Embracing the Obstacle

During my many years of work in social-specific theatre, I took a lot of wrong steps and had a lot of struggles. Thanks to this, I found out that the most important thing for maintaining authenticity on stage is the undisguised presence of “obstacles” that “real” people encounter in their creative work. I view the obstacle as a tool for motivation, a challenge for creation. From my point of view, embracing the obstacles arising from a context (or creating new ones) generates an authentic motivation for movement, for text, for change of light or of sound. It allows us to be at the heart of any situation that is being developed on stage. Awareness of obstacles became the main tool of my creative thinking at work with untrained performers. For me it is one of the major elements of any kind of game. I will use the term “game” more than “rehearsal”, since my method of creation starts with experimentation and playing games. 

Photo: Jana Svobodová

i. Obstacle as the core of the game

Can we think of the obstacle as the basic rule of the game? I believe so! Let me give a very simple example: Football is a game played between two teams each with 11 players. Is it not a huge obstacle for all these players to play just with one ball? Imagine what would happen if every player had their own ball. I believe that each player would achieve great results by playing with their own ball. But the game would never take place, because of the absence of that obstacle which makes the game what it is.

When watching 22 players playing only with one ball we can understand what the “obstacle” means. It is what makes football so exciting! 

ii. Obstacle as the essence of creation

I would like to refer to our project Dance Through the Fence, which started with workshops in a detention camp for refugees in Bělá Jezová in the Czech Republic. The first thing that captured our attention in the camp was the fence separating men from women. The aim of the workshops was to “break” the borders created by this immobilizing fence by raising artistic activity on both sides. First, we asked women and men to bring objects which remind them of home. One of the inmates who came from Africa (unfortunately I no longer remember his name or which country he came from) brought a photo of a traditional African round hut and attached this picture on the fence. He and a member of our group, Chinese performer Jing Lu, were standing on different sides of the fence. They decided to use a plastic barricade tape to communicate via this fence.

The existence of the fence, the impossibility for those two to meet in real life, assigning a new meaning to the barricade tape, is what created the beauty of this unique communication. In a sense, the main obstacle standing in the way of communication created its own aesthetics and the essence of this work.  

I propose to include obstacles and disadvantages in the creative process when working with untrained performers. You can gain a totally new and very exciting quality.

Here are some useful questions you can ask before or during the creative work:

  • Could you teach us a game that we can play together? Could you explain to us the rules of this game?
  • Can you create short scenes based on clear rules, just like in the games we have played? 

Between 1997 – 2021, I created many productions with my creative team. These productions were preceded by a number of workshops, meetings, discussions and grant applications, and eventually gained success. I will refer to seven of these productions considering some crucial points in work with different groups of “real people”. When I describe the specific points of each project, I will focus on the common principles which I think every social-specific work involves. 

1997 – 2004Second-Hand Twilight
2005At 11:20 I’ll Be Leaving You!
2006SenAnderSen / Dreaming Andersen
2016New Bohemia
2017Ordinary People
2021Those Who Speak for Themselves
Productions created between 1997 – 2021

Later I will pay more attention to the most recent of these productions: Those Who Speak for Themselves: The Only Story is Yours, which premiered on 29 and 30 June 2021 at the Archa Theatre. I will use it as a working model for the principles of the methodology I use.