Lukas Houdek27 January 2021
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Prague, today’s capital of the Czech Republic. Back then it was still Czechoslovakia.
How did you come to be at St. Conleth’s?
We moved to Ireland in 1990 when my father was sent to Dublin by his company. We lived in a house in Ballsbridge. St. Conleth’s was some three hundred metres away, right at the end of our extremely straight lane – a major advantage for someone with such poor orientation skills as mine. Plus I guess my parents must have gotten some very good references.
Favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.
I was immediately disappointed by Latin. Not the subject itself, but the fact that I could not take part in it, having joined the school as a 3rd year. Irish gave me a fright until I was told it was not compulsory for me as a foreigner. As with many things, I now regret not having taken more interest in the language. But at the time I was relieved to spend some study / reading / looking-out-the-window time up in the library. I did enjoy rugby a lot, although some of its rules are beyond me to this date.
It was interesting to learn about Soviet history in Peter Gallagher’s classes, having come from a formerly communist country myself. It was exhilarating to watch Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources and Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu in Ms. Broteland’s French classes (by then I was becoming very much interested in film and thought I would pursue a career in this field). And it was intriguing to learn about the classics of English literature from Mr. McGloinn, a man who brilliantly combined threat with sensitivity and had the air about him of knowing just about everything.
Fondest memory of St. Conleth’s.
I distinctly remember how in the first half of the nineties the school emanated both the past and the future, which gave it a sort of timeless touch. Some of the classrooms struck me as rather dark, small and ancient, others as full of light and quite modern. I was also fairly excited to have my very first school uniform, complete with a tie (we never wore school uniforms in Prague). Only later did I realise that even the longest sleeves (green or navy) would not cover the entire length of my somewhat prolonged arms. One is also tempted to say that the sudden (though not unexpected) appearance of girls in the class was a moment to cherish but one feels this somehow goes without saying. So I guess my fondest memory would be of the handful of friendships I managed to establish while at the school, being the awkward, introverted, tall foreign boy that I was.
At what age did you know you wanted to work in your chosen field?
I didn’t. I know this will sound ostentatious but I think the field chose me, not the other way around. As I mentioned above, I was very much into film and spent a good deal of time at the Irish Film Centre in Temple Bar. Having returned to Prague in 1996 I studied documentary filmmaking. But before I could finish my studies I had a professional revelation. I was twenty four years of age.
Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field?
While still at the film school I met a great American clown who was just starting a healthcare clown project in the Czech Republic. I had fond childhood memories of some great theatre clown performances which had moved me deeply, but it never seemed to me as something I could actually do. Suddenly I felt I could and also found the courage to go with that feeling. At that moment my whole professional life had shifted from film to theatre, much like pulling a lever.
Tell us about your education/ career path.
The moment I started as an “apprentice clown” I felt like entering yet another school, this time based largely on courage, skill and physical and emotional experience. Besides going to hospitals I went to several workshops a year, some of them given by teachers from the renowned Lecoq and Gaulier schools. I learned to carefully discern between what clowning really is and what it can appear to be – the image of a party clown or even “killer clown” still haunts many of us but has little to do with the actual art. In the naivety and innocence of the clown I found reassurance, in the Socratesesque (sorry, Mr. McGloinn!) “I know that I know nothing” I discovered great freedom and creativity. I soon started working with a clown/physical comedy group Squadra Sua, creating shows both for the street and for theatre and also travelling abroad. “New circus” was becoming quite a thing and the audiences warmed to these “new clowns”. At the same time I stayed with the healthcare clown organisation Zdravotní klaun and started teaching seminars on humour as a communication skill at medical universities and for hospital staff. And in the latest twist so far I was asked by the nonverbal theatre department of the HAMU University in Prague to teach clowning there. It is my third year at the school now and I still consider this the most amazing work I never even knew I could one day have.
Proudest achievement to date.
As a proud father I might be expected to dodge this question by mentioning my three lovely daughters now but I won’t. I hope I do not underestimate pride when I say that I seldom feel proud, and yet often content. I think I did experience some level of pride when we finished our latest show Across with Squadra Sua. We collaborated with the hugely inspirational Belgian director Jos Houben and the result has been described by some as a “shared sensation”. Instead of a piece of theatre we maybe almost succeeded in creating a “joint perception space” in which the audience feels included as much as the actors do and has a lot of laughs in the process. So yes, I think I actually am proud when I can do my share to make people happy. It has little to do with altruism. I consider myself a human being too and like being made happy myself.
Aspirations for the future.
I hope to make such creative, pedagogical and personal choices that would ensure that there will actually be a future. I hope to continue teaching and in the process to learn as much about myself, theatre, other people and the world as possible. One day I would like to make a film about theatre clowning to reconcile the two poles towards which my life seems to gravitate.
Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.
Be suspicious of anyone wanting to give you advice! Had they taken the advice of others to get to the place they are now? But at the same time I would suggest lending everyone a discerning ear. People often give you both good and bad advice when they are not aware of it.
Speaking of theatre I often have the feeling that people are attracted to it not for the love of the art or the audience, but because they are primarily affectionate about themselves. While this may work for some, I am content to say that clowning is a “narrow path”. It teaches you how to take joy in not being perfect and how to be appreciated for a skilled approach to fallibility. In clowning your affection always resides with the audience and only then is it presented back to you as a rather unexpected gift.