Jiří Srnec, founder of legendary Black Light Theatre dies at 90

Jiří Srnec

Theatre director, stage designer and composer Jiří Srnec, founder of the legendary Black Light Theatre, has died in Prague at the age of 90. His unique theatrical group celebrated its first success in 1962 at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland and has since become famous all around the world.

The Black Light Theatre established by Jiří Srnec is based on the simple principle of a black box: on a darkened stage, actors dressed in black cannot be seen against a black background, while props illuminated by ultraviolet light or moving spotlights glow in the dark and create their own stories.

Jiří Srnec came up with the idea of founding the Black Light Theatre while he was still studying at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.

He staged his first performance, in which invisible actors perform magic with flying objects and light, in 1959. Two years later, he received permission from the Ministry of Culture to establish a proper theatrical group.

In 1962, the ensemble was invited to perform at the prestigious festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they became an instant sensation. According to the New York Times review published at the time, they succeeded in bringing back magic to the world stages.

Photo: Black Light Theatre Srnec

This is how Jiří Srnec described the event to Czech Radio:

“First, of all, we didn’t expect it. We went there with a group of artists who regarded themselves on the stage as living works of art, and that was a great advantage.

“The whole set and all the things that were visible were in the hands of the artists. They were behind the visual compositions on stage and they were doing it with the idea that it had to be comprehensible.”

Speaking to Czech Radio, Jiří Srnec said his theatre has never been built on straightforward visual effects, but rather on a desire to convey an emotional story through the interaction of actors with objects.

“Visual art, like music, is something that is hard to define. That is, as long as it is artistic expression that comes from within a person, not one that describes the world around us. After all, ancient philosophers said that things that are expressed from one's inward feelings are always more valuable.”

Over the years, the Black Light Theatre performed in nearly 70 countries all around the world. Some of its most famous productions included The Striped Dream, Legends of Old Mother Prague, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Labyrinth, The Week of Dreams, and The White Pierot in Black.

Jiří Srnec also collaborated with other theatres, such as Semafor, Laterna Magika, the Spejbl and Hurvínek Theatre and the State Opera in Munich and received many awards during his lifetime, including the highest Czech state award – the Medal of Merit in the field of culture.