There is no other type of art quite like theatre: the stories are happening in close proximity to you, not only shared with only a limited audience but different every time, making space for constant changes and variations. In Prague, where the tradition of theatre is strong–dating back to 1738 when the first theatre Divadlo V Kotcích was built–hundreds of venues now offer nightly theatre experiences.
However, coming across English-friendly plays is not a particularly easy task. Although Czech people have in recent years been ranked as the worst English speakers in the European Union, English-language theatres played an important role in the country’s post-Communist history, internationalising theatre, and therefore opening the hypothetical doors to the city to foreign visitors. Before the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czech theatre was mainly political, veiling dissatisfaction with the system of power.
English-language theatres in Prague use four main production strategies:
- Presenting a performer’s Czech culture.
- Presenting a performer’s non-Czech culture.
- Bi-cultural or bilingual productions.
- Presenting a cultural clash.
Out of the above, the third and fourth method proved to be the most effective. As the human race is becoming more diverse thanks to people who have a mixed cultural background, and/or are born into a culture different from their parents’, the demand for identity crises themes is growing across all fields of art.
Whenever anyone simply Googles ‘english theatre Prague’, several theatre companies invariably occur at the top of the list. Whether that happens thanks to the online marketing tool Google AdWords or not, I constantly notice high-quality alternative theatres not making it into the results at all.
But what is alternative theatre? For instance, an alternative director would take William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and act it out through movement without saying a word, or stage a puppet show with a pencil as Juliet and a ruler as Romeo, or, essentially, he or she would explore the boundaries of what theatre is in an innovative, experimental way.
The following are examples of alternative English-friendly venues and events, and what makes them alternative. Clicking on the venue names will redirect you to their official websites (which are also image sources).
Venue: Divadlo Ponec
Located in Prague 8 on a hill above the Florenc Bus Station, Ponec is a venue for physical and dance theatre, although not necessarily of the non-verbal kind. It is a place where the performer’s movement becomes the main communication tool, therefore blurring lines between languages. An example from their repertoire is a performance called YOU ARE HERE, directed by Petra Tejnorová, who uses the platform as a space for a psychological experiment, questioning whether the audience is able to be present and mindful of what is happening in the space at the moment, and truly take notice of all the sensations they feel.
Venue: Divadlo Archa
The way Archa translates the concept of alternative theatre is highly intelligent; the plays are heavy, reflecting on contemporary society, in some cases comparing it to the past regimes. The underlying political tone is recognisable. The creative directors of Archa are undoubtedly fearless as many artists of importance have been invited to perform in Divadlo Archa. The theatre is conveniently located by the tram stop Bílá labuť (one stop from Náměstí Republiky).
Event: Farma v jeskyni – Disconnected
Disconnected is a visually stunning dance performance by Farm in the Cave theatre group. It deals with the topic of ‘Hikikomori’, a Japanese term for people, mostly adolescents, who seek extreme isolation or confinement. The play became the winner of Dance production of 2016. It can be seen in the space of DOX Gallery, which is located one tram stop away from metro station Nádraží Holešovice.
Venue: Alfred ve dvoře
Most plays are multilingual (Czech and English and more) or make the effort of having English subtitles for the English-speaking audience. Alfred ve dvoře is located close to Strossmayerovo náměstí. It provides a space for artists whose works exceed limits of traditional art disciplines. The theatre does not have an ensemble, instead, it selects individual projects.
A spacious warehouse that holds English-friendly theatre plays as well as concerts and art shows. Meetfactory is located by tram stop Lihovar. It might be far but the space is definitely worth it. Their work is experimental in format, for instance, you can go see a site-specific play, or book adaptations into theatre plays.
Venue: Divadlo Na Zabrádlí
This Czech innovative theatre offers English subtitles for the following plays: Velvet Havel (about beloved President Václav Havel), Hamlets (a variation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet) and V+W Letters (on correspondence between Voskovec and Werich, well-known and well-loved Czech entertainers). They are located in close proximity to the National Theatre, although they have temporarily been moved to Švandovo divadlo, which is located not far from metro station Anděl.
Venue: Švandovo divadlo
Offers all plays from the theatre’s repertoire with English subtitles. The theatre offers a broad repertoire of productions, ranging from puppet theatre for children to plays written by the performers themselves.
Event: Prague Fringe Festival
An annual event held in Prague. ‘Fringe theatre’ means experimental theatre. It is held at multiple locations, with headquarters near Malá Strana. In the year 2017, it is scheduled to take place from May 26 until June 3. The festival is currently undergoing the process of rebranding, therefore, stay tuned!
The article was written by Huyen Vi Tranová.