2018-9 Season At BEST Divadlo: An Exciting Selection Of Plays By Well-known Playwrights

With the recent final performance of Autobahn, B.E.S.T. Divadlo brought down the curtain on its third year as a new and innovative non-profit arts group. BEST stands for Brno English Speaking Theatre and this was its second season as a theatrical producing organization. Photo credit: Olga Popova.

Brno, Jun 8 (BD) – The theatre’s ambitious program resulted in no fewer than 5 production during the 2018-19 season, surpassing even its founder’s expectations for success. “When I was first asked to establish an English language theatre in Brno,” says Producing Artistic Director, Gene Terruso, “I was intrigued about the possibilities and excited about giving something back to the community.” What Terruso did not anticipate, however, was the enthusiastic response the group has received.

“We didn’t really come into the season expecting to do five plays,” Terruso maintains. “We were thinking three, maybe four.” But the response of both the audience and a vital and energetic membership gave the organization a “tremendous momentum, that we all fed on.”

The result was an exciting menu of plays by well-known authors, emerging playwrights and, in one case, an original offering by a Russian dramatist, now living in Brno.

In addition to the plays BEST has offered this year, they have extended their efforts to provide entertainment for a major conference at Masaryk University, offered educational workshops, held monthly free public readings of major works for the community and organized a four-day festival which included several of these activities and more. Asked if these were one-time-only events, Terruso is emphatic – “Oh no. We’re planning on another five-play season, the festival is being coordinated as an annual event, we are expanding our workshop and education program and the monthly play readings will continue to be held. In fact, we’re planning on setting up a film series that will also be free to the public and involve post-show discussions just like the play reading series does.”

Little wonder, with such an active agenda, the theatre drew the support of the Mayor’s office in just its third season of operations. “To say we were surprised by the city’s willingness to support us would be an understatement. But even more accurately, we were honored.”

“We kicked off the season with a classic piece of Reader’s Theate, Love Letters. We had an excellent director for that one, Jeff Smith, the artistic director of the Gypsywood Players. And it proved so popular, we reprised it TWICE!” The theatre’s second production last Fall was Sexual Perversity in Chicago.  “We had some reservations about doing that one. The previous season we had done another play by the same author (David Mamet). But the themes and the humor were so well-suited to a young Brno audience, we decided to move ahead with it.” The visually exciting show was well-attended and well-received.

The next presentation A Walk in the Woods, in which Terruso starred, was directed by Brno ex-pat icon Don Sparling. A comedy by American writer Lee Blessing, the play nevertheless echoed many of the current tensions in the relations between the U.S. and Russia.

Don Sparling. Photo credit: Vít Pohanka.

The play was also pivotal in some major mid-year brainstorming. “We were coming up on our second anniversary with a huge number of new members we wanted to include and celebrate. The director of our Reading Series, Lore Ionita, arranged for a workshop in physical theatre and we had two shows under our belts, that were both very simply staged. So the suggestion was made, ‘Why not put it all together, along with our next monthly reading and the opening of our next show and do the whole thing over four days?’”  And so they did. A very ambitious 4-day event, entitled “Celebration Festival I”, for which the marquee event was “Three Plays in Three Days,” giving local audiences a rare opportunity to binge a range of theatre fare and sample the group’s talent.

The third of the three shows was a special event for Terruso. Wenceslas Square was written by Larry Shue, who the director knew from his days in Chicago. Shue enjoyed early success as both an actor and author before tragically dying in a plane accident. “I knew I wanted us to do this show from the first day I began working with BEST three years ago. It’s humor and message were perfect for our audience and I felt it was something Larry would have wanted.” The play, with a slightly larger ensemble, also served the growing number of members that were joining BEST’s ranks.

 Official poster for Wenceslas Square (cropped). Credit: BEST Divadlo.

“As Wenceslas closed, we realized that interest in membership was still growing – and there was still time to do one more show,” states Terruso. “We had a play, Autobahn, that was written as a series of seven sketches. What better way to get more people involved and onstage?” Assigning different directors for each sketch also allowed several artists to exercise their staging skills.

But the real kismet was just around the corner. Each scene in Autobahn had been written with two actors, both seated in the front seat of an automobile. Almost concurrent with the choice of the play, one of the group’s members –Anna Pirogova—a Russian ex-pat, casually shared with Terruso a new play that she had written two years earlier.

“It’s embarrassing. She was a former student at Masaryk and wrote the play during my class. I guess that says something about how captivating my lectures are. But the play called for two actors, side by side while driving. It was the perfect companion piece to Autobahn. New plays have always been part of our mission, so – there’s no time like the present, right? Haha.”

As the group looks ahead, a new home is part of their future. “We couldn’t be more excited about moving to Selepka. Our relations with the ownership have been terrific. To be the resident theatre at a venue with such a long and popular tradition in Brno is really an ideal arrangement.”

As BEST brings its season to a close, their audience and growing membership hold high expectation for what lies ahead. What might be next? “We have to continue to grow. I think it’s time that we do something by Havel. We’re also considering a musical.”  And why not. Few organizations have achieved such success in only three seasons of existence. Of course, that means that the bar is set rather high. But the manner in which the group has served the community over that time will have many hoping for and anticipating more successes on the horizon.

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