Prague Quadrennial turns city into heart of theatre world for ten days

Prague Quadriennale 2007

On Thursday, the Prague Quadrennial International Competitive Exhibition of Scenography and Theatre Architecture opened its doors to the public. The exhibition introduces visitors to the most up-to-date theatrical creations from all corners of the world. Up to 40 daily live events and activities will be held on the streets of Prague to accompany the ten-day event.

I met up with the event's general commissioner, Arnold Aronson, as participants from all over the world put up their exhibits at Prague's Vystaviste exhibition grounds:

"This is the 11th Prague Quadrennial - it first started in 1967. It is held every four years. It's an international exhibition and competition of stage design and theatre architecture, so it brings together designers, costumers, lighting designers, and architects involved in theatre from all over the world. This year there will be close to sixty countries participating, making it the largest one ever."

Could you tell us a little bit about the first Quadrennial? What was it like in the 1960s?

"Unfortunately I was not there but we are actually doing a history session later this week to celebrate the 40 years of PQ and there will be some people who do remember that time. But the first one came out of the Exhibition of Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Czech designers participated and did incredibly well and they thought 'well, if we did well in Brazil then why not start a theatre exhibition?' Out of that the PQ was born and was an enormous success. The first one, I believe, had 19 countries participating. They were mostly European countries and I believe Japan as well and then it has grown every time getting bigger and bigger until this year, when we have some sixty countries."

Could you pick a few of the interesting exhibits that visitors will be able to see?

"First of all, the exhibit itself is overwhelming in its size. The Industrial Palace is a magnificent space for displays and for exhibitions. So, if people come here they will be able to wander through two very large wings of the Industrial Palace, seeing individual pavilions from the 55 or sixty countries that are here. In each of the pavilions they will see models of sets, renderings, photographs, video displays, costumes, and so on. Upstairs in the upper level of the central hall, there will be architecture displays. In the central hall, which is something like 51 metres high, there is something called SCENOFEST, which is a large space for exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and demonstrations for students that are being conducted by teachers, designers, and directors from all over the world. In the Krizik Pavilion just down the hill, there is also another exhibition of student work from schools from around the country.

"There will also be performance events and activities. There is something called the PQ bar, which aside from being a place to get food will have performances by performance artists. There will be things going on in the centre of Prague, again by artists and performers from around the world. Some will be very interesting and funny events, others will be very provocative. So there is a lot to do."

You already mentioned the SCENOFEST, which I believe is one of the three categories that the PQ is divided into. Can you mention the other two?

"The main category is the national exhibition. From the very beginning it has been the display of work by each of the countries that is participating. Then there is the architecture section which is also arranged by country - each country puts up a display of architecture. All of this is work that has been done in the last five years. Then there is the student section, which is really two parts. One is the display of work from the schools, which is a relatively simple exhibition of work and the other part of the student exhibit is SCENOFEST, which is sponsored by an international organisation called the International Organisation of Scenographers, Theatre Architects, and Technicians, and that is the workshop section."

And what is the Czech Republic putting up?

"The Czech Republic has a magnificent pavilion in the left wing of the Industrial Palace. It is a two-storey kind of gazebo-like exhibit that is being put together by the Forman Brothers, who are major theatre makers in Prague. At this point I can't tell you exactly what it is except that I've seen some stuffed bears going into it."

And there is also a PQ for children?

"Children and their parents or teachers are invited. There will be special activities for them. They will be taken on tours, they will get to make their own costumes, they will get to draw set designs, and they also get to vote on the best design and they can give their own awards. It actually sounds so interesting that I wish I were a child again."

You just mentioned awards - there will be a few prizes too...

"Yes, there is an international jury made up of eleven designers, architects, pedagogues, critics from all over the world and over the next few days they will be looking at the work and they will be awarding gold medals for best set design, costume design, for overall theatre production, for some of the student work and so on.

"There is also the major award called the Golden Triga, which is a wonderful little statue based on the statue on top of the National Theatre here in Prague. This award goes to the best overall exhibit, also the nest exhibit that most successfully presents a particular theme. We have asked each country this year to create its exhibit around a particular thematic idea - anything that they would want to come up with from focusing on a particular designer or playwright to some kind of a political commentary on the situation in their own country or the world. So, the Golden Triga is the grand prize."