Out of the sewer and through a "sea of troubles," the cast of Stoka Theater asks itself, What next?

"Masochistic exhibitionism," says Stoka actress Erika Fábryová, "that's what it is to be an actor." "Well for me, it's about venting," shoots back actor Laco Kerata. "Venting feelings of love and hate." "It's a magnifying glass," adds another, Imrich Maťo.
Leaning forward in a rickety dressing room chair, actor Jozef Chmel ends the discussion: "It's a sacrifice."
And a sacrifice it is for the actors of the experimental Stoka Theater in Bratislava. Creating avant-garde performances mostly through improvisation, their style of theater is undermined by classically-trained actors and under-appreciated by the majority of the snobby theater-going public. "Some people like [actress] Zdena Studenková hate us, but only from what they hear about us," Kerata said. "They've never even seen our performances."


Members of Stoka's cast on stage (left to right): Jozef Chmel, Erika Fábryová, Imrich Maťo, and Laco Kerata.
Ron Severdia

"Masochistic exhibitionism," says Stoka actress Erika Fábryová, "that's what it is to be an actor." "Well for me, it's about venting," shoots back actor Laco Kerata. "Venting feelings of love and hate." "It's a magnifying glass," adds another, Imrich Maťo.

Leaning forward in a rickety dressing room chair, actor Jozef Chmel ends the discussion: "It's a sacrifice." And a sacrifice it is for the actors of the experimental Stoka Theater in Bratislava. Creating avant-garde performances mostly through improvisation, their style of theater is undermined by classically-trained actors and under-appreciated by the majority of the snobby theater-going public. "Some people like [actress] Zdena Studenková hate us, but only from what they hear about us," Kerata said. "They've never even seen our performances."

But Kerata and the ensemble have received even greater criticism, mainly from those taking issue with the amount of nudity in their performances. Undaunted, the roughly dozen-member Stoka ensemble continues its pursuit of defining alternative theater - even without the financial rewards most professional actors enjoy.

"When we say we perform without pay, people think that we are just saying that to create a good image of ourselves," said Kerata. "It isn't true." Despite the postings on a backstage bulletin board announcing a few paid gigs abroad, it's clear by the state of their theater compared to others that the Stoka (which means sewer) group is not raking in the cash: the dressing room mirrors and tables are donations from the Astorka Theater, for example.

It is apparent that the entire ensemble works hard, from morning to night, seven days a week. What started with the premier performance of "Kolaps" on March 23, 1991, has made Stoka's style into an almost underground cult of Bratislava's youth and old alike. They claim that even Culture Minister Ivan Hudec attended several performances a few years ago before he became the minister and Stoka's archenemy. With that kind of relationship to a man who has such great financial power in the cultural scene, comes great financial worries.

"We know several firms who want to give us money, but they are afraid of the repercussions," Kerata said. Chmel adds: "The government would find a way to create problems for them." Fábryová nods in approval. "So we have to rely on money from abroad, or organizations not dependent on the Slovak government," she said.

In spite of such unpleasantry, the cast has remodeled their modest theater in Bratislava's downtown area to include a small pub, and are preparing newer performances in hopes of attracting a wider audience. Their debate series, titled "Zasurmili surmity" has garnered praise, especially after a recent viewing by President Michal Kováč (who sat in a faded corner lounge and drank a glass of red wine with the ensemble after the "show").

Considering they receive little money for their acting, some members have embarked on other pursuits One of them, Lucia Piussi, has an increasingly popular alternative music group called Živé kvety (which means "Living Flowers," but Piussi begged not to translate it because "it sounds so much nicer in Slovak").

As for Stoka's future, it's anybody's guess. Chmel shrugs his shoulders and says, "We don't know ourselves what Stoka's future is." But there's little doubt that a future exists for this grassroots theater; especially since its actors and actresses always have somehow repeatedly surfaced from a 'sea of troubles.'

The Stoka ensemble recommends the following performances for non-Slovak speakers, because they contain little or no dialogue: "Eo ipso," "Donarium," "Komora," and "Kolaps." But nearly all of their pieces are entertaining whether or you understand Slovak or not.

They will be performing "Eo Ipso" at the Cibulák '97 festival in Pezinok on July 28. They can also be seen doing "Impasse" at the "President's Castle" in Topoľčianky on August 2. They will resume their regular performance schedule at their theater (Pribinova 1), after a month-long break, in August.

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