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Football fan Damien talks about World Cup corruption and Turkish ice-cream

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Manchester born Damien seems to be a local celebrity here in Prague, known by many for his work with the worldwide famous hiking (with a little bit of drinking) group the ‘Hash House Harriers’. But during the interview we were also pleased to see that Damien is quite a devoted football fan, but probably not to the team you’d think. He also has quite a controversial perspective on the current FIFA World Cup in Brazil…

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Where are you from originally?

Originally from Manchester in the UK.

How long have you been in Prague for?

It started with a big football tournament in 1996, the Czech Republic played two games in Manchester. I lived in a bar at the time and we had a girl working for us who had been teaching English in Prostějov and one of her former students came over for the tournament and basically my mother adopted them. So in 1999 we came over to the Czech Republic to visit them, then I went about 5 or 6 times a year to visit them. Then about 6 years ago I just gave up and moved here.

What do you miss about home?

Absolutely nothing!

What are the Czechs’ reactions when you say you’re from Manchester? What is it known for over here?

Ahh most people know it for football, unfortunately. I mean, they’ve got the two famous football teams, but I’m actually a fan of Liverpool which a lot of people find strange. I just say that I was raised proper. I mean at the time that I was being raised, every newspaper in the country thought that the Manchester teams were the greatest thing that ever happened. They’re so far off, it’s ridiculous. Manchester City has just been bought by a Sultan or whoever and he has put in hundreds of millions of pounds to buy the best players.

Are you following the World Cup?

So far I’ve managed to avoid every minute of it.

On purpose?

Yes, I just got so fed up with the corruption of FIFA. If anyone asks me about it now, I just call it the FIFA World Bribery Tournament… I mean the next two World Cups after this one are in Russia and Qatar, and they’re talking about having to switch the World Cup (in Qatar) to the Winter because it is 50 degrees there in the Summer, which they knew at the time; it didn’t suddenly become 50 degrees after they’d won the bid. There was obviously millions and millions being paid to FIFA members to help secure that vote.

I heard you take in stray dogs?

Yes, I foster dogs. I travel as much as I can, but when I’m here I like to have a dog. I help out the shelters by taking a dog for a few weeks at a time. The shelters have limited resources and can only keep them for so long. They way I look at it is if I take the dog for a month, it goes back to the shelter as a new dog, as opposed to a dog that has been there for three months and is about to be euthanised. It then gives them another three months to find a home.

Is it easy to get into? Should more people do it?

Yes more people should. I love dogs, not a huge fan of cats, but there is also the opportunity to foster them as well. It’s very easy, I just found a group on Facebook and emailed someone.

You mentioned that you travel a lot, what do you do for work?

I do freelance proof-reading.

Is it stable work?

Most of the time it’s pretty stable. It goes through slumps. Sometimes I struggle to keep up with the work that I have, and sometimes a week will go by with no jobs at all. It’s mostly university papers, dissertations, theses etc.

What is the weirdest or most interesting thing that you’ve read?

The only thing I’ve really learnt in the three years doing this is that Turkish ice-cream is made out of orchids.

That is weird. On this topic, tell us about your writers’ circle. What do you usually write about?

Prague Writers Group, yes. I founded that maybe 3 years ago – I was trying to write a novel at the time and I thought that would maybe give me a little push if I could meet some people on a regular basis and they could give me some feedback. It’s really starting to take off now, we have around 8-10 people who turn up for meetings.

What is your novel about?

Well the one I was working on at the time was about a serial killer knifing people at train stations, it’s mainly told from his point of view. A lot of the stories I do are short stories, and quite a lot of them have a twist at the end.

You told me some time ago that you’re in a running/hiking group with the slogan “Drinker’s with a running problem”.. How did you get this slogan?

Yes (laughs). The group is a worldwide organisation and was started in the 1930s in Malaysia. We just had the 30th anniversary in Prague. We’re called the ‘Hash House Harriers’. One person will set a trail using chalk and flour and every other person has to work out where the trail goes. Some people like to run, and some like to walk along at their own pace with a beer.. I am more the second part.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

The greatest city I’ve ever been to – the atmosphere, the people, obviously it’s the best beer in the world. You actually have seasons here, I’m from Manchester where you have rain.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

That is one thing I’ve never thought of. In my lifetime, the thing that I most wanted to see, I was actually there and saw… That was when Liverpool won the champion’s league in 2005. They beat A.C. Milan in Istanbul and I was there in the stadium.

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For more information on the groups, check out the links below.

Prague Writers Group

Prague Hash House Harriers

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

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People in Fringe: The Václav Havel Project and ‘Olé!’ on Prague and its audience

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Susan Galbraith in Unveiling – The Václav Havel Project. Photo: praguefringe.com

Part two of the People in Fringe interviews includes snippets from Duane Gelderloos of The Václav Havel Project and the cast of ‘Olé!’, including director Paul Bedard. These artists give us their opinions on the Czech capital, the best moments of the festival, and an insight into their captivating work and talents.

Duane Gelderloos, Executive Director of Alliance for New-Music Theatre and Producer of The Václav Havel Project

Where are you from originally, Duane?

Well my parents were American but in the Foreign Service so I grew up overseas.  I was born in Indonesia and spent much of my childhood moving between south-east Asia and Europe.  I was informed by both far-eastern traditions of theatre which incorporate so much music and dance as well as European theatre — both text-based works particularly of British theatre but also the fantastic corporal theater forms of other European traditions.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Beautiful, densely historical, at times chilly (people and place).

What do you think of Fringe in Prague? Any highlights so far?

I am impressed by the eclectic nature of the offerings and the passion that is brought to bear on so much work.  By its nature a fringe festival gives adventurous people opportunities to try out new material and viewpoints, and is less about polished professionalism. I have loved meeting the artists and learning about their work and their processes. I find everyone I have spoken to, to be committed, interesting and  hugely supportive of each other.  I am also impressed by some of the sophistication, as well as courage, that these participants have about attracting audiences to their work, working outside as well as working through social media. Much more savvy than I am for sure!

What would you have said to Václav Havel if you had met him?

I imagine he would be a wonderful dinner companion, genuine with his time and very curious. We would eat well and enjoy our Czech beer. I would want to hear HIM speak as much as possible, about his plays, about the challenges of offering people their own freedom. I would ask him questions about what he feels now about his own country, and how he sees how the artist can continue to challenge and poke at establishments everywhere in the world.

How do you find the audience here in Prague?

I find audiences very intelligent here.  In the Fringe we have found many friends, and it has been wonderful for them to get the inherent theatricality and  performer-audience connection Havel and I hope we make with our style of theatre and the two companion pieces we brought.  We work with eclectic forms and dry changeable rhythm and styles. It has been fascinating to hear responses from Czechs, particularly those who knew Havel, his wife Olga, etc. They have been very encouraging about our work.  It has been a little strange to adjust to the way Czechs tend not to laugh out loud. In America, I would say audiences would have laughed immediately at the comedy in ‘Unveiling’, maybe only understanding it superficially, and only later seeing the twists, the horror and pathetic quality of Michael’s and Vera’s  marriage and the cost of their “sell out.”  Our lovely interviewer from Czech radio said, “Czechs are depressed. They like their own depression.”  But I think our director Miřenka Čechová was right, Czechs are chucklers at best, but they so deeply get the language and the layers in ‘Unveiling’.  It has been especially heart-warming for me to feel our new musical, ‘Vanek Unleashed’, has been so enthusiastically received. Our composer Maurice Saylor and these actors — Pam Jusino, Meghan McCall, Ron Heneghan an d Drew Valins — have worked so hard to make these characters come to life off the page.

Cast of ‘Olé!’ and Director Paul Bedard

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(From left) Frankie Alicea, Adrian Bridges, Sofia Lund and Jake Lasser in ‘Olé!’ Photo: Martin Mlaka

How do you think you would describe Prague, Paul?

Paul: Majestic, it has that fairy tale quality, you know? The castle is REAL.

Yes, it’s not a Disney castle!

Paul: Exactly! We’ve been talking about that it is so clear when the city was made because they really cared about the landscape. There is such a beautiful cohesive design to lift the spirit.

And you’re from New York originally?

Paul: I am, I grew up just outside the city and then moved there for school afterwards.

What’s your favourite thing about New York?

Paul: Almost everything is there at one moment, it’s overwhelming at times.. If you’re bored, it’s your fault!

So, in this play we see a lot of memorable romance and chaos between the Spanish greats, Salvador Dalí and Federico García Lorca, and of course their arrrrt. Jake and Frankie, you guys played Lorca and Dali, what do you think THEY would think of the play?

Jake: Dali would think it was putrefaction and cry secretly in his bathroom!

Frankie: It feels like Lorca would be honoured and excited by the conversation that is being had.. and really, if I may say so myself, the amount of bravery that the four of us have to work with on stage.

Sofia: Every time this play is done it releases something precious about Spain and life and love. Every time you do it more things come into the real world and Lorca and Dali still live on; through the music and through the beings.

What have you really enjoyed here at Fringe?

Jake: Jamie MacDowell and Tom Thum, they were incredible! And the illusionist.. AMAAAAZING.

Paul: I’ve done a number of Fringe festivals and in this one it’s so easy to be a community. That Fringe bar (Beseda) is not only a casual hangout, but they draw you to it. As silly as karaoke is, it’s a great way to laugh at a friend! It’s just been so easy to meet people and ask them about their work.

For more reviews and other festival highlights, check out the Fringe website here.

New Beginnings…

This new blog is dedicated to thoughts, stories and opinions of the weird and wonderful people of Prague. Whether they be travellers, expats or locals, I aim to find the inner crazy and interesting in everyone.

What follows it not only a collection of interviews with these remarkable story tellers, but also articles and opinion pieces of things that I find unique about the Czech capital.

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Since this is all just beginning, I’m always interested in meeting and talking to new people for inspiring news and stories. Feel free to like, comment, share and suggest. RK