Whether you’re visiting or living in the Czech Republic, chances are you’re probably making a genuine effort to blend in with the locals.
Even beyond the language, many people pick up on some of the quirky nuances associated with being distinctly Czech. A new comedy at the historic Royal Theatre highlights a few of these differences with humour, music and of course – in true Czech fashion, alcohol.
Writer and director Jean Christophe Gramont is responsible for the play. As a French man married to a Czech woman living in Prague for 15 years, Gramont said from the second he arrived, it was clear that the Czech people were unique. “I traveled the entire world,” Gramont said. “But after one short week in Prague I realized how different the French and the Czech people are. Most visitors discover the architecture of Prague,” Gramont explained. “But visitors never get the chance to understand who the Czech people really are.”
“I had an idea to write a book about being Czech, but then I saw a show in Paris a few years back that describes a Parisian,” Gramont said. “That’s when I decided to write the show, How to be Czech in One Hour.”
A comic indulgence into what most expats and visitors find as some of the Czech people’s strangest quirks, habits, and expectations, the one-man play takes the audience through some of the most humorous aspects of the Czech lifestyle. The best part? All of this is done interactively – rewarding enthusiastic learners in the audience with great prizes and laughs. Normally a mixed audience filled with Czechs, long-time foreign residents, and tourists, it’s easy to relate to all of the experiences Gramont brings to light in what many say is an extremely accurate guide to local adaption.
Gramont thinks that in addition to this, audience members will leave feeling like any and all misconceptions they had about the Czech people have been cleared up.
“The Czech people are genuine. They don’t use filters or paraphrase like the French, the British or the Americans. When Czech people don’t like something, you’ll know immediately: they don’t have to say anything, you’ll just know by looking at their face.” Gramont explains.
Gramont knew the play’s success hinged on choosing the right performer. That meant finding someone who could handle the fast-paced, occasionally musical and sometimes improvised aspects of the whirlwind show. Native Czech Tomáš Vaňek has been acting and singing since he was a child. With his animated mannerisms, great singing voice and charming personality, Gramont knew he’d be a great fit for the show.
“I thought it would be original to have a stand-up comedian who was also a great singer.” Gramont said. “Tomas is full of energy and communicates it to the audience at every show.”
“We had an idea to put on a show together, but after we got to know each other, Gramont asked if I’d be in his play about the Czech people,” Vaňek said. “It’s hard to be a representative for an entire group of people, but I have fun meeting the audience every time. It never gets old.”
When asked for an example of something stereotypically Czech that’s highlighted in the show, Vaňek is quick to point out Czech people’s fashion, with one aspect in particular: Czech men and their socks with sandals. Vaňek explains that this stereotype is simply part of the Czech culture that foreigners don’t understand.
“The Czech people do what they want, and that’s sometimes a surprise for people coming here from other places.” Vaňek said. “The socks and sandals stereotype is an older one you don’t see as much anymore, but it’s definitely still around for many Czech men.”
This is far from the only topic covered in this one hour performance, which can feel like a very animated motivational speaking lecture.
“The show is almost like a lecture, but a far more fun version,” Vaňek said. “We cover many different topics: how to speak like a Czech person, how to dance like a Czech person, how to speak Czech… and even though it’s funny, I think people can learn a lot.”
When asked about why Vaňek loves performing this particular show so much, he explained it simply.
“Every show I put on, I feel like I am getting a chance to travel the world. I meet people from all over.”
Typically, tourists in Prague are constantly surrounded by other tourists, and their encounters with Czech people are only with those that are constantly dealing with visitors.
“Many will never experience the true Czech people during their time in Prague.” Vaňek explained. “One of the main goals of this show was to give people an opportunity to get out of Old Towne Square and see a show that different from anything you could see anywhere else.”
And for Gramont, this is more than just a performance in a beautiful theater. In addition to writing and directing the play, he also owns the Royal Theatre. “One of my dreams was to own a cinema and I made this dream come true when I took the Royal Theatre over in 2014.” It’s easy to see why Gramont is passionate about the Royal. Founded in 1929 and then known to be one of the largest and most modern cinemas in Prague, the Royal Theatre and Club Chic is a look into Czechoslovakia’s most iconic time, the First Republic era. Much of the theater’s original furnishings and architecture still remain, and original woodwork from the 1920’s line the balconies and walls. The theatre still remains relevant, with Elle magazine recently ranking the theatre’s bar as one of the top six in the Czech Republic.
But you don’t even have to wait to get to the bar to start drinking. Upon entrance, attendees of the play are indoctrinated into their newly found Czech-ness with a shot of Becherovka, the traditional herbal liqueur (who is also one of the show’s sponsors).
Upon entrance to the theater, audience members will walk through an exhibit of all things Czech. The exhibition serves as an introduction to the topics that will be covered throughout the show.
The show begins with MC Luke Ryan, an expat from Ireland who doubles as a stand-up comedian. Ryan softens the crowd with a 10 minute monologue explaining a little about his experiences with the Czech people.
Vaňek says the play is opportunity for us to celebrate our differences, poking fun at many nationalities, not just Czech people.
“I think there is a benefit to being able to laugh at ourselves,” Vaňek said. “And for tourists here for the weekend or a short period of time, they will take great information away about the Czechs. More than any guide would be able to give them.”
The Royal Theatre is located at Vinohradská 48, Praha 2. In addition to “How to be Czech in One Hour”, the theatre is home to many other great shows, including Prague Burlesque and The Roosters Mens Caberet. TIckets for all can be purchased online at www.leroyal.cz.
Tomas Vaňek can also been seen performing in the musical Tick Tick Boom at Divalo Na Pradle.