Former Prague slaughterhouse turned into new theatre and centre for experimental art

Photo: archive of Jatka 78

Earlier this month, Cirk La Putyka (one of the Czech Republic’s most acclaimed New Circus companies) and project manager Štepan Kubišta launched Jatka 78, a new theatre and experimental multi-media centre expected to bring new possibilities and new work to the Czech theatre and art scenes.

Štěpán Kubišta, photo: www.radiohost.cz/Novak a Rasch
On Friday, Štepán Kubišta joined me in the studio to talk about the project, beginning with why the new site was needed.

“The first reason was that Cirk La Putyka, now five-years-old, still didn’t have its own theatre. Until now, it has used La Fabrika for performances but of course there is a big difference between performing at a venue which isn’t yours and one which you can tailor to your own needs. Theatre means more than just the stage, it is the bar, the lounge, the vestibule, the interior design, and the company wanted to be able have an input and not just rent. For the last 2-3 years they were looking for a suitable address where they could not only invite audiences but also create the space.”

The venue is called Jatka 78… is it in fact a former slaughter house?

“Yes, it was. Much of the former market in Holešovice served as a slaughterhouse for more than 100 years. We have at our disposal four large halls, together amounting to 4,000 square metres, and these halls used to serve for the killing of animals, countless thousands.”

Is the ‘past’ present in any way in those halls?

“We thought about that and were a bit spooked by it, so we held a mass of sorts for the animals that were killed, for their souls, and asked for them to ‘approve’ out project. We wanted to be open to the past history. Many people have asked me if I slept at the theatre at night and if anything strange had happened. As far as becoming a theatre, I have to say the space has an amazing atmosphere, augmented by the thousands of man-hours of help we got from many, many people in fixing it and brining everything together, from well-known artists to others just starting out, to regular volunteers. They helped create an amazing space. They created the energy we get from the space right now.”

Cirk La Putyka, photo: archive of Cirk La Putyka
You said in an interview that the budget was miserable but from what you are saying there were other things which were far more important…

“That’s right. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the spirit and friendship and things like that. A for those who will perform, some will be Czech theatre troupes, there are foreign companies and of course it’s not just theatre but also 2- and 3-dimensional visual art. We don’t want there to be hard lines between different disciplines but for those to be blurred under one heading, in one arts and theatre centre.”

La Putyka are very well-known now as a New Circus company – how suitable is the space for the kinds of shows they put on? Many of the performers are acrobats and acrobatic feats are an integral part of their performances…

“For that it is perfect. Consider that there are 14 metre high ceilings so there is absolutely room for everything they need to do. One of the halls now serves as a training centre.”

Cirk La Putyka co-founder Rosťa Novák said the ceilings are so high that at a certain time of day, it gave the impression of being a cathedral.

“That’s true, I’d say.”

Photo: archive of Jatka 78
The work that the actors/acrobats do is incredibly physically demanding. I was surprised to hear, although perhaps one shouldn’t be, that the first wave like Rosťa Novák, see the end coming up fast, a couple more years and then they’ll have to give up top performances and move instead to a teaching role. Novák is only 35…

“Cirk La Putyka is fully-professional and the jumps and acrobatics they perform push them to the limit athletically: you can only do this for so long. It is natural for some of them to already be looking ahead.”

So we can expect some kind of a changing of the guard, where the team will bring in new members to eventually takeover, at least when it comes to performance.

“Yeah.”

Rosťa Novák said that although it is never visible or apparent to the audience, in the dressing room members of the troupe were basically being kept together by bandages or medical tape, and that after performances it was off to the masseurs’ or whoever could put them back together... it sounds like a war zone.

“I don’t go backstage after the performance to get in their way, but there is some truth in it although it is a bit of an exaggeration perhaps. All of them are professional sportsmen and women. At 35, I feel I am just at the start of my managerial career, but they, at the same age have to consider the end of their acrobatic career, in exchange for teaching, workshops and so on.”

Photo: archive of Jatka 78
What is planned for the upcoming 5th birthday?

“There will be a deluxe performance of their La Putyka production which made their name, featuring performers also from abroad. All the rooms in Jatka 78, even those used behind-the-scenes, will also be open to visitors during the performance, so that people get an idea of the scope of the space and the project. We want to express that is not only a theatre but something more between the audience and actors.”