Theatre Ypsilon - Prague's very own Vaudeville

In this edition I stepped out to Divadlo Ypsilon, a more melodic name than its English counterpart Theatre "Y". It has been in existence since 1963 and last week the theatre celebrated its 40th anniversary where actors from the company put on an informal performance. Snippets from the theatre's repertoire were played for the occasion exhibiting the versatility and the musicality of all the performers. I spoke with Jan Jiran who has been a resident actor and musical director at Divaldo Ypsilon for almost twenty years. He describes the theatre as having a "special" kind of humour.

From 'Sold Bride' performance
"It's a combination of verbal and musical humour. If you look at all of our productions we play a lot of music, a lot of songs. We have three pieces based on classical music written by Mozart, Smetana, Dvorak at the same time we have two or three pieces from the 1930's so we have jazz music or swing music too."

In the theatre there are actually four resident composers so the artistic director, Jan Schmid, can actually select what man will be better for the job when creating a new piece. For the amusement of Czech audiences, performers are expected to be both actor and musician and sometimes it doesn't matter what their skill level is.

"For example Jiri Labus is a great actor in our country. He's been in maybe a hundred films and he's a horrible player on the violin, horrible player, but it's really great fun for our audience to see this great actor play the violin as if he's a member of an orchestra."

Though the work is primarily produced in Czech the multi-disciplinary aspect to the company makes it tangible for even those from abroad.

"There's fusion of humour, music and visual arts and in my experience a lot of my friends from abroad can see our performances without understanding one word - but understand us - simply because of the music, the visual aspects of the performances, dancing, the co-existence of a lot of things."

Divadlo Ypsilon is located on the much walked upon Spalena street in the center of Prague. The façade of the building flaunts a rich blue tile in Art Nouveau style and through the window facing the street you see the bustle of the Ypsilon café.

Daniel: "It has a lot of smoke, it has a bad point."

Jana: "It's not all about the smoke, I like that there are discounts, actors discounts so it's very nice to drink something there after rehearsal"

Daniel: "The café is actually only open if the theatre is playing on the night. If it's not the café is closed, so."

Martin: "It's a really good place to relax, so, I really enjoy it"

Jana: "You should try."

From 'Sold Bride' performance
And yes you should try. These café experts are students, part of Studio Ypsilon the new generation of actors, just another element to Divadlo Ypsilon that works in the framework of Damu - the Conservatory of Performing Arts in Prague. The café is cosy in atmosphere and if you're interested in schmoozing with some actors it's not a bad place to be. There are also ads for upcoming performances scattered over any unused counter or table space.

Divadlo Ypsilon was actually founded in Liberec in Northern Bohemia, but the Theatre moved to where was considered the crossroads of culture, Prague in 1978. Without a doubt the theatre in its early days was known for its cutting edge approach to creation and highly influenced the progress of Czech Theatre. Artistic director Jan Schmid introduced a different timing to Czech theatre by incorporating the fundamentals of montage, adding almost a filmic element to his directing. Another interesting aspect is the director is also a painter, which is evident in his productions by bringing to stage design simultaneous use of space. In fact he created a lot of the set design himself and in the halls of the theatre are numerous murals inspired from plays of the past.

Though today soley a repertoire theatre, Jan Jiran, actor of almost 20 years at Divadlo Ypsilon, doesn't get bored despite the fact that he has played some roles for 13 years. The company's method of collective improvisation keeps the characters fresh for the actors. I asked Mr. Jiran which was his favourite role to play?

"I have been playing the role of Mozart for 13 years. And for me it is wonderful to play this role for such a long time because the music is marvelous. But I also love to be in plays from the twenties or thirties because I love swing music so, it's very difficult to answer exactly. I love Theatre Ypsilon."