Martin Stropnický: Breaking usual stereotypes
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: David Holas
Martin Stropnický (47), a charismatic
actor and former minister and diplomat, has returned to his home
stage, Divadlo na Vinohradech, which under his leadership is enjoying
a breath of fresh air.
||completed acting studies
with Městská divadla pražská and Divadlo na Vinohradech
||ambassador to Portugal
||returned to Divadlo na Vinohradech,
and starred in the play "Howard Katz", for
which he received the Thalia award
|Since April 1,
||artistic director at Divadlo na
Vinohradech, published a book, "Klídek, nerve!"
Although your original profession is acting, you have had an extremely
varied career. For seven months you served as culture minister
and for twelve years as a diplomat, and since April 2003 you've
been the artistic chief at Divadlo na Vinohradech. How would you
evaluate managerial work in such varying environments?
The environments were truly different. Diplomacy was a bit like
military service, because a diplomat is an employee of the state
who should "faithfully serve his government". The first
and paramount task of a culture minister is to come up with funding
for cultural events, but I'm glad to have politics behind me. As
the theater's artistic chief I decide which plays we stage, who
will act in them, and who will direct them. So today I'm probably
enjoying my greatest freedom. I don't have to represent anyone
else's opinions, I can be myself, and I don't have to shave every
You stepped down from the exalted position as ambassador to the
Vatican and returned to the theater, where you have less authority
and earn far less as well. Why?
I was drawn by the change, but I wanted to return as an actor,
not as a functionary. I was fed up with being a leader. I understood
that when someone's been a leader for a long time he loses his
ability to get his hands dirty. I didn't want to live in the bubble
of "his excellency" who couldn't see past the flag hanging
in the window.
But now you've wound up in a leadership position again. Why?
Because my predecessor, Jiří Menzel, didn't much enjoy working
as a manager and wanted out. I took the job on the condition
that I could act as well. I felt that having three children at
home was more than enough, but now I'm responsible for forty
actors and actresses! Actors are a bit childlike - they're emotional,
impulsive, egocentric. And unlike many other professionals, they
really care about their work.
Shortly after your appointment you said you wouldn't make any
effort to be popular and that you'd make some changes in the theater.
How are you doing after one year?
I don't want to play the role of a general, but I'm trying to get
rid of bad habits. For example, television crews come before a
premiere and an actor refuses to be interviewed. We have to coax
him into promoting the theater. There isn't much I can do about
it, because at our theaters the actors are working on the basis
of contracts of indefinite duration, which is demotivating. So
I don't want to close any more such contracts as long as I'm in
charge. I'm trying to bring about changes for the better, and I
hope that in time I'll succeed.
So you started rather uncompromisingly to do away with the stereotypes
of the ensemble, which includes actors who are national icons,
like Jiřina Jirásková, Jiřina Bohdalová, and Viktor Preiss. How
did you go about gaining their respect?
I believe that in any workplace there are plenty of people who
think their boss is stupid. It's just a part of life, and trying
to fight it is a waste of time. My advantage may be that I've accomplished
things in the past. I'm tough on myself, and I'm not afraid of
hard work. The actors can see this, which makes it easier for them
to follow me.
A theater is a typical example of teamwork, but it also involves
strong personalities who compete with each other for starring roles.
How is it possible to pull it all together?
The theater is a highly competitive environment, but when work
needs to be done personal animosities must be suppressed. In fact,
a theater relies on concentrated energy that has to be spread throughout
the team. Good actors know that they need each other, and that
competition drives them to deliver their best performances.
What's the hardest thing about being a director?
Besides finding an interesting repertoire, it's rather hard to
maintain the energy required by an individual approach. There
are some people here to whom the theater means everything; it's
the only thing they live for. This forces me to maintain great
internal flexibility. It isn't easy, because I also act on the
stage, and I have a good-sized family and problems of my own.
How would you define an ideal leader?
I think three characteristics must be well balanced - competence,
decisiveness, and the human dimension. The older I get the more
I realize what great responsibilities I carry. A person needs
not only professional, but also human maturity. I'm no fan of
simple "hoorah!" solutions, since they're usually based
on a lack of information and maturity. I can't stand pretentiousness,
hiding behind one's position, or cowardly evasions passed off
How do you handle times of crisis?
The theater is like a roller-coaster. The higher and more attractive
the goals, the more crises can arise. Here's a typical example.
I give a visiting actress the lead role, I use her to attract audiences,
and then I learn that the premiere, in which we have invested great
energy, is in jeopardy because the star has changed her mind. It
makes you want to jump off the nearest cliff. How do I handle that?
I might just pick up my guitar.