The year 2002 promises to be an extremely busy year for Czech puppet theatre, full of various anniversaries, jubilees and events, significant not only for the local environment but also on an international scale.
In 2002 Loutkář review celebrates its 90th anniversary as the oldest specialist puppet-theatre magazine in the world and, according to experts, also the oldest theatre magazine in existence! The first issue of this magazine (originally called Český loutkář) dates back to around 1912; after a break necessitated by the First World War, it was again published from 1917 with the title Loutkář until the Second World War. It then changed its name to Loutková scéna, from 1951 it was published as Československý loutkář (1951-1992) and, after the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics, it reverted to its old name of Loutkář once again in 1993. Looking at its history, which has faithfully reflected the development of Czech and foreign puppet theatre for ninety years now, we should point out that its first Editor-in-Chief and initiator was Dr Jindřich Veselý, one of the founders of UNIMA and also its first president (1929-1939). Loutkář review was also the bulletin of this organisation during the 1930s.
During the period 5-7.11.2002 Prague will be hosting celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Puppetry Department of the Theatre Faculty, DAMU Academy of Performing Arts (today the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre, DAMU, headed by professor Josef Krofta). The department first opened its lecture halls in the autumn of 1952 and, at that time, it was directed by the eminent Czech puppeteer, professor Josef Skupa. Its staff comprised other distinguished figures who greatly influenced the development of professional Czech puppet theatre: Dr Jan Malík, Dr Erik Kolár, Vojtěch Cinybulk… The first graduates from this department include the now world famous film director Jan Švankmajer and film director Juraj Herz.
The puppet-theatre museum known as the Museum of Puppet-Theatre Culture was founded thirty years ago in Chrudim, the setting of the important amateur puppet-theatre festival (first held in 1951). It was established through gifts from UNIMA national centres and from the private collection of Dr Jan Malík. The museum is located approximately 120 km east of Prague, near the town of Hradec Králové, familiar to puppeteers everywhere, and it documents puppet theatre from all over the world with particular emphasis on Czech (professional and amateur) puppet theatre. In recognition of this year’s jubilee, the museum is planning a creative workshop (26-29.6.2002) on the theme “The Active Presentation of Puppetry Collections”, with local and international participation. This event will be accompanied by what is now the 51st Loutkářská Chrudim Amateur Puppet-Theatre Festival, with a number of performances, workshops and other events on the agenda.
Organisers in Plzeň are acknowledging the important anniversaries of two natives of this town, the 110th anniversary of the birth of Josef Skupa, and 90 years since the birth of his pupil Jiří Trnka; this event, incorporating a number of projects associated with these distinguished figures in puppet theatre, is named The Year of Josef Skupa and Jiří Trnka. Plzeň will also host a large exhibition from 24.5 to 30.6, entitled Jiří Trnka, which will contain a selection of his work (paintings, illustrations, puppets), plus screenings of his animated films, for example: The Emperor’s Nightingale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Archangel Gabriel and Mrs Goose and The Hand, inspired by Duranty’s puppet play. The work of Josef Skupa, the creator of the two world-famous comic characters Spejbl and Hurvínek, will be celebrated by the 24th Skupova Plzeň festival – a national festival of puppet theatres which will be held 14-18.6 in the Plzeň puppet theatre Divadlo Alfa.
Paradoxically, this year has been marred by a complex dispute between the Spejbl and Hurvínek theatre in Prague and the Municipal Institute of Social Welfare in Plzeň on the copyright law associated with the Spejbl and Hurvínek figures and their creator Josef Skupa. The whole affair has been covered by the media and may result in the unimaginable possibility that the theatre may be closed down.
The 11th year of the festival One Flew over the Puppeteer’s Nest was held in Prague at the beginning of December 2001. The festival is a UNIMA Czech centre event and its aim is to confront the most inspirational and most fascinating productions by Czech professional and amateur theatres. The results of a survey to find the best production of the year are announced at the end of the festival, and the winning company receives the ERIK award, named after the distinguished Czech puppeteer, critic, theoretician and teacher Erik Kolár. To everyone’s great surprise the travelling Erik statuette this time went to the DNO amateur ensemble from Hradec Králové for their inspirational performance Variations on the Famous Cyrano Theme. The production is indeed a variation on Rostand’s play, featuring finger puppets. This year’s festival and ERIK awards ceremony will be held in Prague in Divadlo Minor 8-10.11.2002.
The most important event in Czech puppet theatre to take place in the autumn was the opening of the reconstructed space for Divadlo Minor (formerly the Central Puppet Theatre). The original building, which many puppeteers from all over the world knew very well, situated on Gorkého náměstí 28 (in 1969 it hosted the international puppet-theatre festival accompanying the UNIMA Congress), was brutally demolished despite belated protests from the public. Divadlo Minor performed for over two years in temporary premises and it moved to its official new address in the centre of Prague on 6.12.2001, containing a new hall with a capacity of 140 seats (plus other space for small theatre events). The new ensemble, largely comprising young graduates from the Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre, rehearsed eight premieres during their two provisional years which will now be premiered in the new venue.
The large international Czech-Japanese project devised in DRAK theatre in Hradec Králové under the title of A Plague o’ Both Your Houses as a loose variation on Shakespeare’s world famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet, was presented in the autumn of 2001 in the Czech Republic in its Czech-language version. After its tour to Poland and Japan, where the project was performed by both Czech and Japanese actors, repeat performances were given, this time with a new Czech cast. The director of the project is Josef Krofta, stage designer Irena Marečková, with music by Jiří Vyšohlíd. The project treats the theme of intolerance and aggression versus love, namely a theme which has lost none of its impact today.