February 8, 2006
Czech Black Theater and Czech Puppetry
When I did a little research on Divadlo za branou, I discovered that it was known also for its productions of Czech Black Theater, which is nomenclature for a type of puppet theater: "This form of theater can be used with many styles of puppets, although it is most commonly used with tabletop puppets. The puppeteer dresses from head to toe in black velvet. There are black velvet curtains behind them and on both sides. A sharply focused curtain of light shoots across the playing area. It is generated by carefully shuttered lamps on Stage Right, Stage Left and a bank of instruments above. When the puppet is placed in the light they can be seen clearly as if under normal stage lighting but the puppeteer becomes invisible" (from "Czech Black," part of a website on Other Hand Productions, a company of puppeteers that stages productions and conducts workshops.)
As it turns out, there is rich tradition of puppetry in the Czech lands. One of the posters in the Winters Collection advertises an exhibit on the theater of Josef Skupa, recognized as a pioneer in the theater and design of modern puppetry. The theater where Skupa staged productions of puppetry was the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre, which he founded.
Also worthwhile noting: Czech Theater Magazine has an entire issue (no. 13, 1997) on theatrical puppetry in the Czech lands. This issue is out of print, so it's especially generous of the publication to make it available in its entirety (with wonderful pictures) and free of charge!
Posted by at 10:49 AM
February 1, 2006
A Resource on Czech Theater
Check out divadlo.cz (it has an English-language counterpart, theater.cz), developed and maintained by the Theatre Institute in Prague. Not only does it have current news about the theater scene in the Czech Republic (the infosources link connects users to materials on the cultural politics surrounding Czech theater, on statistics, personalities, reviews, and more), it also has several issues of Czech Theatre Magazine in PDF and thus immediately accessible to visitors at the site. For someone who does not specialize in theater, Czech or otherwise, this resource is proving both helpful and informative.
Posted by at 12:38 PM
January 31, 2006
Divadlo za branou / Theater beyond the Gate
One of the great things about the Winters Collection is its sampling of performing arts posters, three of which advertise productions at the well-known Divadlo za branou (Theater beyond the Gate) in Prague. This theater no longer exists, but it is still remembered as a venue for innovative stagings and top-notch dramaturgy and performances. The theater was started in 1965 by, among others, the director Otomar Krejča and the playwright Josef Topol; in 1972, however, the Ministry of Culture shut it down for vague "technical reasons." (It was revived in 1990 as Divadlo za branou II but had to close for lack of funding in 1995.) At the height of its popularity this theater company had the feel of a workshop, in the Chekhovian tradition, where original, creative ideas could be played out (literally) for experimentation purposes.
The originality and creativity of Divadlo za branou arguably is corroborated by the graphic design of its posters. Here is a poster from 1971 that endorses a double production of Sophocles' tragedies Oedipus and Antigone. [Note: This image is viewable only by UIUC-affiliated patrons who have a NetID and proxy password.] There is something viscerally terrifying about this stark black-and-white illustration of a ravaged head, with what appear to be hollowed-out eyes (recalling Oedipus blinding himself) and a mouth agape, showing mostly black (like the eyes)--as if to suggest a muteness or helplessness. These tragedies by Sophocles are about characters who arrive too late (Antigone has hung herself before Creon can get to her) or come upon realizations too late (Oedipus discovers he murdered his father and that Jocasta is his mother). In a sense, what is a more helpless feeling than comprehending, "What's done is done," and that there is no turning back?
I have been looking for information on "Brom/Kopřiva," the team that designed these posters for Divadlo za branou but, so far, nothing has turned up. If any readers know of possible sources to consult for information on artists with these names, I hope you'll post on the comment board.
Posted by at 3:28 PM