An Intro to Czech Theatre for Young Audience

Luděk Horký

Interest in young audiences as a specific group of spectators can be observed from the 1880s, while the tradition of theatre for families is older still and associated with Czech National Revival. At first, specialised performances for children and youth that tended towards the educational were most dominant. Simplistic, contemporary plays, combining entertaining and didactic functions, prevailed. Only later did plays with fairy-tale motifs emerge. At the turn of the twentieth century, the fairy-tale genre influenced the work of leading Czech authors (Jaroslav Kvapil, Julius Zeyer, Alois Jirásek, etc.), who laid the foundations for the tradition and popularity of Czech stage fairy-tales, which exists to this day. Until the mid-twentieth century, interpretive theatre prevailed over authorial work in productions for children. Both amateurs and professionals performed theatre for children.


Modern theatre for children emerged in the Czech environment under the influence of the interwar avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s. In the period between the two world wars, amateur puppet theatre also underwent development – – among others, these included Prague‘s Empire of Puppets (Říši loutek), whose auditorium was the birthplace of the international puppeteering organisation UNIMA in 1929. In 1930, Professor Josef Skupa founded the first of a new kind of professional puppet theatre, Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre, which became famous around the world for Czech puppet theatre for children. In the 1930s, important avant-garde artists Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich launched the Little Liberated Theatre (Malé osvobozené divadlo) and finally, in 1935, Míla Mellanová founded the Prague Theatre for Youth (Pražské divadlo pro mládež), the first fully dedicated professional dramatic theatre for children and youth in then-Czechoslovakia. Six years later, actor Václav Vaňátko, another important figure in the avant-garde, founded Little d 41 (Malé d 41) at Prague‘s E. F. Burian Theatre as a second professional dramatic theatre specialising in young audiences. After the Second World War, both venues merged under the name Jiří Wolker Theatre. One of its directors, director Vladimír Adámek, later became president of ASSITEJ INTERNATIONAL. The Theatre in Dlouhá Street, the successor organisation to the Jiří Wolker Theatre (or rather, the Theatre in Old Town) is one of today‘s most successful producers of children‘s theatre in the Czech Republic. The theatre organises the Young Audience Club (Klub mladého diváka) along with two important festivals: Children in Dlouhá Street (Dítě v Dlouhé, for children) and 13+ (for teenagers). During the interwar period, Miloslav Disman took a systematic approach to pedagogical activities, research into youth audiences and work with child actors. His work culminated in 1935 with the professionalisation of Disman‘s Children‘s Radio Ensemble (Dismanův rozhlasový dětský soubor). In 1949, Czechoslovakia witnessed the establishment of a large number of professional puppet theatres focused primarily on children and youth audiences. Thus, the foundation was laid for a state-wide network of statutory theatres for children, which has evolved and continues to develop further. Today, there are 11 in the Czech Republic, including the four most important venues: The Naïve Theatre Liberec, Drak Theatre (Hradec Králové), ALFA Theatre (Pilsen) and Minor Theatre (Prague). In 1965, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ) was established in the capital city of Prague.


After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the number of Czech professional theatres for children was increased by a large number of independent theatre ensembles (such as Cakes and Introduction 7 Puppets), commercial agency productions and festivals. Special projects for children have emerged from the fields of dance theatre, musical theatre and mime. In 1999, Polárka Theatre, a new statutory theatre for children in Brno, launched its activities, while Prague saw the establishment of the Damúza production unit. Prague‘s Theatre D21 also has a long commitment to producing work for young audiences. Regional public and municipal theatres currently producing quality productions also include the Little Theatre (Malé divadlo) in České Budějovice (which performs in a unique revolving auditorium in Český Krumlov) and Lampion Theatre in Kladno. The offering of theatre for children in the Czech environment is constantly growing in genre and type. Since 2001, ASSITEJ INTERNATIONAL has established the World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People, which the Czech ASSITEJ Centre celebrates annually with a unique theatre festival and the awarding of the Czech ASSITEJ Centre Award in recognition of exceptional artistic achievement or an important figure in the field of theatre for children and young people.


Over the last twenty years, the borders between dramatic and puppet theatre have blurred in statutory theatres‘ productions and principles drawn from individual theatrical styles and genres are effectively combined. Specialised theatres focus on work for children of different age groups, including the extremes of this cohort (i.e., toddlers and teenagers). The past decade has also witnessed a renaissance in pedagogical activity, which is connected with the methodological activities of the Department of Drama in Education at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (DAMU) and the Studio of Theatre and Education at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno (JAMU).


Amateur theatre for children and youth is also developing. The best productions from this field are mapped each year by the Popelka Rakovník Festival, which includes unique children‘s workshops and focuses on research into the influence of individual theatre productions on young audiences.





Czech ASSITEJ Centre Showcase

showcase celebrating World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People


Child in Dlouhá (Dítě v Dlouhé)

theatre festival for children


Festival 13+

theatre festival not just for teenagers



theatre festival for the youngest audiences



international festival of professional puppet theaters for preschool children


One Flew Over the Puppeteer’s Nest (Přelet nad loutkářským hnízdem)

international puppet theatre festival


Puppeteers’ Chrudim (Loutkářská Chrudim)

non-professional puppetry showcase with workshops, the oldest continuously running puppet festival in the world (founded in 1951)


Skupa’s Pilsen (Skupova Plzeň)

international festival of puppet and alternative theatre, the oldest professional theatre festival in the Czech Republic (founded in 1967)


Spectaculo Interesse

international puppetry festival



interactive festival of puppetry and creative theatre