Celebrating the life and art of Václav Havel
New York City, October through December 2006

Timeline: Life as a dissident playwright,1969 1988

Go back to
Early life in theater
1958 – 1968
Go forward to
The Velvet Revolution


Prague Spring. Dubcek enacts reforms, lifting censorship and democratizing the electoral system. A new model of socialism is declared.

The Increased Difficulty of Concentration premieres at Theatre on the Ballustrade. Havel also writes Guardian Angel for radio and A Butterfly on the Antenna for television, though neither are eventually produced.

Memo opens at the Public Theater, in New York. Havel visits New York, and becomes friends with Joseph PappMemo eventually wins an OBIE, which Joseph Papp accepts on Havel’s behalf.

In August, Soviet-led troops invade Prague. Dubcek is arrested, then released when he pledges greater cooperation. The Communist Party is given back control of the media, and the new Social Democratic party is suppressed.

Dubcek resigns, and Gustav Husak takes over. Country is “normalized” to return to pre-reform conditions. Havel’s writing is banned, along with the work of a slew of other nonconformist writers and artists.
Havel is awarded a second OBIE for Lincoln Center’s production of The Increased Difficulty of Concentration. Harold Gould stars and wins an OBIE as well.
Havel finishes The ConspiratorsHe hands it off in a men’s room to a cultural attaché who brings the manuscript back to Havel’s agent in Germany.
Havel begins working in a brewery in Trutnov. For the previous five years his main source of income had been royalties from international productions of his plays, but there was an “anti-parasite” law at the time, which said that those who were unemployed could be jailed. His work at the brewery later becomes the basis for his play Audience.

Havel writes an open letter to President Husak, protesting the spiritual and moral crisis in the country. The letter goes unanswered, but circulates.

Havel’s version of The Beggar’s Opera escapes the notice of the government long enough to be performed for one evening in a hotel/pub to an invited audience of 300. Afterwards, Adrej Krob, the director, is interrogated and loses his job at the Balustrade. Also, much greater restrictions are put upon theaters in general.

Havel writes two one-acts about a dissident writer named Vanek, Audience and Unveiling. Both become enormously popular samizdat manuscripts (forbidden literature).

Four members of the banned Czech rock group Plastic People of the Universe are arrested for “disturbing the peace.” Havel attends the trial and writes about it extensively.
Havel becomes one of three spokesmen for Charter 77, a manifesto calling for the Czech government to adhere to the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Agreement. It is published January 6 in West Germany. It bears over 800 signatures, all of whom put themselves at great risk in order to sign. Havel undergoes weeks of interrogation, than five months of imprisonment. Havel and his fellow signers are vilified publicly. A fellow spokesman, Jan Patocka, dies from a heart attack while under intense interrogation.

Havel publishes the essay “The Power of the Powerless,” dedicated to Patocka. It articulates his philosophy of “living in the truth,” no matter what the circumstances.

Havel and Pavol Landovsky, an actor and friend, record a version of Audience. It becomes the most popular underground recording in the country.

Havel writes Protest, another Vanek play.

Havel forms the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (known by its Czech initials, VONS), to help those under trial for political reasons. He is arrested. Joseph Papp offers him the position of writer-in-residence at the Public Theater, and the Czech authorities offer to let him travel to the United States instead of going on trial. However, Havel refuses, knowing he would not be allowed to return. He is sentenced to four and a half years of prison.
Havel begins writing his wife, Olga, regular letters from prison. He is allowed one four-page letter a week. He is allowed no other writing in prison, not even notes or drafts of the letter. Some of the letters do not arrive, as they are censored. Those that do will eventually be collected in book entitled Letters to Olga.
In Avignon, France, an evening of theater is devoted to Havel that includes original work written in his honor by Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, and many others.

After growing ill and being hospitalized, Havel is released.

Havel writes a short play, Mistake, about prison.


Havel writes Largo Desolato, the story of a dissident writer terrified of being sent back to prison.

Unveiling (called Private View in the Blackwell translation) wins an OBIE in New York for the Public Theater production.


Havel embarks on an intended vacation, during which he is followed by approximately 300 police officers, imprisoned for short periods on multiple occasions, and harassed. The vacation would eventually be the subject of Jan Novák’s 2005 documentary, Citizen Havel Takes a Vacation.

Havel writes Temptation.


Mikhail Gorbachev visits Prague and talks of perestroika.

Havel writes Redevelopment, which addresses, among other things, the idea of the same totalitarianism with a kinder face.


In honor of the 70th anniversary of the formation of Czechoslovakia, Havel writes Tomorrow, a history play about the events of 1918. It is presented by Theater on a String in Brno. Havel’s name is not attached to it and the theater is far from Prague, but it is still the first public presentation of a play by Havel in his native country since The Beggar’s Opera in 1975.

In December, Havel participates in the first authorized political demonstration in 20 years.

Go back to
Early life in theater
1958 – 1968
Go forward to
The Velvet Revolution

Václav Havel. Photo by Alan Pajer.

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