In September 1993 I traveled to the Czech Republic, with a curiosity about post-cold war Eastern Europe, and allured by American media-hype calling Prague the "Paris of the 90's". I quickly found work with the Black Box Theatre Company, the longest running English-language theatre company in the Czech Republic. In addition to teaching improvisation workshops and participating in a night of TheatreSports, I directed three plays for Black Box, including one that I took over after the director fled town. The plays were Alenka In Wonderland (described below), Agathamania by Arnost Goldflam, and Karhan's Men by Vasek Kana (a Soviet-era communist propaganda play--this is the one the director ran out on!)  I also got to play a robot in Karel Capek's legendary R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), the play that introduced the word robot into the global vocabulary. Ahhhh, Prague!

Alenka, left, meets Alice, right. (Photo taken in the Roxy Theatre, Prague.)
Alenka walks through the Wonderland world unseen by the other characters.
Alice at the Mad Tea Party. (This production was in a classroom of  the one high school we played.)
A tableau for the "Pig and Pepper" scene. The sign reads "THEY'RE EXACTLY LIKE PIGS." (This production took place in a school courtyard.)
Alenka rewards an audience member with a chocolate bar.
Alenka passes her English exam and is made a Queen.
Alenka In Wonderland
As a director looking for work, I had the good fortune to wander into an experimental Black Box project funded by the British Counsel. The Black Box wanted a bilingual play, in English and Czech, to play for students learning English in Zakladni Skoly (grade schools) around Prague. The play would have to be simple enough for students to follow, yet exciting enough to generate enthusiasm for learning English.  The result was an original bilingual adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass, called Alenka In Wonderland (a word-play combining the English and Czech titles of Carroll's work). This production featured an international cast of 11, including 4 Brits, 1German, 3 Czechs and 3 Americans. In addition to touring ten schools, we played for adults in two Prague theatres.

The concept for the show was this: Czech Alenka falls asleep while doing her (boring) English homework one day and wakes up in the English speaking world of Alice and Wonderland. Because she can't understand things, she relies on the the audience to translate for her. To do this, we used a bifurcated Alice character (Alice/Alenka), with a Czech actor playing Alenka, and a British actor playing Alice. Alice existed only in the Wonderland world, and Alenka floated through each scene unseen by all of the Wonderland characters except Alice. Thus, Alenka could act as narrator/translator/mediator between the Czech-speaking audience and the English language parts of the play.

Each performance of Alenka was different. The show had 11 possible scenes, 5 of which would be performed in a short version of the show. (We played all 11 scenes in the two Prague theatres.) A typical short version show would look like this, with the titles in green being the scenes played, and the titles in red the scenes not played:
Down the Rabbit Hole
Caucus Race Caterpillar
Pig and Pepper Queen's Croquet Mad Tea Party
Humpty Dumpty Tweedle Dee and Dum White Knight
The Trial Queen Alenka

Which scenes were to be played was determined by a random audience member, who would translate a line from the next scene. We did this thusly: At the end of each scene the action would stop, and the actors would freeze in two or three tableaux, each tableau holding up a placard with a line from that scene, ex. "It was the best butter"(Mad Tea Party). Alenka would, in Czech, plead with the audience to help her translate one of the cards. When an audience member would translate a line from a scene, that scene was played, and the translator was rewarded with a bar of chocolate. (Mars was one of our sponsors!)  We found that the first time this translation game occurred, we had one or two tentative hands being raised, but by the final translation almost every hand was in the air with the hopes of getting that Mars Bar!  An aside: in one of our performances in the Roxy Theatre, we had to hold the show for two actors who were sick in the bathroom, having overdosed on chocolate bars. 

The final scene of the play was the only one in which Alenka "broke through" into Wonderland and interacted with the other characters. If the play ended with The Trial, Alenka would be spotted by the King mid-way through the scene, and then put on trial for not speaking English. If Queen Alenka was the final scene, Alenka would pass a very silly English test given by the Red and White Queens and be rewarded by being made Queen Alenka. 

This production was by far one of the more challenging directing experiences of my life, mainly because of the logistics of working with eleven cast members, all of which were working odd hours, and none of which spoke a common language. We conducted rehearsals in Czech and English, with my assistant director, who also played Alenka, serving as translator. Alex Gammie of the Black Box did an incredible job of scheduling and moving the production from venue to venue amidst the chaos of post-communist Prague. I commemorated my strength at having survived directing Alenka in Wonderland, by having a Czech star permanently inscribed on my arm; i.e., I got a tattoo in a bar.