We were deeply saddened to receive the news of the passing of Professor Ivan Vyskočil, an author, actor, psychologist, director, teacher, the founder of DAMU’s Department of Authorial Creativity and Pedagogy, and the spiritual father of the discipline of dialogic acting with the inner partner.
Ivan Vyskočil was born in Prague on 27 April 1929. Having graduated from the Academic High School, he completed acting and directing studies at the Dramatic Conservatory, which transformed in 1949 into what is the Theatre Faculty of AMU today. His teachers included such Czech acting luminaries as Karel Höger, Otomar Krejča, Jiří Frejka, Jiří Plachý, Ladislav Pešek and Radovan Lukavský. Later on, he also graduated in psychology (specialising in correctional and criminal psychology) and pedagogy and philosophy from Charles University’s Faculty of Arts, studying with Jan Patočka among others.
While still a student, he worked as an assistant keeper in psychiatric and correctional institutions and was interested in re-education based on trust, contact, and relationship. He cooperated with Dr Hugo Široký at the Ledce-Šternberk institution, pioneering experiments in socio- and psycho-drama.
In the late 1950s, he became the first psychology teacher at AMU thanks to a job offer from Miloš Nedbal and Radovan Lukavský. That was also the period of the first ever text-appeal events at the Reduta club, which he co-authored with Jiří Suchý and presented on stage.
He founded Prague’s Na Zábradlí Theatre along with Jiří Suchý, Helenas Philippová and Vladimír Vodička in 1958. When the pantomime troupe was established, he helmed the drama theatre team and acted, wrote plays and directed them (Kdyby 1000 klarinetů, Faust, Markéta, služka a já, Smutné Vánoce, etc.). Having left Zábradlí, he went back to the Reduta (1963) and became the art director of Salon Reduta and founded the Nedivadlo. Under his leadership, several text-appeal projects took place at the Reduta (Poslední den, Blbá hra, Meziřeči etc.) in addition to jazz concerts, contemporary art exhibitions, and several happenings.
Vyskočil’s and Suchý’s legendary text-appeals at the Reduta marked the birth of the first non-institutional and authorial theatre in socialist Czechoslovakia at the end of the rigid 1950s. They were original with their poetics (playful nonsense and dark absurdity) as well as ethics. Vyskočil and Suchý addressed audiences with their own narrations and songs, engaging in an open dialogue with the viewers and bearing full personal responsibility for it. What sounds so obvious today was a revelation and a glimpse of hope at its time. In effect, Reduta is taken to be the beginning of Czech alternative theatre and triggered the ‘small format theatre’ movement, which was the most meaningful and vital strain of Czech theatre in the 1960s. Vyskočil’s Nedivadlo (Non-Theatre), which can be described as a lab without a hyperbole, played a similar initiation role. Nedivadlo positioned itself as a stage that consistently developed narrative theatre where the desired product was theatre at the stage of birth, theatre arising from an authentic encounter, theatre as a shared workshop, theatre as an open dramatic play. Vyskočil became the Czech bearer of the global theatre alternative, with a privilege to the effect that, in his ‘poor theatre’, merry poverty prevailed over virtuous asceticism.
It was also in the 1960s that Vyskočil’s writings went into publication, both in periodicals and as books (Vždyť přece létat je snadné, Kosti, Malé hry, Ivan Vyskočil a jiné povídky). He was also a successful radio playwright (Návštěva čili návštěva, Cesta do Úbic, etc.); he worked with the radio as an author and anchor. He played in films (Pearls of the Deep, The Party and the Guests).
With the onset of the ‘normalisation’ period, Vyskočil was forced to leave the Reduta, and Nedivadlo travelled from one venue to the next, often outside Prague, yet he prepared several remarkable projects (Nehraje se, Na staré motivy, Haprdáns, Malý Alenáš etc.); he was also forbidden to publish. In 1971, he started teaching special purpose courses for working people at the primary art school in Josefská Street in Prague. This is where he created his concept of studying psychosomatic disciplines and authorial acting as the upbringing of personality. Over time, he gathered a team of collaborators, the core of which (Vítězslava Fryntová, Libuše Válková, Hana Smrčková) followed him to DAMU in 1989. He was also actively involved in various amateur theatre classes and workshops, occasionally publishing his insights in specialised and industry press.
Ivan Vyskočil inspired many personalities to engage in creative cooperation: in addition to Jiří Suchý, they included Pavel Bošek, Leoš Suchařípa, Otakar Roubínek, Vlasta Špicnerová, Miloš Macourek, Pavel Kopta and Václav Havel. His thinking and actions also influenced his followers. In terms of the principles of open dramatic play, they include Vizita and the collective improvisations at the Ypsilon Studio, to say nothing of the currently hugely popular wave of improvised theatre in general. Authors who expressly reference Vyskočil include or included Jiří Kratochvil, Jaroslav Pížl, Egon Tobiáš, Přemysl Rut, Jaroslav Dušek, Petr Nikl, Lenka Vychodilová, Jaroslava Pokorná, Marie Durnová, Petr Lébl and many more.
Ivan Vyskočil focused the majority of his activities on DAMU in the 1990s, in particular his research into dialogic acting with the inner partner. Initially, he worked as the Head of the Department of Drama Theatre, then in 1992 he founded what was initially called the Department of Authorial Theatre and Pedagogy, later renamed Department of Authorial Creativity and Pedagogy, which he helmed until 2003. He was appointed Professor of acting and authorial creativity in 1992, and he also worked as the Head of DAMU’s Institute for Research into and Study of Authorial Acting in 2001–2021. He was a laureate of the Next Wave festival’s Living Treasure Award (2003), an honorary doctorate of JAMU in Brno (2005), the Gold Medal of AMU (2009), a Thalia Award (2010), and the Government Honours (2018). In 2021, he received the Professor Emeritus title at AMU for his long-lived and significant teaching, artistic, and scholarly contributions to the Theatre Faculty of AMU.
His students often remember him with gratitude in particular for his personal commitment, generous attention, playfulness, and the ability to take them as equal partners in the shared work.
Ivan Vyskočil passed away on 28 April 2023 at the age 94 years, one day after his birthday. May you rest in peace, Mr Vyskočil!