Yvetta Blanarovičová: Talent alone is not enough
"Very often children join this project who have chaos inside them, they don't know how to learn, they have no aims - they just have talent. Then it's up to us to give them direction and raise up what is unique in them," says Yvetta Blanarovičová about her aid to gifted children whose families are unable to support them.
Born in 1963, Blanarovičová is an actress, singer, and director of La Sophia, o.p.s. She is from the Central Slovakian town of Prievidze and studied dramatic music at the Prague Conservatory.
In 1996 she won the Thálie Award for her theatrical performance in the role of Liza Doolitle, and for her popular film role as the Devil in "The Watermill Princess" (Princezna z mlejnu) she was nominated for a Czech Lion as best actress. Since 1998 she has dedicated her work to charity.
Blanarovičová organizes concerts and music festivals to raise money to support the education of children who have been raised in institutions. During those events the children who have received support appear side by side with renowned performers.
Since 2009, La Sophia has supported the education of children who are musically gifted and, since 2012, the education of children who are athletically gifted as well. The children are between seven and 18 years of age and are growing up either in foster care, institutional care, or in socially disadvantaged families.
The organization also works in Slovakia. The winners of the Talent La Sophia competition prepare for their future professions thanks to a financial contribution toward their club membership fees, equipment and tuition at arts schools, conservatories and football clubs.
These children get the opportunity to work with professional athletes, educators, musicians and trainers. For more information, visit www.lasophia.cz.
Interview with Yvetta Blanarovičová
Q: When you established the La Sophia organization, did it give you any pause to think that you would become just the face of it, the patron?
A: To tell you the truth I did not want to become the face only. I can be the face of other things, including the Summer Academy. It makes me even more pleased when our children succeed, and then I follow how they manage their futures. To direct a foundation is actually difficult, it's an annual struggle to raise money for all that is necessary, to arrange for the production of the accompanying events, to always be available, because for many children La Sophia has become a second home. My effort is to build a school that would develop the exceptional talent of these children, but for the time being we do not have enough financing for that to happen.
Q: What does raising money for the foundation's activities entail?
A: It's an annual marathon of running around to all the potential partners, writing applications, setting up the media campaign for the Talent La Sophia project, and coming up with interesting events. In May the selection round begins, in July we run the Summer Academy, in September we give a gala concert, and in December we give the Annual Gala Concert. I must also keep up with my work in concerts, film, television and theater. It's a merry-go-round, but I guess I don't know how to live any other way.
Q: Among the children La Sophia supports, there is no doubt that there are also Romani children who otherwise live in exclusion and who have somehow ended up in institutions. Has anybody ever refused to support you for that reason?
A: No potential partner has ever refused to aid my organization financially because there are also Romani children in La Sophia, and I believe that probably does not happen in other charities either. If you establish a charity, it takes a while to convince the people around you that you get results and that their money will assist a good cause. In that regard I was patient, I began "on bended knee", so to speak. By now I can say that thanks to our children and their indelible successes, thanks to our carefulness and our effort to help, we have become one of the most successful charity organizations that ministers to our people here and now.
Q: How many children, during the time that Talent La Sophia has existed, have been involved and what have they achieved?
A: I cannot put together an exact number for you, but hundreds of children have passed through my hands. Not all have made it to their dreamed-of goal, though. However, we do have our first female doctor of law by now, we have high school graduates, children who have passed the school-leaving examination, and many of them want to study further. They are winning competitions, they are scoring points for prestigious football clubs, 12 of them are studying at conservatories, others are at arts schools. There is no child at La Sophia who might not achieve something. They all have aims, they just have to hang in there and not give up.
Q: The children involved in this project have to follow certain rules. Why, in your view, is it important that they uphold them?
A: It's not exactly rules, rather, it's a kind of code of conduct for La Sophia. The days when your talent was enough for you to make it are long gone already. Moreover, if you do not know how to learn, you will not be able to handle pressure, you will be too lazy to do anything - how will you be able to handle making your mark in the world? Over the years I have become aware that our children, when they first come to the academy, are intimidated, they don't know how to fit in, they always have the feeling that somebody will attack them. After two days they are calmer as far as that goes, and then it makes sense to work with their talent. The vale of tears they pass through when saying good-bye to us at the bus is our compensation for the fact that they felt good with us.
Q: Do you attempt to aid the children in their future professional lives?
A: It was exactly this year that many of our children became legal adults, but despite that, they are remaining in the project and aiding the others. I know about all of them because many of their professors collaborate on our concerts and at the theater, I also have many friends in sports. Moreover, the ambassadors of this project are eminent figures from culture or sport, and they are also actively involved in La Sophia's happenings. I always find out if something is going on with one of our children. They bring us their report cards, I know how each one is doing, and believe me, if their school grades deteriorate it means they are grappling with some sort of problem, most of the time. By communicating with them and their parents I have made many of them return to their paths. I consider that a success.
Q: Is communication with their parents difficult?
A: If parents comprehend that we are concerned for their children's future, and that very often this involves a path of hard work, then they become our aides. It has also happened that parents have begun to complete their own educations themselves, to study, because if their children are in this project, then the parents do not have to be anxious about financing their membership in a club or paying tuition for a school.
Q: Which children's stories do you most remember?
A: There are too many! Annually we support 45-50 children. Many of them are guest performers in our concerts, the athletically gifted ones get the opportunity to meet and train at the academy with football stars and representation trainers. It's a chance for all of them. It's like a talent farm. We already have guys in the premiere league clubs, performing in Michal David's concerts at the O2 Arena, at my own Christmas concerts, or independently in big events, the best from the project perform. Thanks to La Sophia they are managing to make their mark in television as well.
Q: You are supporting gifted footballers for a fifth year now. Their ambassadors are, for example, Marek Jankulovský, Tomáš Ujfaluši, etc. How does it enrich you, a person from the arts field, to meet with people who are sports-oriented?
A: Ever since childhood I have been dedicated not just to ballet, singing and the violin, but to gymnastics, swimming, and I don't know what all else. Mom supported me, so one day I would be performing in a music recital competition and the next day I would be winning a medal in athletics. I have many friends in sports, that made it easier to expand La Sophia to include sports. Moreover, footballers very often practice four-phase training and have even greater discipline than we do, it's a good confrontation. Children are like sponges, if you show them the right direction, they accept it without any problem.
Q: Both the environment of the arts and that of sports require a resilient psyche so one doesn't collapse and give up on it all after the first failure. How do you attempt to aid children whose self-esteem has been broken due to a lack of parental love?
A: The academy is an energy-charged motivational program, we are in close proximity to the children. Naturally, sometimes I find out what this or that child has lived through, but I approach them as if they were my own, and I do my best to explain to them that they can change their perspective on life just by exchanging all their fears, feelings of inferiority, and sorrows for words like joy, love, and self-respect. This is psychology, each child is unique and needs a different approach.
Q: How do the children handle stage fright when they perform in concert for the first time in front of an audience? Do you have stage fright for them?
A: Thanks to the academy, many of them don't have it, and if they do get stage fright, they know that together with the ambassadors we are like one big family. The jury involves figures like Michal David, whom I mentioned before, or Helena Vondráčková, Josef Vojtek, Bára Basiková, Janek Ledecký, David Koler, Felix Slováček, the directors Zdeněk Troška and Radek Balaš, professors from the Prague Conservatory like Jana Balašová, Eva Svobodová, Vlastimil Harapes and others. Many of us are parents, so we approach these children as if they were our own. That means being strict but fair. I don't get stage fright on their behalf because I know, after they have been to the academy, what they have in them. I cross my fingers for them and wish them luck.
Q: Do you prepare your young talents during this project for the fact that show business, which they might one day be caught up in, does not always have to be a fair environment? Do you teach them how to protect themselves from its traps?
A: No profession is easy for beginners, it's important to feel you have backup, support. At the academy we explain to them that talent alone is not enough, they must learn and work on themselves. They must have discipline, humility and respect. Each comes from a different environment, for that reason we must always also correct their parents so they don't make bad decisions when their children first enjoy success. Show business is treacherous in that a temporary success is never enough, it is important to hang in there, to run the marathon.
Q: On a Czech Television program you recently recalled the feeling of humiliation you experienced when people treated you the way Romani children are treated here because of your appearance, which you have inherited from your Serbo-Croatian forebears - they considered you Romani. Did that experience also give you anything good?
A: Children's souls are sensitive, and I took a lot of that invective ridiculously seriously. Any child who excels at something has a social problem. It is then up to the parents not to support a child's aggressivity, but rather, to manage to positively explain to the child why such things happen. I had the good luck to have parents who were clever and intelligent in that regard.
Q: What are your memories of making the film "He Who Is Afraid Runs Away" (Kdo se bojí, utíká) by Dušan Klein, which is about the subject of the postwar settlement of the Sudetenland by Slovak Roma?
A: What I recall is that it was one of my first big films where I played a big role and I spent almost two months in difficult exterior shots. My Dad was played in the film by Petr Čepek, my Mom was played by Zita Furková, I met excellent actors on set. It was a good school, I have good memories of it.
Q: You are usually cast in the role of a woman who is inescapably temperamental, whether it's a comic, serious or tragic role. Which role that you have performed has been closest to your heart?
A: The role I am playing at the moment is the role closest to me. In film I learned a great deal during "He Who Is Afraid Runs Away" (Kdo se bojí, utíká), and then in my professional life I was enormously enriched by my collaboration with Zdeněk Troška. I made four films and even a series with him. I have played very beautiful roles and maybe I still will, each of them had something unforgettable about it.
Q: Currently you are playing the character of the mother in the musical "Blood Brothers" (Pokrevní bratři) who gives up one of her twin sons for adoption because she believes he will do better in life if he is raised by somebody else. Have you found a way to comprehend parents who abandon their children because of performing that role?
A: In the series "Happiness Insurance" (Pojišťovna štěstí) I played the character of an unhappy Mom. I can perform such roles in films or onstage, but I cannot imagine abandoning my own child, because I would fight for work no matter what the cost and I would expend all of my strength to be able to raise my child.
Q: You come from Slovakia, but thanks to your film roles, today many people consider you a Czech actress. Where do you feel at home?
A: One finds one's home wherever the light is shining. Most of my life I have lived in Prague, which I love. If I go to Slovakia then I say I am going home, and then I return to Prague and say the same. Maybe that's also because I feel good wherever I have beautiful memories, wherever things go well for me.
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