Jakub Špalek: “A boss must know how to accept responsibility”

Jakub Špalek

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 theater?
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?
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.

And your impulsiveness? They say you even scream sometimes.
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 productions?
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.

Career highlights
1978 became a member of the Children’s Studio at Divadlo na Provázku, which set the course for his future life
1990 co-founded the civic association Kašpar and completed his studies at DAMU (Academy of Dramatic Arts)
1991 directed the premiere of Cyrano
1993 directed A Flower For Algernon, which audiences acclaimed
2000 under his direction Richard III has already attracted a cult
2004 completed the reconstruction of Divadlo na Celetné
Currently: gathering sponsors for the ever-growing company and preparing for Hamlet (with Jan Potměšil as Claudio) – to premiere on 10 September

You perform 45 times a month. That’s a murderous pace. Doesn’t a work load like that stress you out?
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.






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