Welcome to another episode from our Brno Expats Have Talent series. Brno is full of talented people, and some of them are not from the CR – we’re introducing one talented expat at a time!
This month, Jack from England speaks about the various ways he lives and creates art in Brno:
How long have you been writing & creating?
I’ve only been exploring this side of myself for the last couple of years. I guess I had always felt like – hypothetically – I had a creative person inside me, but I had always been busy with other things. Or maybe just lazy. Then in 2018, I moved back to Brno after some time away, and I needed to change some things in my life. So I threw myself into a few different creative pursuits.
I joined the Brno Writers Group, run by Bruno Zalubil, which finally helped me overcome my lifelong writer’s block. And I joined Czech Theater, an amateur multicultural English-language drama collective set up by Anne Johnson and Aaron Collier, which was an amazing wake up call to how being creative can help you change your life and your perspective, as well as being a great way to meet people. From then everything just flowed. Out of Czech Theater came Anne’s open-mic night, Comedius, so I started writing stories and poems for that, and all kinds of other performances. I’ve learnt that anything can be a performance if you want it to be. A diary entry, a list, even a restaurant menu!
Is art a hobby or your source of income?
It’s just for me, mostly. I’m actually slightly queasy about the idea of monetising things you truly enjoy, I worry that it could suck the fun out of it. I write for my job and I have found it leaves me less energy to write for myself. I do some voice work occasionally for different cultural projects, that’s a lot of fun, but just every now and again.
How do you find living in Brno as an expat and artist?
Brno is an amazing city for creative arts, all the more so because it doesn’t wear that on its sleeve. There are so many people doing so many cool and interesting things, but the great thing is that it feels collaborative, not competitive. There’s space for everyone to try anything they want, and we are all just here as each other’s audiences and support network. The fact that everyone knows everyone is a big bonus, too. We all know where to find each other, and if you don’t know the right co-conspirators for the project you’re looking for, well, someone you know will.
Where do you find inspiration? Did Brno/CR bring any new inspiration to your art, what/who was it?
Most of the stories I perform are taken from my life. I use all the awkward and embarrassing moments from my childhood (and some from my adulthood) and try to turn them into something funny. I feel more comfortable laughing at myself rather than others, and I think people find that quite relatable. My written work tends to be more focused on Brno, I take a lot of inspiration from this city and its quiet romance. In 2019 I won the Brno Short Story competition with my story “Brno is for Lovers”, that was my proudest moment as an artist in Brno. That story above all was inspired by Brno, I tried to distil as many different strands of the city’s romantic character into one piece, all the stories I had heard and observed. I hope I did the city justice.
Aside from that, I love the ethos of Czech Theater, focusing on staging Czech plays in translation to introduce the foreigners here to Czech drama, which has a rich tradition and played an important part in the country’s recent history. It has been truly an honour to be part of that tradition, and we have put on some incredible plays. I might single out Havel’s Vanek plays among them. I had the opportunity to play my favourite character in my favourite play by my favourite playwright, which was an experience I’ll never forget.
How can you practise your art now, in the strange covid times?
It’s a challenge, for sure. The theatre scene was on hiatus, of course. But Anne Johnson did an amazing job of keeping the open-mic nights going in an online format, we recorded our contributions and sent them to her, which gave us an opportunity to explore a new medium. Like most people I hated recordings of myself until then, but as well as some of my own stories, I got together with some friends to produce short comedy videos based on sketches and mock interviews with ridiculous characters. It was a lot of fun, and also great to see how other artists rose to the challenge of producing variety entertainment in such restricted circumstances. I think it kept us all sane.
Is there any other area in art that you’d like to explore?
I would love to write more than I do. I’ve got a lot of ideas, but it’s hard to find the time and energy to make them reality, especially because I write so much with my job and my studies. It seems more necessary than ever to spend any spare time socialising with the people I love, especially now we know that can get taken away from us at any moment. But in a way that’s good… it’s the people around me that give me my creative impulses. There is never a shortage of crazy and interesting people in Brno!
What did you choose for your live input of this article and why?
These are some clips from stories I submitted to Comedius during the lockdown, and from a comedy show at Naproti before the pandemic. I chose them to give an idea of the range of formats I’ve been working with.
Watch a few clips of Jack’s live stories, readings and sketches done in Brno:
Photos courtesy by Jack Stephens, Czech Theater