Czech, Polish, and American theatre, the Georgia College summer productions have energized physical theatre practices for the American actors involved, and framed historical movements of the Czech Republic for Czech audiences from an outsiders' perspective. Georgia College students who participated in the study abroad encounters were immersed in Grotowski's ideographs and the political theatre of playwright Vaclav Havel. Havel, who led a peaceful revolution against Communism in then Czechoslovakia, is a principal example of an artist who successfully promoted social change, influencing many [End Page 82] countries, most particularly his own. Grotowski's ideographs—images embodied by the actors—along with dance elements used to further the visual storytelling allowed key parts of the three plays to be told without words to audience members who were not fully fluent in English. The ideographs were also very effective in dramatizing the lives, thoughts, and events impacting important figures from Czech history due to their ability to help the actors embody emotional and political conflict.

The experience of performing Czech stories in the Czech Republic gave students from the United States global awareness into the characters and histories of Central European people through theatre. By conducting dramaturgical research into the political and cultural situations of the time periods and locations covered by the plays, students perceived how global events impacted the Czech characters they were depicting. Additionally, their interactions with Czech people during the rehearsal and performance processes, as well as interactions with key sites in the Czech Republic relevant to the arc of their character's journeys, provided opportunities for transformative cross-cultural dialogue and learning. The Georgia College students were able to discuss US and European culture, politics, and history with a variety of theatre artists present at the festival from countries throughout Europe. This frequently provided the students with a better picture of how the United States, its politics, and its culture are understood from the perspective of European theatre artists. Perhaps most importantly, these discussions often provided the students with surprising critiques of US political culture. The following account attempts to unpack our experiences and illuminate at least one approach to fostering transformative cross-cultural dialogue through theatre.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the logistical challenges of presenting new plays in another country, in English, based on important historical characters from that country, performed by American actors, initially seemed daunting. Through Georgia College's vice president of international education, Dr. Dwight Call, we were able to find a host in the Czech Republic. Dr. Stanislav Bohadlo, a music professor at the University of Hradac Králové who is fluent in English and well connected within the theatre and music communities there, served as host and interpreter. He was able to assist us in acquiring a space in which to perform during each of our visits at the international theatre festival in Hradac Králové, and we timed our visits to coincide with the festival. Dr. Bohadlo was also able to arrange rehearsal space at his university and at his small theatre building...


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