By Ryan Keating-Lambert
There are some incredible expats living in this city. Each and every one as inspiring as the next, especially for an expat like myself who is constantly searching for the next step; the next challenge. Maya is probably one of the original expats in Prague. Arriving shortly after the Velvet Revolution, she has seen it all and has played a huge role in this insanely addictive city. Her influence can be felt all over the art and fashion scene and speaking to her in her hidden Ujezd studio of Myrnyx Tyrnyx was not just an interview, but invaluable advice about creative life in Prague from one generation of expat to another. Hopefully in the future I can pass down the same wisdom. And also.. her first great love was superman! Read more. Now!
Where are you originally from?
I’m from California, from Santa Monica.
What was it like growing up there?
I grew up during the 80s. Performance art was just emerging and the punk scene was happening. It was so thrilling and new for me! The scene was the beginning of a rebellious voice that I could relate to. That doesn’t exist now. It’s hard when everything has been done.
Why did you come to Prague?
Well, I knew that I didn’t belong in the United States. I wanted something much more challenging. My idea was to set up some kind of business that would be successful but also would be beneficial to the city. Originally it was a little squat in Betlemske namesti where we made a performance centre for about 4-5 months. But after talking to local artists, I eventually decided on a vintage clothing store. But I chose the Czech Republic out of absolute serendipity.
I read that your casting agency Myrnyx Tyrnyx has been pushing racial and cultural boundaries since the beginning. Tell me a little bit about it.
There was a very homogeneous commercial industry here at the time – everybody was white, and not just white but very straight and classically attractive. To me, this was very boring. I tried to shake up the scene a bit with some fashion shows so that people could understand how to wear the clothes I was selling in the store. It was 1995 and at that time people here had just come out of communism. They weren’t individuated. They were very careful not to stand out. And I’d come from this internal and external universe of people shining and being themselves in L.A. So I invited talented interesting people, pierced, dreadlocked, African, South American and Asian, all different body types. And this was the first time the Czech Republic had seen multicultural elements, and I added other elements such as a man wearing a dress, and looking gorgeous! I was also not pro models being thin and classic, I was pro models being healthy and alive.
So you’ve recently started casting for films as well. Tell me about The Zookeeper’s Wife which was recently filmed in Prague Zoo with Jessica Chastain, I’m a huge fan of hers.
She is incredible, isn’t she? It was a unique project. Very deep. A wonderful director from New Zealand, Niki Caro. Something that was very unique about this project and something that I’d never seen before, was that she pretty much didn’t leave the set. She stayed within the mood of the scene that she was shooting. You never saw her floating around and gabbing with people nor did you see her in a classic director’s chair. It’d been said that the film would get some attention for the Academy Awards, so there was a lot of pressure around it but it was actually very calm on set and everyone was in good spirits. I cast 54 roles from people that live in the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European countries.
What are some of your favourite films?
Well, I love The Great Beauty, You, Me and Everyone We Know, and also What About Bob!
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
I’ve been thinking about that and they’re all dead (laughs). Maybe Gilda Radner, she’s from ‘Saturday Night Live’. She was my first idol, or maybe it was superman?.. No, actually superman was my first great love. He was also the only person that I had a poster of on my wall. I went to see one of the old superman films one night and my mum and I were seated behind Christopher Reeves… I saw him kissing a girl and was absolutely flabbergasted!
That’s such a good story.
My heart was crushed! He was MY superman.
How would you describe Prague?
Sparkly and unknowable. In these streets there are possibilities for things to happen that don’t happen anywhere else. You are thinking of someone and they run into you or other coincidental things. There is a lot of that going on here. If your eyes are open and you’re here, a lot of amazing things can happen. It can be very heavy though, especially in the winter.
What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?
I love the word embark. In Czech.. maybe my favourite is one of the first difficult Czech words that I was able to say. So mine is trychtýř, which is a funnel! Whyyyyyyy? (Laughs).
Mine is ‘zmrzlina’.. for the exact same reason.
What advice to you have for creative people that want to establish something in this community?
Have tolerance and compassion. It’s the same advice I’d give to someone who wants to stay in a relationship. Be prepared to stand your ground and persevere, but be diplomatic. Always look for the next challenge and the next adventure.