Slavic Saturday

Last time when talking about history, I mentioned the overlong prelude to World War 2 as it has played out in Central Europe. Lets now look a bit closer at what has happened afterward. And, again, this is a de-facto merging of Slavic Saturday and Behind the Iron Curtain series.

Today lets look at one of the most prominent Czech artists to date, although outside of the Czech Republic he is probably not that well known – if he is known at all – Vlasta Burian. (You might remember that I have already written about an artist with the same surname, but to my best knowledge that is pure coincidence, they are not closely related.)

Vlasta Burian was one of the most prominent comedians in Czechoslovakia between the wars. Born in a cobbler’s family, he started out in lower-middle class at the time and he indulged in classic sport activities of that class at that time – like tennis and football (soccer). He was a very devout and good athlete, he could be professional – but in his free time, he also did stand-up comedy for the amusement of his friends, to initial dismay of his parents. And this has gradually become his main occupation and through making stand-up comedy routines in pubs he became a professional comedian and actor who starred in movies and who even owned and run his own theater before and during WW2. And he lived in a villa.

But fame is fickle friend. Despite being known patriot for his whole life, he managed to live through most of World War 2 without being overtly persecuted. I say most – Nazis have tried to rope him into making propaganda for them, but after one public routine in radio (which he intentionally botched) he took to feigning illness whenever he was approached by them again. So in 1944 Nazis got finally fed up with him snubbing their attempts to make him their stooge. He was arrested and his theater was closed.

Reasonable expectation after this would be that after the war ended in the spring of 1945, he would be fully vindicated of any wrongdoing. But that was not the case. He has managed to become moderately wealthy, and that was a big no-no after the war when the Communist Party took the reins through a coup. That he has managed it truly through his own works (and was giving to charitable causes throughout) was irrelevant to the new regime. That he was just deftly snubbing Nazis the whole World War 2 was also not enough – he was not resisting enough (in his position, probably anything short of charging at a tank with bare breast and bare hands would be considered “not enough”, after all, Czech pilots who fought against Nazis in RAF were persecuted for fighting against Nazis on the “wrong” front).

So charges were made-up, a kangaroo court was called (multiple courts, actually) and in the end, he barely escaped with his life. All his possessions were confiscated for the good of the people (how convenient) and he was barred from acting – he was only allowed to do menial works. The short imprisonment and subsequent ban from acting and public appearances have seriously undermined his health, both physical and mental.

Like many artists, he suffered from depression. Sports and comedy were probably part of his self-medication. When denied the things he loved, he aged in mere five years noticeably more than he should. When the acting ban was finally lifted after five years, it was too late. He was no longer the springy, energy exuding person he used to be and his acting has suffered. It was still good enough to make a living, but nowhere near as good as it used to be. His health deteriorated quickly and in 1962 he died of pneumonia. His wife followed him in mere nine weeks, grief took her.

His popularity was such that after his death, a movie about him bearing his nickname “Král Komiků” i. e. “The King of the Comedians” was made. And in the following decades his movies were still screened at local cinemas and they are still occasionally aired on Czech TV to this day. Many can also be found on the internet. Unfortunately, unless you understand Czech you won’t be able to enjoy them. Dubbing is out of the question, a lot of Burian’s comedy was in his voice, so you would need really a top-notch dubber. Subtitles would not help too much either, because another significant part was wordplays.

In 1994, five years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he was posthumously vindicated in court. Historians extensively examined the historical sources and they found a total lack of any evidence of his collaboration with Nazis whatsoever, in any form. Despite this, for Vlasta Burian the long string of injustices and indignities was still not over. In the year 2002 his grave was adorned with his bronze bust, but it was stolen shortly afterward and probably sold as scrap metal.

Today his grave is adorned with a statue of his hands, which were after his face his most prominent feature. May he finally rest in peace.

Free image from Wikimedia Commons


Theatre Project, part 3 – Stonemasonry Heritage

This is the last part of Nightjar’s series on her work with a local theatre company’s most recent play. I’ve enjoyed this series immensely. Nightjar has carefully chosen photographs that bring the play to life even for those of us who were not able to attend and her processing in antique tones lends an authentic feel to the material. I think she’s done an outstanding job helping to bring the script to life and I have no doubt that the troupe will call on her again. Thank you so much for sharing, Nightjar.

In the last part of the series Nightjar has focused in closely on the beautiful details of life that we see, but don’t see, everyday. I’ll let Nightjar explain.


photo 1, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

For the last part of this series I selected another of my favourite scenes. This may actually be my favourite part of the whole play. The audience is just strolling along one of the main streets in the center of the village when suddenly they hear the sound of a handbell. That makes them stop and notice it’s coming from the door of an old abandoned house. Sure enough, there’s someone in there.


Photo 2, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

It’s a stonemason, carrying his set of tools. He has questions. What’s a window? Could it be more than just a hole in the wall to let air and light in?


Photo 3, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

We are a limestone region and stonemasonry is an old tradition. That doorjamb you see in the first photo was sculpted with these tools. There’s a diary in the tool basket, the diary of a stonemason. He picks it up and goes inside the house, leaving the tools near the audience.

Photo 4, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

The audience’s attention is drawn to the house’s first floor and to its beautifully crafted window. That’s the work of a talented stonemason without a doubt. The man reads a piece of his diary from there. He has a few thoughts to share on what windows mean to him.

A lot of people later admitted to us that they had never looked up to notice that window. And that the answer to the question they started with (see Part 1) was indeed “yes”: this place could still surprise and move them.

And that’s it for now. I enjoyed this exercise in non-nature photography a lot more than I expected.

Outdoor Theatre Project, part 2 – Streets, Houses, Families

I really like the idea of outdoor theatre where the audience moves from scene to scene and becomes a part of the play itself. In part 2 of the series, Nightjar’s photos are done in black, white and sepia tones and have an antiquated feel to them in keeping with the play. I’ll let Nightjar explain the artistic choices behind each photo:


Photo 1, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

This is one of the most dynamic and beautiful scenes and took place in an old and narrow street filled with props, although the public can’t see everything right away because of all the hanged clothes blocking their vision.


photo 2, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

White clothes and wooden clothespins gave the street a properly antique look. Plastic just wouldn’t have worked.


photo 3, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

Not an actor and not part of the crew. Originally. I took this photo before one of the rehearsals, and I was convinced the public would scare the cats away. That was not the case. They even showed up in my recording of this scene, running along in front of the actress. Well, the scene is about houses and streets, I guess the cats concluded it could be about them as well.


photo 4, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

Near the end of the street things get a bit more personal as you can see. Families are remembered and everyone gets a good laugh when we get to a list of family nicknames. Me, I am somehow still from the “pinenuts” family. I do not however belong to the “vinegars”, “onions” or “garlics”, definitely not to the “howevers”, “glories” or “fourteens”. I will admit to a bit of “turnip” blood and the “mouths” are still my distant cousins. I think for most of these silly nicknames no one has any idea how they came about, just that they have passed from generation to generation and when put together whole sentences can be made out of them.


An Invitation to Walk and Dance

Nightjar was recently responsible for taking the photographs of a play put on by a local theatre group. The pictures are a departure from Nightjar’s usual style of photography and I think they’re fabulous. They’re storytelling photos that give a real sense of the mood and setting for the play. We’ll be sharing them over the next 3 days and I know you’ll enjoy them, too. I’ll let Nightjar take it from here:

As you may know I was recently responsible for the photography of a theatre play created by the local amateur theatre group. I will not be sharing photos of the actors, but I’ve selected 12 other photos to give you all a taste of what it was like! I divided them in three parts and added some context. I hope you enjoy!


Part 1 – An Invite to Walk and to Dance

The play starts in the village’s fountain with a short scene where the public is invited to walk along streets they walk along everyday. The actress is barefoot through most of the scene and walks the shoes you see here with her hands. She introduces five guides and tells the audience which one to follow. Each group will walk down a different path, but they will all see the same scenes (just in a different order). Before leaving the public is left with a question… can this familiar place still surprise or move us?

(photo 1)  ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

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Hamilton: Where Are the Natives?


Dr. Adrienne Keene at Native Appropriations has tacked a tough question: where are the Natives in Hamilton? Indigenous people were, naturally, a very large presence during the actual time, and within the framework of the play everyone loves.

I have not seen the highly acclaimed, Tony-award winning, ground breaking, race-bending new musical Hamilton. Not due to lack of trying. I enter the digital lottery nearly every single day on my phone, though if I do somehow win it will mean the most panicked four hours of my life trying to get from Providence to NYC in time for the show. But that’s an aside. What I have done is listened to the soundtrack hundreds of times (not exaggerating), as well as listened to interviews of Lin Manuel Miranda on Another Round–we’re fellow Another Round alums!–and a couple other places.

I truly have had the soundtrack on repeat for months, including right now, except for “Quiet Uptown,” because sad. So, while I haven’t seen the show, I feel like I’ve consumed enough media surrounding the actual production to offer this review–or offer this question, really. But I will add these disclaimers: I have not seen the show. I have not read the HamilTome with insight from Miranda into the writing and production of the show. I have not read the Hamilton book that inspired the show. So, if I’m wrong or there are specifics I don’t know about, feel free to let me know (Or take me with you to see it? Please?).

But, I still feel qualified to ask: Where the heck are the Native people in Hamilton?

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