Janko Kinces is a professional actor. You haven’t seen him in the movies or on the red carpet. He has never been to Los Angeles or New York. He doesn’t even audition or have an agent. Janko is a member of Divadlo z Pasáze, Theatre from the Passage, a Slovakian company that employs 14 directors, technicians, and teachers, as well as 15 full-time actors. He is also, like the rest of the actors with Divadlo z Pasáze, mentally handicapped. The group is in San Antonio this weekend on tour for their latest work, The Protected Territory, thanks to the efforts of Jump-Start Theater education director Steve Bailey. Bailey has been to visit the theater and the performers in Slovakia twice and was touched by his experiences.
“What struck me most was how much love there was,” he says. And it’s true. The passion of the performers and the instructors is evident in their convivial and playful attitudes toward one another.
Divadlo z Pasáze was started 15 years ago by stage performer Viera Dubacová, who saw the need for a change in professional theater in Slovakia to address the changes brought about by 1989’s Velvet Revolution. She noticed that people from institutions would come to see the plays with which she was involved, so she recruited them straight from their seats.
“The idea was just to make performances at first,” Dubacová explained, “but the theater grows by itself.” Her initial goal of creating an outlet for the mentally handicapped to express themselves has turned into a place where they can experience not only lessons in theater, but also art, movement, voice, and English. Divadlo z Pasáze has set up housing for the actors where they are able to live independently — an accomplishment that brings them great pride.
The inspiration for The Protected Territory came from the simple notion of personal freedom. Director Dubacová and the other instructors asked the actors what “the protected territory” meant to them, then the troupe created a nonverbal spectacle that communicates these ideas. The end result is a stunning and compassionate piece in which the actors embody the idea in a medium that transcends language.
Dubacová says that 20 years after the Velvet Revolution, people seem to have forgotten that personal freedoms and dignities can be endangered, but the notion of an inviolate territory within oneself is something that is very important to the mentally handicapped actors with Divadlo z Pasáze. Says Janko, “The Protected Territory is to have no fear, to be one’s self; it’s the privilege of everyone.”
The Protected Territory
May 29 & 30