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The Havel Project

Double bill of Václav Havel’s Protest and our original production
Vaněk Unleashed, a tribute to Havel
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"The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.”
~Václav Havel          
Shortly after being elected, he gave a speech to a joint session of US Congress, in which he stated, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.”   


Havel’s words about resistance and personal responsibility against totalitarianism seem as relevant today as when they were first written and performed. 

As Madeleine Albright said, “If you want to understand Havel, see his plays.”

About Václav Havel

Václav Havel (1936-2011), playwright, essayist, poet, dissident, and political prisoner turned politician, was one of the writers of Charter 77, a document that criticized the communist government for failing to implement human rights provisions. After the Velvet Revolution, Havel became the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel has received numerous state decorations, honorary doctorates, and international awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. After leaving office, he continued to work for human rights, creating the Forum 2000 Foundation. Havel passed away on December 18, 2011.


Havel loved the social aspects of theater and began working at the ABC Theater in Prague as a stagehand when Czech theater was being influenced by the “Theatre of the Absurd," including playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. This sense of the absurd appealed to Havel and was central to his writing. In the 1960s, he became a leading playwright working at the Theatre on the Balustrade. By 1963, he wrote his first, full-length, publicly performed play, The Garden Party, about a person who has lost his sense of identity. Many of his plays show the absurdity of totalitarian rule through dark comedy and thus were banned by the communist regime. His play Audience features a main character named Vaněk, which "slightly" reflected Havel himself, who also appeared in two subsequent plays Unveiling and Protest. When Audience premiered in New York City, Havel chose not to travel out of the country and abandon his fellow prisoners. His plays served as a stage for his ongoing struggle with the regime, his life experiences, as well as his means of support during hard times.

Past Performances of


On December 7, 2018 at the invitation of Ambassador Martin Palous we performed at the annual Conference of Czech Consuls at Florida International University's Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and the Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy. That weekend we also did an "Apartment " performance (as Havel intended) for a group of Cuban dissidents in Miami.


In 2017, as part of Václav Havel’s 80th anniversary year, Alliance went underground with 16 performances of Protest (work whose origins were also “underground") in the Dupont Underground, the first ever theatre performance in this previously abandoned street car station under Dupont Circle.

From May 26 to June 3, 2107 we performed Havel’s Protest at the Prague Fringe Festival in the Czech Republic in a new venue.

September 25-29, 2016 Alliance mounted four sold-out apartment performances” of Protest in three different venues and in two cities (Washington D.C. and New York City.)

The first was by special invitation of Czech Ambassador

Petr Gandalovič and held at the Ambassador’s

residence for invited guests, including Dagmar

Havlová, Havel’s widow, and the Speaker of the

Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament,

Jan Hamáček, with his special delegation.

Performances the following two nights were by

special invitation of Robert Enholm at The

Woodrow Wilson House. Finally, the company

hightailed it to New York City to be part of the

three-day celebration announced by Mayor

De Blasio to celebrate Havel’s 80th birthday.

The show was performed in the unique Gallery

Space at the Czech Center.

Protest exposes a society under a totalitarian regime that spies on its citizens and the thin line between acquiescence and culpability, between comedy and creepy terror.


The production is designed to acknowledge the courage and the camaraderie that conjoined in the original stagings, called “apartment performances.” Havel and other publicly banned artists found this radical solution as a way to share their works with their audiences as private living room performances. The performances were known for their intimacy, their sly in-jokes about notable Czech artists (including Havel himself taking on the role of Vaněk), and their tongue-in-cheek pokes at the Soviet-controlled country. .

The response of audience members afterwards demonstrated how powerful Havel’s play is across time and how it spoke up slyly in protest to the totalitarian regime. With his incisive hits against the undermining of the individual by such a system, his understanding of human psychology, his courage to expose his own weakness in the alter-ego of his character, Vaněk, and most especially his impish wit, Havel makes us wince but also laugh. The work carries within it a spirit of universality as it probes into the importance of individual conscience and choice.

Susan Galbraith, Artistic Director of New Music-Theatre, directs Protest. Andrew Valins returns to the role of Vaněk for his third production in The Havel Project. The production also features David Millstone as Staněk.

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Vaněk Unleashed

In May 2014 New Music-Theatre producedVaněk Unleashed at the Artisphere venue.

In June we took the show to the Prague Fringe Festival.

Vaněk Unleashed is a uniquely American response to the same, most beloved central character of Vaněk, In this work the Alliance adds to the tradition that includes playwrights Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard of paying tribute to Havel by making Vaněk a universal character. Audiences will find Vaněk still struggling with issues of the slipperiness of identity as he careens imaginatively between prison and the more terrifying and absurd world outside. However, the work takes its performance style from two of our own country’s most popular forms, the American musical and silent screen comedy, in particular the work of Harry Langdon, who sits in the pantheon of clown greats with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It was said of Langdon that his film persona seemed to have been dropped to earth without a set of instructions. The same could be said of our man Vaněk.

Composed by Maurice Saylor
Written and directed by Susan Galbraith


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We participated in the Georgetown University Cross Currents Gathering in May, 2019 with a performance of excerpts of Havel's Protest.
Panel discussion with Ambassadors 
Martin Palouš,
Madeleine Albright,
Cynthia Schneider
and Alliance Artistic
Director Susan Galbraith
Cross Currents.jpg
The Panel with the actors -
David Millstone (Staněk)
Drew Valins


Unveiling is one of Havel’s most popular plays and features a bourgeois couple entertaining their friend, Ferdinand Vaněk, a dissident playwright who discovers in that one evening that since his political imprisonment the world has grown into a slippery and chaotic place. The central character represents to some degree the dramatic alter ego of the playwright, who observes society around him, enduring painfully funny angst in his alienation. The play also explores the issues of integrity, morality and responsibility.

The play was originally produced by Alliance for New Music-Theatre as part of the 2013 Mutual Inspirations Festival sponsored by the Czech Embassy and directed by Miřenka Čechová.

The Unveiling

by Vaclav Havel

Translated by Jan Novak

Presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC. 

“Everything– from the writing to the stage direction and the acting itself– is a marvel to watch in the Alliance for New Music-Theatre’s salute to Václav Havel.” -DC Theatre Scene

Since the show’s opening in September 2013, people have been saying that The Václav Havel Project is a must-see piece of theatre. As part of the Mutual Inspirations Festival in Washington D.C., the Alliance for New Music-Theatre, sponsored by the Czech Embassy, performed Antiwords and Unveiling in celebration of the man and his legacy. The performances were highly acclaimed by critics from DC Metro Theater ArtsDC Theatre Scene, and others.

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