Theatre helping Prague's homeless get back on their feet

Under communism it was practically impossible to be homeless in this country. Since the 1989 revolution that has changed dramatically, with one survey finding there were over 3,000 people living on the streets in the capital alone. For the down and out, getting back on their feet is no easy task. But for a few years now a Prague theatre group has been helping the homeless regain some self-esteem, and a semblance of normality. On Monday it premiered a new play.

Monday's premiere of an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear was a performance with a difference: the members of the Jezek and Cisek theatre are either currently homeless or have lived on the streets in the past.

Emil Jirsa plays Lear in the new production. His story is typical.

"I'm basically homeless. I'm on an invalidity pension, and myself and three others live in a building that we've squatted. So thankfully I don't have to sleep on trams, like some people. There's no electricity but at least we have a heater. I quite enjoy the acting. I was actually a semi-professional actor 20 years ago, so this is a kind of return to the stage for me."

"I think if you live on the street you have to act every day. So surprisingly enough many of our actors have actually enough talent to play. And our actors are what Stanislavsky called 'naturchik', as in a natural actor or natural player."

Petr Sourek is the group's artistic director. He tells me the theatre has a somewhat floating membership, with around 200 different actors in its five years of existence, and explains its appeal to the homeless.

"I think for most of them it is to belong somewhere, to the theatre or to another group of people. To meet professionals in the theatre, or their audience.

"We want for them...let's say new confidence, or to find a new identity, not just as a poor man or woman who goes on the street and has nowhere to go."

You don't have your own theatre - I mean a building. Where does the Jezek and Cisek theatre actually perform?

"Sometimes we perform in different festivals, in smaller theatres. And actually on the street as well, sometimes at the railway station. The train station is a very natural environment for our clients. They feel at home there."

Monday's performance was at Prague's NoD gallery and was very well received by the audience.

Man: "I enjoyed it very much, I was surprised - it's a lot of hard work to do this. It's incredible to imagine that these people came from the streets and came to the theatre, and will go back to theatre today. And they will have to leave now to the places where they're sleeping at, somewhere outdoors, or a train station."

Woman: "The performance was amazing. I think they were tearing their hearts out in front of the audience, and the performance was very expressive. I think each character was part of their lives so that's why it was for the audience very...tender to watch it."

The Jezek and Cizek Theatre will be appearing at various venues around Prague this month. And in the middle of November they are due to take part in a special event in the German capital, Berlin.

For dates, venues and other information go to