Clowning Around in Brno

It is here where I say hello.

Today on May 27, 2019 Anno Domini, our journey through the Czech Republic took us through Litomysl before landing us in the city of Brno. It is important to note that neither of these places happen to be Prague. I was surprised, too, to learn that the nation of the Czech Republic is more than its capital, and while I did not realize it, so much of the new world I’ve been exploring is so small. We drove through forests and across fields of yellow flowers, wandered into diners and gas stations, and gained new insights into Czech life and culture.

Most strikingly, I’ve noticed, is how widespread the effects of the events we’ve spent the whole week learning about actually were. Prague only offers one small snapshot, of tanks rolling through the streets and brave revolutionaries standing up to multiple regimes. But outside Ground Zero, the wars were also raging. We toured a castle that the Nazis had taken over during their occupation of Czechoslovakia. We met people who endured the communist regime. And though these insights were brief, they were still insights nonetheless. What stuck out to me personally was how widespread the reverence was for Czech president Vaclav Havel. Even two hours from Prague, there was still so much love for a man I only know in the frame of Prague.

That brings me to my next point. Art. In Brno, we went straight to what was referred to as a “clowning workshop,” and as a straight-faced and indifferent man, that terrified me. Being told to dress in “movement clothes” felt a little problematic, as I only own jeans, and am never prepared to move. However, it turned out that the behaviors I normally associate with clowns (honk-honk, y’all) were not the ones taught in this workshop. Rather, it was more of a workshop for finding connection with scene partners in various ways. In short, it was an improv workshop, and boy do I love improv.

I’m noticing in the Czech Republic’s contemporary art scene a strong sense of stream-of-consciousness collaborative theatre, and as a playwright, that both terrifies and fascinates me. As president of Susquehanna’s improv club, I am no stranger to generating stories out of thin air. But in the United States, it’s a hobby, some way for students to let loose and have fun. Here, it’s a practice. Our mentor Filip Teller honed it as an art.

So is this where art is going? Improv? Stream of conscious? The raw viscera of content creation? On one end, this is great. We get to know the artists intimately. They become human. On the other end, this is frightening. I as a playwright live on the draft, on the idea that through the intellectual refinement of one artist, I can churn our a potent piece of art. But the Czech contemporary art scene throws that out the window. Filip Teller needs no script, only a concept. The avant-garde artists of a couple days ago explored difficult concepts through abstract collaboration. In face of all this, what’s one theatre-man screaming at a piece of paper and hoping a dramatic manuscript spawns from it going to do? What mark is that going to leave?

And then I remember Vaclav Havel.

I have read his plays, and I love them. But surprisingly, they’re not staged often. They’re good scripts, but they don’t speak as potently to contemporary times as avant-garde theatre or as improvised farce. And yet Vaclav Havel is adored. Why? Because he fought for what was right. He created art and subverted a Communist regime and even if we don’t recreate that art, that doesn’t make his contribution invalid. Likewise, so long as I support what I feel is write, so long as my art has purpose, what does it matter?

What a world I’m in, where clowning around in Brno could have such a magnificent purpose. Just goes to show, maybe my world was just too small. I’m glad it’s gotten a little larger.

This is Steven Christopher McKnight, a playwright of unknown origin and bright destination, signing off. Na shledanou!

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