Regular meetings, play rehearsals, and performances for the public – this sounds familiar enough, surely there are many theatre groups like this. The Gypsywood Players, however, perform only in English and the members of the group are brought together by their love of – and proficiency in – this language.
This student theatre group has a long and impressive tradition: it was founded in 1965 and counts hundreds of people among its past and present members. The Gypsywood Players owe their existence to Jessie Kocmanová, who was an associate professor at the English Department. In 1965 she decided to organize the regular intensive training in Cikháj, Vysočina region, in a less traditional way and asked her students to rehearse a one-act play. This training gave rise to the theatre group and the name of the village “translated” into English became its name.
This year the group has about twenty-five members. Most of them are students of English at the Faculty of Arts, but this is not a requirement. Jan Sebera, a member of the group, gives us a peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of the group: “In the autumn, we always choose and rehearse a single play, and in December we usually stage three performances. Performances in other towns and sometimes even abroad then take place in the spring.”
The student group, with one of the lecturers acting as the director, meets every Wednesday night at the Faculty of Arts to polish their lines, assign roles, and rehearse the scenes.
As Jaroslav Tesák, another member of the ensemble, explains, “Not all of us act in the play – some group members support us by designing costumes, arranging music, or promoting the public performances. Some tasks are seen to by whoever is free to take them on, and for some tasks, such as ticket sales, everybody pitches in.”
Two weeks before the premiere each year, the whole team leaves civilisation behind for a final four-day rehearsal. On the very last weekend before the show, they hold one more rehearsal directly on the stage to absorb the theatre vibe, which is very different from their usual rehearsal space.
The premiere is always opened to students only, while the two other performances are public. Last year, the group staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “This year, we decided on an adaptation of Spoon River Anthology, a collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters. The public performances are scheduled for 13 and 15 December at the BuranTeatr,” says Sebera, adding that the play is a series of scenes from a small town in Illinois and features a large cast of characters.