A bit of Czech “spitfire” is coming to San Francisco this summer, and they’re tapping into a global surge of political performance.
The Spitfire Company from the Czech Republic will be bringing their award-winning play Antiwords to the San Francisco International Arts Festival for its West Coast debut. The central theme for this year’s International Arts Festival is “The Path to Democracy,” inspired by current national events, and aims to showcase art that examines the struggle for democracy in different cultures across the globe.
The United States isn’t alone in careening into Trumpism. Since 2016, Brazil, Hungary, and Poland have seen totalitarian, xenophobic regimes rise up on waves of popular angst, to name just a few examples. For better or worse, many former satellite nations have a storied experience with totalitarianism, and since Bertolt Brecht and beyond, Eastern European theater has always approached that history with dark and irreverent humor.
Antiwords is a satirical re-imagining of a Václav Havel play, Audience. Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic and a former dissident, was a well-known author of plays, essays, and memoirs. Audience, set in 1975, features a main character who, like Havel, is a dissident playwright. He is forced to work in a brewery because his writing has been banned by the Czechoslovak Communist regime. He suspects he is being spied on by his boss, a suspicion that is eventually confirmed to be true, and comedy unfolds.
Spitfire Company has reimagined the two main male characters from Audience as female in Antiwords. Where a long dialogue unfolds in the original work, in Antiwords, the comedy relies heavily on physicality and contains little dialogue. Spitfire Company, currently one of the most progressive ensembles of author theatre in the Czech Republic, is known for their “explosive” absurd comedies with a unique mix of masks and physical humor to support the material. As a company, they produce physical, visual and dance theatre and cite core themes of their work as being an emphasis on experiencing a performer’s state of being and dealing with humankind’s limitation and the character’s existential situation.
Spitfire Company’s most popular show is The Voice of Anne Frank, which explores the young girl behind a famous story and the problems faced both by those who survived the Holocaust and those who didn’t. It received a handful of awards, including Outstanding Performance Award at the Prague Fringe Festival in 2012.
Since premiering in 2013, Antiwords has received international acclaim and been enjoyed by audiences in cities spanning three continents, including Washington D.C., New York City, Beijing, Seoul, Berlin, Milan, London, Oslo, Krakow and Florence. It is also currently the most staged adaptation of Havel's work in the world and was nominated for the Total Theatre award at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015. The director, Petr Boháč, is also the artistic director and co-founder of Spitfire Company. Boháč’s work been presented in over eleven European countries, the United States and Africa.
Antiwords will be performed three times during this year’s San Francisco International Arts Festival: Thursday, May 30 at 9:30pm, Saturday, June 1 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, June 2 at 7:00pm. It is 55 minutes long and will be presented in Czech with English super-titles. Tickets can be purchased on the 2019 San Francisco International Arts Festival website.
Spitfire Company will also be holding a one-day intensive master class at Studio A.C.T. on Sunday, June 1 at 1pm. Learn more on the American Conservatory Theater’s website.
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