Jakub Špalek: "A boss must know
how to accept responsibility"
Written by: Monika Mudranincová
Photo: Petr Poliak
A distinctive, hard-headed, talented actor, director,
and principal, Jakub Špalek is a boss who puts his heart and
emotions into everything. This is to his advantage, but it's
also a handicap.
Fifteen years ago you founded the Kašpar theatrical association,
and five years later Divadlo v Celetné, where Kašpar and other
ensembles perform. But you're a trained actor who also directs.
Why did you take on such a demanding venture - wouldn't you rather
have taken on a more comfortable engagement with an established
It bothered me that in the subsidized theaters that the city establishes
the management system is rigid and obsolete. Additionally, under
the Bolsheviks I longed to have my own theater company, so after
the revolution we founded the Kašpar civic association. When we
managed, after unbelievable turns of events, to rent Divadlo v
Celetné, we renovated it, got the theater going, and we've already
been acting here for 10 years. During that time we've defined ourselves
as an independent theater stage.
This theater is your hard-won "child". Are you
satisfied with what you've achieved?
No, because we're currently dealing with financial problems. Theaters
have proliferated in Prague, and in order to survive they have
to take on ever more commercial projects, which were never our
cup of tea. Another problem is that in January subsidies started
getting cut for some independent theaters. We're running on empty,
so although I sometimes feel satisfied when something goes well,
it only lasts a while.
They say you're an impulsive maximalist who demands everything
from the actors. Does being unpopular with the people you lead
matter to you?
And your impulsiveness? They say you even scream sometimes.
I'll put it another way. We recently premiered the play Helverova
noc (Helver's Night), and when the audience left they said the
actors did a great job. And that's my job, to see to it that the
audience doesn't talk about the set, the costumes, or, God forbid,
the directing! That they praise the actors. And I think I know
how to help the actors perform beautifully.
I don't know, I might be a little crazy. But I can't imagine not
being impulsive while directing, even though I've already changed
a lot. One rehearsal recently went badly, and I looked into it,
thanked the actors, and asked them never to do that again. But
I didn't scream, I didn't dress anyone down, I didn't kick the
door. I understand that everything doesn't always go well.
Do you have a formula for getting the best out of an actor?
I try to respect their personalities. I'm always trying to figure
out how to speak with them. Take Honza Potměšil: if you direct
him badly, you destroy him and can't even get a word out of him.
If I'm speaking with six people I basically have to keep switching
among six languages. (laughs)
What system has proven itself to you in your approach to theatrical
I believe in simplicity. We have a simple structure and communications.
The advantage is that things are quickly resolved. I can't stand
wasted time. For example, we're a company people mustn't be late
for. I scream terribly about that.
You perform 45 times a month. That's a murderous pace. Doesn't
a work load like that stress you out?
||became a member of
the Children's Studio at Divadlo na Provázku, which
set the course for his future life
the civic association Kašpar and completed his studies
at DAMU (Academy of Dramatic Arts)
||directed the premiere
A Flower For Algernon, which audiences acclaimed
||under his direction
Richard III has already attracted a cult
reconstruction of Divadlo na Celetné
for the ever-growing company and preparing for Hamlet
(with Jan Potměšil as Claudio) - to premiere on 10
We must perform daily to make a living. I've been dealing with
occasional exhaustion for 12 years, and I've been really tired
lately, and depressed. Stressful situations in the office wear
me out the most, but when I'm rehearsing or thinking about the
set I'm in my element, I shine like a light bulb. All the same,
I'm always wondering if I'm doing it well.
Do you have active solutions for this depression and exhaustion?
True, advice like "change your lifestyle" is nice, but
it's hard to do. I try, but without much success. I go home more
often - it's great, being with my family. We live in a village,
and I'm always out walking my dog. I watch what I eat and drink.
And in Prague I go swimming at Podolí.
So why don't you give up production and your job as the boss and
just stick with acting and directing?
I couldn't do that, I'd lose a part of my freedom, and I don't
want that. But of course I'll have to do something about that...because
of my wife and children. I know I should delegate more authority
to my subordinates, so I wouldn't have to bear all the negatives.
I think I'll plan that for next season.
Describe the ideal boss.
I know lots of bosses who have never become true bosses because
they haven't accepted responsibility. When there's a crisis the
boss has to face it and resolve it. In my opinion it's up to
him alone. If this company fails I'll be the debtor, not anyone
else, and it's good that way. If I wanted to be an ideal boss
I'd want to find two "coaches". They'd stand behind
me and give me feedback. They'd see situations in a way I can't
- that seems ideal to me.
Describe the ideal employee.
My favorite saying is that in production only the results count,
not the effort. Another important thing is that a person must
look around and stay on his toes, to avoid the "volleyball
effect", where two people don't go for the ball and it falls
between them. Nothing can be precisely defined in advance; theatrical
production is a never-ending surprise.