The Emperor of America

Studio 12, Bratislava/ Pôtoň Theatre, Bátovce, 2018
Author: Martin Pollack
Directed by: Iveta Ditte Jurčová

about the production

The refugee crisis is an established theme among theatre-makers in the West. In Slovakia, it is only becoming the object of artistic attention rather slowly. Studio 12 of the Theatre Institute in Bratislava, in co-production with Potôň Theatre from Bátovce, who systematically address social themes as well as questions of national identity, have found a way to address the issue of migration. The Emperor of America travels back in the history of central Europe. It follows the steps of our ancestors but also engages in dialogue with the present.
In his book Emperor of America: The Great Flight from Galicia, Austrian journalist, author and translator Martin Pollack presents a rapid cadence of bleak images of the poverty-stricken multinational region of Galicia, which lay on the border of eastern Poland and western Ukraine. The documentary bestseller packs dozens of miniature stories. It describes the hardships of Poles, Ukrainians, Rusyns and Slovaks; Christians and Jews alike, who moved to America in search of employment in the late 19th century. They faced the risk of arrest, death and isolation in a new country solely in order to meet their and their dearest’s most basic needs. Like the refugees of today, they too sought a better future, and in
course of that became prey to smugglers and swindlers, economic commodities, the sources of bizarre myths and the subject of many conspiracy theories. Finally, not even the promised land of America welcomed them with arms wide open. Michal Ditte, the author of this theatrical adaptation, only chose a few stories from the bulk Pollack presents, thinks them through and dramatizes them so they do not become mere figures in a statistic but rather a web of interconnected fates. Selected characters such as Mendel Beck, Rifke Beck, Mathias Komara and others are samples that symbolically represent each and every one of the oppressed.
The intimate production allows audiences to be in close contact with the stage, dominated by a distinctive scenography element. A floor covered with dry soil makes for a multi-layered metaphor – it is the barren land which the characters must leave behind, but it is also the new home where they must take root. Being able to be up close with the actors, to breathe the dust of the loose soil in a dark and confined space deepen an atmosphere of vanity, which is only interrupted here and there by a humorous moment or by unexpected irony. The directorial language of Iveta Ditte Jurčová is again a weave of variegated dramatic methods. Portions of monologue take turns with civil conversations, surprisingly expressive performances and dramatic metaphors. The actors interact with various objects in parallel lines of action. The result is a balanced synergy of drama, visual and object theatre.
Dramaturge Marek Godovič wrote the following in the accompanying brochure: “To make a documentary drama out of a reportage book would be merely to double the experienced, double the read. An image that would, for that matter, resemble the original but would be just that – an image – a copy, in some ways distorted and false.” The creators from Potôň Theatre in Bátovce did not conceive their Emperor of America as a faithful reproduction of the book, and they did not even attempt an explicit resemblance with the current migrant crisis. To more than just the fans of Pollack’s reportage, they offer a factually and informatively attenuated, but emotionally all the more forceful and concentrated an experience. Their piece is a reflection of a common Central-European past that perfectly mirrors the present. Without forcing parallels, The Emperor of America can serve as an excellent antidote against the Visegrad nations’ collective amnesia.

MLOKi Culture Society

“In the book, dozens of minute stories are scattered about like droplets of salt water after the storm. Ditte only chooses several, blends them and creates his own sea of stories and individual fates. Ditte also translates Pollack’s impersonal descriptive style into a poetic and emotional language more suitable for the theatre. (…) Their Emperor of America is neither a faithful reproduction of the book nor a forced parable on the current refugee crisis.”

(Milo Juráni, .týždeň, 13 May 2018)

“An extraordinary testimony about the Galician exodus to America in search of work at the end of the 19th century, rendered in a suggestive theatrical language and with an effective scenography, brought the audience a unique, almost palpable experience.”

(Slavo Sochor,, 20 July 2018)


directed by Iveta Ditte Jurčová
theatrical adaptation: Michal Ditte
original translated by Michal Hvorecký
dramaturgy: Marek Godovič
set and costume design: Katarína Caková
music: Ivana Mer & Cristian Estrella
visual concept: Iveta Ditte Jurčová, Katarína Caková
realisation of visual concept: Katarína Caková
choreographic collaboration Mária Danadová
production: Kristína Rigerová, Veronika Stepanovičová, Michal Ditte, Monika Škojcová
cast: Ľubomír Bukový, Filip Jekkel, Matúš Kvietik, Mária Danadová, Eva Moresová


Iveta Ditte Jurčová (1968) graduated in theatre directing (2006) from the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. As a director, she has collaborated with several theatre companies in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. She is the author of a number of educational projects in the field of scenic arts, in which she was also active as a lecturer. She led theatre workshops for the Association Divadelná Nitra, the National Culture Centre, Potôň Theatre and elsewhere. In 2009, she organised a workshop titled Tender at the festival Dotyky a spojenia (Touches & Connections), a non-competitive exhibit of Slovak theatrical productions. Her work has been staged at several prominent festivals in Slovakia and abroad (Dotyky a spojenia, Divadelná Nitra, DIVADLO International Festival in Plzeň, Theatre of European Regions in Hradec Králové, Cairo International Festival for Contemporary & Experimental Theatre). Currently, she is the director and art director of the Pôtoň Theatre in Bátovce, which serves as a centre of art and creativity. The theatre is the leader of the anti-discrimination and antiracist project Poverty in Slovakia, which freely follows the production of Poverty (presented at Divadelná Nitra 2012). In 2015, together with Michal Ditte, she was the curator of the selection of Slovak productions for the Divadelná Nitra programme.

Materials available

Video of the production: yes
Script of the production: SK

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