Theatre as a combination of private stories & historical events: Ordinary People, 2017

This project was born from the agreement between me and Wen Hui, a Chinese choreographer and documentary filmmaker, to create a performance together. Both of us were involved in documentary theatre and passionate about working with untrained performers. 

Wen is from Beijing, I am from Prague. Wen was born in 1961, I in 1962. We were born around the same time, but our countries had very different histories, even though we both grew up under a communist regime. Wen was born at a time of famine in China, I in a country behind the Iron Curtain, but with no hunger. Looking at the histories of these two countries, we could barely find something in common. However, when we took a closer look at our personal histories, suddenly we realized that our fathers used to give us the same warning: “Don’t tell anyone what we speak about at home!” Even after this discovery, we did not know exactly what our piece would be about. We proceeded with learning by doing every single day.

An important point during the creation was when we created a timeline of important public events in our countries and in our personal histories. We marked these important dates on a huge piece of paper. Some dates were critical for both countries. Then we asked my and Wen’s collaborators to create Chinese-Czech couples and interview each other. These interviews considered the important dates we came up with in the timeline. We asked each other what was happening in our lives on these dates. In this way, the important dates we had discovered served as cues to collect personal stories. 

While we were listening to each other, we did not always understand everything. We had to listen and share our stories using the whole body, emotions, gestures and senses. During these story exchanges, we did not take any notes, we just listened. After this, we retold these stories just relying on our memories. At that point, we discovered that we were telling a common story. We realized that our memories did a great job telling us what was important. We just had to trust it!

Key Takeaways:

As public events served as a framework to collect personal narratives from our group, the exchange of these narratives became the major tool of our common work. With the help of these authentic stories, we were able to find a common theme.