Divadlo v Kotcích festival recalls legacy of lost stone venue


In recent years, the Czech Republic and Prague specifically have seen an increase in street performance or street theatre. This Saturday, visitors can see troupes perform in the city centre in V Kotcích Street – just a stone’s throw from Můstek, a central meeting point for both locals and tourists. The small one-day festival will provide shows for children and adults in a normally quiet street which used to be home to Prague’s first stone theatre, Divadlo v Kotcích (no longer standing).

I asked the event’s founder and main organiser Filip Jan Zvolský to tell me more.

"It was as important as any other theatre from that period. You had all kinds of venues and troupes then and later and all were essential or played important roles. Divadlo v Kotcích is famous as the first stone-and-mortar theatre in Prague, dating back to 1731. Almost all of the performances were in German, there was only one in Czech and even that was based on a German play and only translated. The play was called Michel Herzog and the Czech version was performed by German actors in poor Czech. Even so, I think that it started the tradition of theatre in Czech."

I read that the audience whistled and booed because of how badly they butchered the language...

"If you think about it, audiences those days had a lot of freedom to express how they felt about a performance. And they could be vocal. If they didn't like something they could let the players know it, whereas today, at most, you grumble or mutter in your seat and then say 'That was terrible.' when you go home. It's a bit of a problem. I think French theatre has retained a bit of this: when they like something or when they don't, they let it be known."

The reason you refer to it in the festival is in part symbolic...

Filip Jan Zvolský,  photo: Jan Sklenář
"It's symbolic. Whenever I used to walk down the street and I would see the name, V Kotcích, and tell myself that it used to be somewhere nearby and of course no longer exists. Every time I walk in this street it is quiet, without cars, without neon signs, without the usual elements that make up the modern city. There is a special atmosphere, something medieval, so in many ways it is also ideal for a certain kind of performance."

How hard was it to get troupes to take part?

"The primary difficulty was getting theatre troupes that had time. Many have busy schedules, so it was a matter of seeing not only who was interested but had the time and wasn't performing anywhere else that day. In the end, the groups that came through were among the very best - so, that worked out well."

Tell me a little about the performances planned.

"The first group is Divadlo Fígl, run by a good friend of mine who also performs with us but has his own theatre with his wife and they produce and put on fairy tales for children. I asked them to prepare some of these stories for our festival, since it should be for all ages. So for kids they have prepared something called African Fairy Tales.

"The second group is us, Divadlo Apropo in cooperation with the Museum of Alchemy and magicians in Prague. We will show a live laboratory, combining chemistry and theatre - more theatre than chemistry, dating back to the time of the alchemists n Rudolph II's Prague.

"The third group will be the top or finest point for me, Divadlo bez strechy which means Theatre Without A Roof which is one of the first street theatre groups in the Czech Republic, from Ostrava. They will be performing something called Comedia dell'morte which is abut medieval torture and death and is very black humour. I have seen it two or three times now and always enjoyed it greatly.

"The fourth is dancing theatre about the Czech tradition or love for alcohol and making slivocive or plum brandy. It will be interactive because people will have to decide whether alcohol or jam should be made from the plums. And the last thing will be very good pantomime by mimes in Prague who I like very much."

V Kotcích,  photo: Ben Skála,  CC BY-SA 3.0
In some ways it seems like a shame to me that it's just a small festival: if all goes well, do you hope to expand next year?

"I would be very happy of it was a bit longer 2-3 days but of course it's a question of money. Right now we got a grant from Prague 1 and that was just enough to put together a mini-festival like this one. At times of austerity, it is difficult to ask for money. But we may try and expand it. As it is, the fest is of course free for visitors. Street theatre is wonderful to experience: there is a breaking down of barriers between the audience and performers, and you can experience theatre up close, getting to its core or 'soul'.