Jára Cimrman needs your help

A crowdfunding campaign is underway to send The Stand In to the US

The plays allegedly by Jára Cimrman are a unique element of Czech culture, but so far they have not been seen abroad. In fact it is only recently that they have been presented in English at all.

The cast behind the English versions are taking one of the plays, The Stand In, to New York City and Washington, DC at the end of April, and more dates in those areas may be added. But they need your help with expenses for such trivial things as food and airline tickets.

People can donate money to help the actors get to America via fund raising site Indiegogo.com.

The idea to take the play abroad has been around for more than two years, and has the full backing of Zdeněk Svěrák, one of the creators of the beloved character. Ladislav Smoljak, another creator, died in 2010 and Jiří Šebánek, who was involved in the early years, died in 2007. The character of Jára Cimrman made his debut in 1966. The new English translation is by Emilia Machalová and Brian Stewart.

But before it made sense to take the plays overseas they needed to get a bit a track record in translation. Currently there are two Cimrman plays in English, the other is The Conquest of the North Pole, and both have been running to packed houses at the Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana in Prague 3. The level of success surprised Svěrák and others involved with the original productions, as the humor was long thought to be untranslatable.

“Three years ago nobody would have imagined Cimrman even in English let alone with a notion of traveling. It came from the enthusiasm of the writers and producers and obviously the actors,” cast member Michael Pitthan said.

The Stand In was chosen to travel because it is a bit easier for people not familiar with the Cimrman concept to understand, and the set is also a bit less complicated. “A lot of Czechs prefer The Conquest of the North Pole but the feeling was that The Stand In was a more universal in some ways,” Pitthan said.

The play itself likely won't be changed but the program will include a more extensive background. Feedback so far is that the play is understandable even to people without a Czech background. “You don't need to get all the cultural references because the gags are set up in the first half,” Pitthan added. The humor in Stand In is a bit more self-contained than in the other play.

Actor Brian Caspe said he thinks the reaction in the US may be different. “Whether it is the tone, or what people laugh at, it won't be the exact same. It will be different,” he said. He also wants to see more explanation in the program, perhaps in a Top 10 list of facts explaining why they make fun of České Budějovice and why the hill called Říp is significant.

The actors will be performing for free in the US, and the Czech Cultural Center has provided housing and some production expenses but there is a big gap for air transportation and daily expenses. “It seemed logical to ask the audience for help,” Pitthan said, adding that if everyone who liked the Cimrman Theater's English page on Facebook gave a small amount they would reach their goal.

Pitthan said the English cast has a lot of pride in being able to bring the works to a wider audience, and that Czechs he has met are also very pleased that the plays work in translation and are becoming better known after 50 years of being pretty much of a Czech secret. “We would really like to be part of spreading that further because it is deserved,” Pitthan said, adding that much of Czech culture has been hidden from the rest of the world for too long.

Caspe noted that the plays are still successful in Prague. “After three years people are still into it,” he said. The introduction of The Conquest of the North Pole last year brought renewed interest to The Stand In, and the two plays now work together to boost each other's audiences. While it is too early to say anything definite, there is interest in bringing more Cimrman plays to an English-speaking audience as well, and the success of the foreign dates would help that idea along, Caspe said, adding that people should watch the Facebook page for news about the tour and any new productions.

To get more news follow the productiond on Facebook: www.facebook.com/CimrmanEnglishStudio or cimrman-in-america.com.

To donate money for the tour, visit:
www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-jara-cimrman-conquer-the-new-world-toronto#/

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