An Intro to Czech Theatre Landscape

Martina Pecková Černá


Czech theatre is best known for such outstanding figures as playwright Václav Havel, directors Otomar Krejča and Alfréd Radok, and scenic designer Josef Svoboda. Other highlights are Czech puppet theatre, the tradition of scenography, it ranks first in technology in the field of black-light theatre, and its young generation of artists pursuing interdisciplinary projects and experimental theatre. Czech opera, located in between the genres of theatre and music, is represented by internationally renowned composers Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, and Bohuslav Martinů.

There are a number of first places Czech theatre can boast: Pupetteer/Loutkář, the oldest puppet journal in the world, has been published since 1912, in 1929 the UNIMA (International Puppeteers Union) was founded in Prague as one of the first international professional theatre organizations later followed by the ITI (International Theatre Institute, 1948) and OISTAT (International Organization of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians, 1969); in 1952 the Department of Puppet Theatre at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts was opened and was the first university-level puppetry institute in the world; and the Prague Quadrennial, the largest showcase of scenic and performance space design in the world, has been organized in Prague since 1967.

The Past
Theatre has had a long history in the Czech lands and there are numerous surviving records and treasures as evidence of this. School theatre was introduced by Jan Amos Komenský, who incorporated theatre into his revolutionary system of education, and by the Jesuits, who were among the most active promoters of Catholic Baroque theatre. Court and aristocratic theatre was another important area of activity, a product of which is the Baroque theatre in Český Krumlov, an important monument of theatre and architecture. The Royal National Theatre of Count Nostitz (today the Estates Theatre) opened in 1783 in Prague and was the site of many important theatrical events, including premieres of operas by Mozart.

Because the Czech kingdom was part of the Austrian Monarchy from the 17th century, most performances during that period were in German. The development of new Czech theatre was closely linked to the Czech National Revival in the 19th century. In 1883, the National Theatre opened. The construction of the theatre building itself was mostly financed by taking up a collection amongst the national population, and the opening of this stage marked the culmination of efforts to establish both the Czech repertoire and the repertoire in Czech.

Czechoslovakia became an independent state in 1918, and the interwar period saw the emergence of modernist theatre, a form particularly associated with the work of two directors, Jaroslav Kvapil and Karel Hugo Hilar, and with the early work of Czech playwright Karel Čapek. Czech theatre was strongly influenced by avant-garde directors Emil František Burian, Jindřich Honzl and Jiří Frejka.

The February coup in 1948 had a devastating impact on Czech culture and society, but the 1960s were exceptionally good years for Czech theatre. The small stages typical for this period became the launching pads for Jan Grossman, an important stage director, and for playwright Václav Havel. The National Theatre also managed to thrive in these years, and it was the place where great Czech directors Otomar Krejča and Alfréd Radok as well as renowned scenic designer Josef Svoboda worked in the late 1950s. Radok and Svoboda established the world-renowned Laterna Magika. The ‘Golden Sixties,’ however, ended with the onset of Normalisation after the 1968 putsch, which marked the return to censorship and repression. Since 1989, Czech theatre – like Czech society – has undergone a profound systemic and financial transformation and has seen the rise of a new generation of theatre artists.

The Present
The rich history of Czech theatre and its great variety of forms make it one of the most important parts of the country’s arts scene and the life of society. The country has a dense network of theatres across every region and includes institutional stages (''brick-and-mortar theatres") with permanent companies, private theatres, seasonal theatres (stagione system), and independent ensembles, some with their own home stage. The only theatre that is a state institution is the National Theatre (Národní divadlo). While the ‘brick-and-mortar’ theatres originated earlier and are currently run under local municipal or regional authorities, private and independent theatres are a phenomenon that has been on the rise since the socio-political transformation started by the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The most important centre for theatre is the national capital of Prague, followed by Brno, Ostrava and Pilsen. In the Czech Republic, there are 13 theatres that are home to more than one company (usually a combination of a drama, an opera, and a ballet or operetta company), 8 institutional puppet theatres, and a whole range of institutional and independent theatres and theatre companies, which are primarily devoted to drama, puppet, or experimental and physical theatre.

Information Sources about Czech Theatre and Performing Arts in English

The Arts and Theatre Institute
The Arts and Theatre Institute (ATI) is a state-funded organization founded by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. It was founded in 1959. The mission of the Arts and Theatre Institute is to provide the Czech and international public with a comprehensive range of research, documentation and information services in the field of theatre, dance, music and other branches of the arts (literature, visual arts).

In the field of promotion of Czech culture, mainly theatre/performing arts abroad,

  • we provide information,
  • we (co)organize international and local projects, festivals, exhibitions, seminars, conferences
  • we cooperate with Czech and foreign theatre and art organizations, institutions, and universities
  • we are members of international networks and international non-governmental theatre organizations
  • we provide contacts and information about Czech theatre abroad and about foreign theatre at home
  • we prepare publications and information materials about Czech theatre for international experts and audiences

Czech Theatre Magazine (1991-2019)
The magazine in published in English once each year and presents information about Czech theatre, events of the past season, and artistic trends and prominent figures in contemporary Czech theatre. Fre dowonload is avaialable in the PROSPERO e-shop where you will find also all the books published by Arts and Theatre Institute.

An information portal operated by the Arts and Theatre Institute offering papers and information about contemporary Czech theatre, dance and contemporary circus, profiles of outstanding theatre personalities, a directory of theatres, festivals and theatre institutions in the Czech Republic, catalogue of theatre productions available for international touring, and other useful information about Czech performing arts.

Theatre Schools in the Czech Republic

Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (Divadelní fakulta AMU), Prague
The Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague is a highly selective school providing professional education in all branches of the theatre: acting, directing, dramaturgy, stage design, theory and criticism, theatre management, authorial creation, and drama in education, in the fields of regular and alternative theatre, performance studies and puppetry. The faculty also operates the school theatre DISK.

Theatre Faculty of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts (Divadelní fakulta JAMU), Brno
The Theatre Faculty of the Janáček Academy in Brno offers traditional study programmes in stage acting and stage direction as well as in theatre dramaturgy, stage design, musical acting, theatre management, stage technology, theatre and education, clown performance and film production, radio and television dramaturgy and screenwriting, dramatic education for the deaf, audiovisual production and theatre and dance pedagogy. The faculty operates the school theatres Orlí Street Theatre / Musically Dramatic Lab and Marta Studio.

Performing Arts Festivals

Drama festivals

Dance festivals

  • International Festival of Contemporary Dance and Movement Theatre Tanec Praha, Prague + regions
  • Czech Dance Platform (Česká taneční platforma), Prague
  • KoresponDance / Festival of contemporary dance, physical theatre and contemporary circus, Prague and Žďár and Sázavou

Music theatre festivals

Puppet Theatre festivals

Festivals of Theatre for Young Audience

Multidisciplinary and Physical Theatre festivals

Theatre Awards

Theatre Critics Awards
The awards are given out for the best play of the year and for the best performance of the year and in other categories (best actress, best actor,theatre of the year, new Czech play, stage design, scenic music, talent of the year).

Theatre Newspaper Award
The awards are given out for creative theatre performances in the past season in five categories: alternative theatre, dance and physical theatre, music theatre, drama theatre, puppet and visual theatre, theatre publication and best actor’s performance of the season in any genre.

Thalia Awards
The Thalia Awards are given out for outstanding artistic performances to performers in four categories: drama, opera, musical or other music-dramatic genre, and ballet, pantomime or another dance-drama genre.

Mark Ravenhill Award 
The Mark Ravenhill Award for the production of a new text is the award for Czech authors for their work in contemporary drama. A new text is understood as a new piece written within ten years before the respective award. The awarded production is selected as a result of a consensus of the members of the Council of the Mark Ravenhill Award based on the symbiosis of a good text and the quality of its staging. The Council also monitors authorial and collective production, with the decisive factors of the final text and its transferability outside the specific production and theatre for which it was written. The Centre for Contemporary Drama was founded by the LETÍ Theatre in 2010 under the auspices of Václav Havel.

Useful Links

  • – The website of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic
  • – The website of the Arts and Theatre Institute, the information and documentation centre for Czech theatre and art
  • - The website of the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space
  • www.culturenet - An overview of the Czech cultural and creative sectors
  • – The website of the National Information and Consulting Centre for Culture founded to support of non-professional cultural activities
  • – The website of the National Museum including the Theatre Department, which offers a theatre collection and a library
  • - The Virtual Study operated by the Arts and Theatre Institute is a comprehensive interface for accessing databases of library, audio library, video library, bibliography, productions, scenography, theatre photographs and events.