Inside of Vysehrad ramparts unusual venue for summer theatre production

Photo: Jan Dvorak, www.faust-vysehrad.cz

The outdoor Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle has been a great success in recent years. However, it is not the only such seasonal theatrical experience available to audiences in the city; Prague's Vysehrad, one of the most important locations in the history of the Czech nation, has recently being playing host to its own summer theatre project called Faust in Gorlice. Dita Salavova has more.

In 2001, the group Divadelni spolecnost Faust premiered Christopher Marlow's Doctor Faustus at the Vysehrad casemates. The successful production ran for five years and saw 150 performances. That ensemble's achievements have been built on by the group Artes Liberales, which this year put on a production of Goethe's Faust. Production manager Petra Kocmanova talks about their approach to the popular German legend.

"We decided not to take the author as a link, but rather the hero of the drama. There are many plays that were written about Faust, and I don't mean the translations of Goethe's Faust, but there are also a lot of nowadays plays that we would like to play probably next year. So the system is that every year we would like to come up with a new project and keep the old one, so the festival would grow, and at the end we would have five Fausts here in one building."

Vysehrad's casemates: Gorlice hall, photo: Kristýna Maková
The performances take place in the Gorlice hall, which is part of Vysehrad's casemates. Casemates are passages within fortress ramparts, originally constructed to serve as hidden mustering points for troops, and the Gorlice hall served as a vegetable store for Prague. Since the temperature in the casemates is a constant 16 degrees Celsius, it provides optimal conditions for preserving historical works of art. Thus, since 1992, it has housed some of the original statues from Charles Bridge.

"It is very hard to work here as we are used to work in a normal theatre, and not to damage anything. We are in a very special room, and that is connected with everything. With the way we behave here, with the way we do the scenography here, with music because even loud music is not good for the statues. We cannot seat here 200 people because by the people's breathing, the air would warm up, and the statues would not be happy. So, it is a very complicated space, but it is beautiful."

What is ideal for the unique statues, though, might not be the right conditions for human bodies. Those who did not follow the instructions on the website of Faust in Gorlice and arrived in summer evening clothing probably had a hard time enjoying the performance. Petra Kocmanova again.

"The actors were working here sometimes for six hours a day in this cold. A lot of them are almost naked. One of them was so fed up with it that he went one day to a second hand shop, and he brought for all of them old skiing outfits. Another thing that saved their health was I think vodka 42, which was a gift from one of the people who support us."

After a slow start, the Faust in Gorlice project gradually drew bigger audiences and enjoyed sell-outs in the second half of its run. This year's production came to an end on Tuesday night.