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Trinity academic selected for Prague UNESCO City of Literature residency

12th December 2018

Justin MacGregor, Assistant Professor in Film Studies, School of Creative Arts, Trinity has been selected to be a Writer in Residence of Prague UNESCO City of Literature 2019. Dr MacGregor was selected out of 428 applicants from 81 countries. During his residency, Dr MacGregor will be working on “Vaclav’s Prague Spring Blues” as both a theatre play and a film script.

The project is based on the true story of a group of British and Irish actors touring Peter Brook’s “King Lear” behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War in 1964 as part of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday celebrations. While there, the actors met an aspiring playwright named Vaclav Havel, whose first play, “The Garden Party” was being performed at the same time. Over the next two weeks, Havel led the actors through Prague’s illegal jazz clubs as they eluded their KGB handlers and the secret police while learning about each other’s art and the high cost of both freedom and dissent.

Dr MacGregor’s father, Barry, was one of the actors who became lifelong friends with the future Czech President during that time and letters written by Havel to him will make up part of the play. In 2004, Paul Scofield’s performance as “King Lear” was voted the greatest Shakespearean performance of the 20th Century by alumni of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Dr MacGregor is an award-winning filmmaker and theatre maker. His work includes documentary films and television, including a series of short and long-form films on violinist Nigel Kennedy at the St Prex Festival; feature films including the cult classic “The Vigil (for Kurt Cobain)” which played at film festivals from Vancouver to Mumbai; numerous award-winning short films; and a series of plays based on real events, including the Manchester Theatre Award-winning “God Wept and the Devil Laughed” about the sacrifices families make during wartime. His most recent play “Uhta! The last part of the night”, about the murder of Ken Sario-wiwa, was performed at Smock Alley in 2016 through an award from Arts Council Ireland.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr MacGregor said: “The chance to go and research this project in Prague, at the Vaclav Havel Library, through this programme is an incredible opportunity. The story I am researching is, at its heart, one that is funny and tragic and incredibly moving. Havel’s letters, especially those written when he was out of favour with the Communist Government, and living and working in exile from Prague and the theatre, are incredibly powerful. And what the actors learned about Lear when they were there, through him, helped shape that production as one of the most significant of the 20th Century. Havel’s vision of Europe is one that is also incredibly timely. I can’t wait to get started.”

The Peggy Ramsey Foundation and Prague UNESCO City of Literature are supporting the creation and research of the project. Further details about the residency programme are available here.