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Interview - Hana and Karel Heřmánek talk about theatre and about a meeting with Orlando Bloom

Tereza Janatová
19.Dec 2016
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7 minutes
Special section

They have been involved in theatre for twenty years now. Despite the fact that they see each other at home and at work, you would be hard pressed to find any signs of cabin fever on them. This husband and wife team charge each other’s batteries among other things with their love of theatre. They talk more about their work, marriage and mistakes in this interview. 

I have registered that you once mentioned that the audience will find a good theatre itself, so I would like to know what makes a good theatre a good theatre.

Karel: You can recognise a good theatre by the fact that there is an audience there (laughs).

But the audience doesn’t just start going to that theatre just like that. Do you think that the choice of plays or famous actors are important?

Karel: It is a bit of both, but over the years, the audience has come to know our repertoire or what type of plays we put on and they know the actors who work for us.

Hana: I think that it is important to have a company of actors who get on well together and act together for a long time. In our case, that is already more than twenty years. But it is always a good thing to invite guest actors who have never acted with us before to join us. After having read the script, we always think about our company, but we look for suitable types for the individual roles. That is sort of refreshing, not only for the work, but in the end also for the audience. 

Byt s výhledem na Prahu - Karlín - 308m
Byt s výhledem na Prahu - Karlín - 308m, Praha 8

Are comedies more of a draw?

Karel: I like comedies. I prefer to smile than be sad and moreover, people nowadays need to relax when they go to the theatre, to take their mind off things. We try to choose intelligent comedies. The sort that have some sort of added value. But we don’t only have comedies in our repertoire.

Do you ever get stuck when choosing a comedy?

Karel: Definitely. It happens.

So what is to blame? Is it difficult to learn, or was the choice a bad one from the start?

Karel: Mostly it was due to the fact that we had expected it to turn out well, but that need not necessarily be the case. (laughs).

Hana: It has happened to us that after the second performance, we were uncertain and decided to cancel the play. And that was probably the right thing to do. When Karel went home, there was a message stuck to the office door: “Dear Mr Heřmánek, I do like you, but with this one, you can just shove it ……”

Karel: And that was decided! So we cancelled it!

Can I ask what it was called?

Titanic Orchestra.

So everything went down with that ship! Never again the Titanic or anything to do with it?

Karel: With the Titanic, I suppose it is a foregone conclusion that things won’t turn out for the best.

So you prefer not to put on catastrophic plays anymore! (laughs)

Karel: Rather not! But even if the premiere of a play goes well, there is still a lot of work to do on it. 

Hana: When you rehearse without an audience, you are saying your lines into thin air, but when the audience starts to react, to clap, to laugh, only then do you get into the swing of things. That is important. 

Karel: We even adapt the text after the premiere. Sometimes we even have to cross things out, we are continuously working with the actors to ensure the meaning of the whole play is not lost. It is important to rehearse everything carefully so that the production doesn’t fall apart after a few performances.

How long do you rehearse a play for?

Karel: You could say about two and a half months. But we work with the text before rehearsals, the director creates a concept and we cooperate with the people creating the performance. 

Hana. After rehearsals, we do shows outside of Prague to see what the audience’s reaction is and to put the finishing touches on production. There are several of this sort of pre-premiere.

Luxusní vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m
Luxusní vila na prodej - Klánovice - 465m, Praha 9

Is the audience at these shows outside of Prague and those in Prague different?

Karel: I must say that the audience is more grateful at the shows outside of Prague and it is probably more of an occasion for them.

Hana: But we put on the cult French play ART just yesterday and the audience reacted the same as those in the shows outside of Prague ☺ (laughs). Each performance is different.

Seeing as you have been doing theatre for so long, are you able to judge whether the audience’s taste is changing or even the taste of the individual theatre-goer?

Karel: Over the course of my years in theatre, I must say that the audience’s taste has in fact changed. The influence of simple and superficial telenovelas, which are truly uncomfortable to watch, is exhibiting itself. This is why we so greatly appreciate our audience, people who still feel the need to learn something, to think and to laugh. 

Hana: It is wonderful that you can still find people who feel the need to read books and go to the theatre.

I saw a photo of you and you were wearing a nappy. Tell me, how far are you prepared to go to entertain your audience?

(Laughs) The nappy suited that character so why not. And in fact, you must come and see LUV! The play was written by the famous American dramatist Murray Schisgal, it is full of intelligent humour and I love putting it on together with Dana Morávková and Zdeněk Žák. 

Are you happy that you husband is able to make fun of himself?

I still like going to see him, as he always imbues each and every role with his own typical humour, even if it is for example the tragic character Sir in the play THE DRESSER, in which he also plays the part of famous King Lear, or the peevish Prime Minister Hacker in the political satire YES MINISTER, and my favourite is the scene when he washes his feet in the famous comedy THREE ON A SEESAW.

When was the last time you went to the theatre together outside of work as members of the audience?

Hana: The last time we went was to the Estates Theatre to see Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale by the Prague Shakespeare Company, which the famous writer set in the Bohemia. I am not sure whether he knew where Bohemia in fact is …

Karel: Probably not, as he set the play by the sea.

Hana: We were invited to the performance by the famous director Guy Roberts and we really had fun. Guy also directed Shakespeare in our theatre – the comedy MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. That was an exceptional piece of work and the way he did it really is unusual. He conceived the whole play as a period radio broadcast by the BBC in the way things were really done in the 40s in England. This is why the actors Lucka Benešová, Roman Zach, Martin Zbrožek, Veronika Žilková and many others got dressed up in military uniforms for the production and go wild to the sounds of swing. And the day before yesterday, we were lucky to get tickets to the Semperoper for Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte – which was a truly fantastic experience. We also like going to the theatre outside of the Czech Republic. We saw Romeo and Juliet in New York with Orlando Bloom. That alone would not have been such an amazing experience, but I remember the moment he arrived on stage on a motorbike and the whole theatre went “aaaaaaaah!”. 

Karel: The audience was louder than that Harley!!

Hana: That does by the way happen regularly during LUV when you come on stage on a Harley ☺

Are you in fact able to watch a play from a distance without saying to yourself what you would do differently?

Karel: If a performance moves you, you don’t notice the technical details.

Have you ever walked out of a play?

Karel: Yes, that has happened.

A lot of times?

Karel: If a play is bad, then I don’t see any reason to stay.

Hana: It’s like this – if somebody has invited us to a performance, we would not leave. 

Hana: That is why we prefer to buy tickets ourselves (laughs) and we then have the freedom to do as we please.

And what about your plays? Are you currently in the process of choosing one?

Karel: We do have a few ideas, but we will see if we manage to find some partners to sponsor us in our efforts to prepare a new comedy. 

Are you willing to divulge to me which play this concerns or is that not the done thing?

Karel: We would rather not divulge that information.

Hana: ..because it really is a good one!!

Karel: ..and the enemy is always listening!

Seeing as you spend a lot of time together at work, what are things like at home? 

Karel: I think it is better if people have some sort of interest in common and also common troubles to deal with than if people come home each with their own ones. That could lead to conflict, whereas there is no danger of that in our case. 

But you also have children how are gravitating towards acting.

Our son has already graduated from DAMU and is already acting. He acts in our theatre and in the Prague Shakespeare Company because his English is good. He is not on a two-month trial in America. 

Christmas is coming. If you were to invite our readers to the theatre, which play would it be?

Karel: I like them all.

But you must have a favourite!

Karel: I like The Dresser. It is a really lovely play. I really do like that one.

Hana: I wanted to say that too, but in the pre-Christmas period, people are probably most interested in the comedies which Jiří Menzel read for us, like LE DÎNER DE CONS, SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR and SAME TIME, ANOTHER YEAR. These are frequently chosen by various companies which hire us for a performance and invite their employees and clients. In doing so, they have a sensibly resolved Christmas party. One play really is curious – the comedy ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR – the cast hasn’t changed in twenty-five years, so the husband and wife Veronika Freimannová and Rudolf Hrušínský are still soothing their crying baby in the pram.

Karel: So what?! In the performance of SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR, Veronika plays a seventeen-year-old and a ninety-year-old! (laughs)

How will the theatre be open over the Christmas period?

Hana: This year, we will even be performing on 24 December. We will be performing a fairy tale for children in the morning and I think that is a great opportunity for the mothers out there to find time to prepare everything. The dads can take their kids and combine this with a last Christmas shop and maybe even buy some tickets to our theatre. We will be performing all through Christmas right until New Year’s Eve. Both of the afternoon performances of SUNNY BOYS on New Year’s Eve are already sold out, so this year as an exception we will also be performing from eight in the evening. We also have a lot of interesting concerts. Čechomor will be playing here, Hradišťan and Ivan Mládek will be performing here as will Honza Nedvěd. I am really looking forward to Pavel Šporcl. We will be kicking off advent as is now our tradition on 8 December with a Christmas market, where children from the Slunce foundation will be selling their biscuits, Stollen cakes and sweet Christmas bread together with our actors and decorating our theatre with lovely decorations. So we really will be enjoying Christmas. Come along! There will be mulled wine there too ☺


Fast confession:

Favourite monument in Prague?

Hana: Hradčany, the Old Town, the Lesser Town …
Karel: The whole of Prague is beautiful. It really is a unique city.

House or flat?

Karel: House.
Hana: Our house.

Work or fun?

Karel: Both.
Hana: When work is fun – and luckily it is.

Favourite dessert?

Karel: What is that dessert that you make at Christmas called?
Hana: Victorian English cake with alcohol.
Karel: That cake then.
Hana: Every dessert which disappears from the table quickly.

Where would you like to go for your dream holiday?

Karel: We have already been there and it is Africa. We have fallen in love with Africa.
Hana: Africa!!!

What makes you angry?

Karel: Arrogance.
Hana: Envy.

What makes you most happy?

Karel: A perceptive audience.
Hana: Anyone who is good at something and does it with their whole heart and to the full.

Favourite play?

Karel: The Dresser.
Hana: Every play where I see Karel. (laughs)

Do you have any acting idol? Who is it?

Karel: Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks.
Hana: Benedict Cumberbatch. And Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn! And of course Woody Allen, whose wonderful play we discovered for the Czech public and which we enjoy performing.

Which food would you refuse to eat?

Karel: Buns and custard.
Hana: I am prepared to try anything, but I would probably not eat dog! Unless somebody served it to me without telling me that is!

Do you feel the tradition of Christmas?

Both: Yes

What does luxury mean for you?

Karel: Luxury is feeling relaxed and the place where you feel at ease.
Hana: And freedom!

What do you love about your wife/husband?

Karel: That she is able to always be in a good mood.
Hana: That he puts up with me.

When did you last go to the theatre as members of the audience?

Both: Three days ago.
Question by the interviewee to the editor:

Karel: When are you coming to our theatre?

When I find somebody to look after the children.
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