Experimental stage to become National Theatre’s newest venue in 2010

Buildings of the Laterna Magika, the New Scene and the National Theatre

If you have ever seen the Czech National Theatre then surely you have noticed the modernistic glass cube lodged between it and an 18th century convent. That is the Nová Scéna, the seat of the well known Laterna Magika, or Magic Lantern, experimental theatre. Long one of Prague’s top attractions, Laterna Magika’s popularity has diminished over the years, and as of 2010 the building and the its programme management will be transferred to the National Theatre, which is quite literally giving it a new lease on life.

With its eclectic mix of black light theatre, film and dance, the Laterna Magika theatre is indeed one of Prague’s great artistic novelties and it has been a transformational force in Czech theatre since the 1960s. But as Barbora Čermáková of the National Theatre explains, novelty wanes.

“The structure of the tourists who started coming to Prague after the Velvet Revolution started changing in the mid-90s and it has been changing until now. Basically, the tourists – foreigners - were the most important theatre-goers and the majority of them were coming to see black light theatre. But there has been a major decline in the number of tourists who are interested in black light theatre, so that’s the main reason why Laterna Magika is not going to exist anymore as an independent organisation and it’s not going to be the only artistic programme on the New Scene and the building will host other shows as well”.

Laterna Magika will continue its 50-year tradition of silent, experimental theatre, but under the management of the National Theatre. The same goes for the Nová Scéna, or “New Scene” building itself, which will become the theatre’s fourth, multi-genre stage; open to everything from classical theatre to dance, a circus, and alternative forms of musical and artistic performance. Moreover, events will not be limited to the stage but will use the surrounding spaces and environs for children’s activities, street theatre, and concerts. The building will host a cafe from the spring, and there will be space for lectures, screenings and exhibits – in short, a reinvented centre for alternative art for the 2010s, just as it was when built in the early 1980s.

Buildings of the Laterna Magika,  the New Scene and the National Theatre
Somewhat surprisingly, for all the changes the New Scene building is going to see, the National Theatre is resolute that its facade – hideous to some, bold to others, in any case impossible to overlook – is staying put.

All of the people who work for the National Theatre agree that the building is very controversial but on the other hand we think that the building as such can still be perceived as an artistic object and should definitively not be changed. It’s a product of its own time, and it was controversial at that time, it’s the work of a controversial architect, Karel Prager. But we think this controversy should be respected and elaborated on, we are definitely not planning to change the façade or any other important part of the building. However we are trying to plan how to work with the space around the building and the building itself, its urbanisic role and everything. We are trying to think how to work on developing the urbanistic function of the building, but we are definitely not planning to rebuild it or change its controversial element”.

Alongside a performance by Argentine-German dancer Constanza Macras, the art of Karel Prager himself, the architect who designed the building, will in fact be the theme of one of the headline performances in the first month of the “new” New Scene, in a multilayered performance called, of all things, Spam.