Alternative Student Theatres

The 1990s marked a new process in theatre art - the search for Czech theatre's new artistic profile. The Czech theatre's transformation process is being stimulated by attempts to incorporate more contemporary alternative genres with the already present traditional ones. By Nicole Klement.

Upon investigation it is easily revealed that student theatres are plentiful and they are a good place to take in an alternative theatre production. In the hopes of seeing the fresh face of theatre I sat in on a student production entitled Pan Nula or Mr. Zero. It was a performance produced by students from the Faculty of Music and Arts- alternative stream, here in Prague. After the show I spoke with Jiri Havelka, the director, Vladimir Nìmeèek, the set designer, and two of the actors, Jiøina Mencakova and Jakub Doubrava. All four fourth year students studied at the same school, so I started by asking Mr. Havelka to describe their school and some of the theatre faculties within it. Pan Nula is actually the manifestation of a final thesis project for the alternative branch theatre students. The production is unusual in its informal style, relying on strikingly minimal set presentation, and scenes formed through many hours of improvisation. It is the story of the first Czech Cinematographer, Jan Krizenecki. The most interesting thing about the play was the creative and alternative methods used to present the story. The stage was bare except for white screens and a row of chairs on wheels. Through the use of dynamically projected still images, the white screens were manipulated into many forms: they became beds, doorways, motion picture screens and more. Lush backdrops were created with these simple props. Lighting, projections and sound effects proved more than enough to transport the viewer into a abstract early 20th century setting. Vladimir Nìmeèek, the set designer described his work. For many audience members one of the most memorable scenes in the play is a caricature, a sort of mimed re-enactment of a Sokol event. Sokol is a Czech fitness gymnastics club that many Czechs participate in. It is a tradition where, strangely enough, fitness and Czech patriotism are merged. The theatre students managed to reenact a scene where 10 actors represented 10,000 athletes and instead of building a human pyramid vertically the actors changed the audience perspective and built it while laying on the floor. They pretended to be off balance and to struggle in their climb to the top of the pyramid. The scene was a perfect example of Havelka's vision of using no narration, just body language and a simple background to tell a story. I asked the two actors and the set designer to describe the Sokol movement. I asked Mr. Nemecek, the set designer if the comedic interpretation of Sokol was suppose to be taken as a statement-since they did make a comedy of a Czech tradition. He began by saying that the play was very improvisational and developed naturally. That the student's thoughts and feeling on certain subjects were definitely present but not intentionally shown. He mentioned that the scene was meant to bring light to Czech history in an entertaining energetic fashion and was not meant as a generation's manifesto.

Author: Nicole Klement
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