Modern and contemporary Czech theatre design

Toward dramatic spaces of freedom 1

Authored by: Barbora P?íhodová

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:


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Czech theatre design, commonly called “scénografie” (scenography) in the Czech language, experienced an unparalleled boom with the establishment of the modern state of Czechoslovakia in 1918. 2 The turbulent geopolitical developments of the twentieth century framed the emergence of several generations of designers who influenced both Czech theatre and the wider international scene. 3 These designers responded to the challenges posed by the extreme political, economic and social transformations of the Czech territory that has both benefited from its strategic intercultural positioning in the center of Europe and repeatedly suffered at the hands of Western and Eastern colonial powers. In this environment, the designers became unique participants in the staging of the dramatic text: working in partnership with directors, they became co-authors of the performance and transformed the world of the play into an autonomous, non-empirical dramatic reality. Often trained as architects, they ingeniously developed a highly imaginative, evocative use of performance space that engages audiences in a multi-faceted visual communication. Historically, the general principles of Czech theatre design have developed through the shifts from strictly mimetic to metonymic to metaphorical and loosely associative deployment of space, oscillating between the rejection and re-incorporation of flat decoration and more and more advanced technologies. Taking selected artists and their projects as examples and emphasizing the underappreciated contribution of the founding generation and the inter-war avant-gardes, 4 I focus on the multiple ways Czech theatre designers have assumed a crucial role in creating the whole of the performance, taking on the role traditionally ascribed solely to the director and/or playwright. In doing so, they claimed the creative freedom of an artist who challenges the dominant aesthetic, and at times political, orders.

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