“I think it’s time to finish it”: Prague’s Archa theatre in final season

The Archa theatre

One of Prague’s leading arts venues, the Archa theatre, has begun its final full season, with the final curtain set for the end of next year. Since its foundation in 1994 Archa has hosted some of the world’s greatest alternative theatre and dance companies, as well as musicians such as Philip Glass and Patti Smith. So why is Archa coming to an end? I asked founder Ondřej Hrab.

Ondřej Hrab | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“I think it’s time. You know, when you build something it has a certain life – so I think it’s also time, naturally, to finish it.

“I was trying to find a successor, someone who would continue in my work, and I was not successful in that.

“So after some time I decided that the only, and natural, way would be to finish the programme of Archa theatre and to hand over the premises to a new organisation which would have a different name and also different content.”

Do you feel pressure to make the final season particularly good, to go out on a high?

“I don’t feel the pressure from outside.

“I feel the pressure from myself that the final season would be something which would not only evaluate what we have done during this 30 years but also it would be sort of a like a view to the future.”

Many people will be very sad to hear about the end of Archa after all these decades. When you look back, do you feel you have achieved all that you wanted to with the theatre?

“Of course there are many artists I wanted to invite, there are many projects we wanted to do during those years.

Photo: Jakub Hrab,  Divadlo Archa

“But at the end I feel that all that was possible to do was done, though we still have one year and two months.

“But generally I feel that it is time to reduce our activities, personally.

“My wife Jana [Svobodová] and I want to be focused on what is called social-specific theatre, documentary theatre, and education.

“We started a summer school of theatre in a social context, which has a very wide international scope.

“We have students from China, Ireland, the UK, the US, as well as from countries that are fighting for democracy, like Iran; we regularly have students from Iran.”

Archa opened in 1994. When you look back, what for you was the most exciting period of running the theatre?

“Of course the first period of building this theatre was exciting, because it was something that didn’t have any precedents here.

“You know, it was very hard to explain to the authorities, to investors, to the owner of the building that this is a theatre.

Photo: Tomáš Vodňanský,  Czech Radio

“I remember when the construction company came – they asked to create an opposite project to our project.

“When I asked the director of the construction company why he was doing that he said, Because this is not the theatre – and pointed at the plans of our project.

“I said, You know what a theatre is? And he said, Of course, everybody knows!

“And I said, That’s the difference between you and me, because I don’t know what a theatre is – I want to create a space where new theatre forms can be created.”

There were theatres here before Archa and there will be after. Do you think you will come back in 2024 and check it out? Or would you prefer to stay away and keep your distance?

“I told myself, and I told Štěpán [Kubišta], who would run this new organisation, that I don’t want to judge what he will be doing here.

“I don’t want to make any statement about it. I want to let him be free as much as possible.

“On the other hand, we are talking about collaboration, about the possibilities of doing some projects together.”