World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Czech Republic

Next up in the series on theatre trends from around the globe is the Czech Republic – specifically Prague.

I’ll never forget walking down the streets of the city and being taken aback when I thought I stumbled on an incredibly racist form of theatre.

Turns out all the signs I had been seeing for “Black Theatre” weren’t advertising some sort of event to rival the old World Fairs of the 1800s. “Black Theatre” is shorthand for “Black Light Theatre,” a theatrical style for which Prague has become famous.
Black Light Theatre performances are characterized by their use of a small black box theatre and…wait for it…black lights. That’s right ladies and gents: theatrical productions specifically done using glow-in-the-dark suits and black lights. In addition to the small, darkened stage, fluorescent costumes and fantastically flattering UV light, the technique is noted for its expressive artistry of dance, mime and acrobatics.

Little known fact: this form of theatre originated from Asia and can be found in a number of places around the world. It’s just become a specialty of Prague nowadays.

Now true story – when I was traveling through Prague with a friend of mine about four years ago, we passed by a small sign advertising “CATS- THE MUSICAL – BLACK THEATRE.” All in caps. Just like that. The sheer lack of subtlety (and my general intrigue as to how they were possibly going to pull off one of the world’s most tech-heavy shows in a theatre that could not have been bigger than a 7-11) led me to force my friend to buy a ticket with me so we could return to the theatre that evening to check it out.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried-laughed so much during a show in my entire life. Easily 90% of the show was meowing sounds and squiggly arm choreo. An ensemble of six lovingly butchered every memory I had of the musical prior to this performance. Each song was a variation of Webber’s version: sped up, melodies slightly altered, and accompanied by a blaring MIDI track that I’m pretty sure had been used since the show had first reached commercial fame in the early ’90s. The ladies wore white unitards that glowed brilliantly as they followed around the main “Tom Cat.”  A little taste of the lyrical genius: “Prague is the city of love/ and the end is full of dreams/ not to be a cat is unheard of!”

Now, I don’t know if we caught a show in one of the off-the-beaten-track theatres or what, but the historic tradition of beautiful “dance, mime and acrobatics” didn’t make it into this production. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the show.  I loved it. It was able to transcend its horrendous beginnings and reach that sort of  mystic level, when something gets so terribad you literally can’t look away. All you can do is declare it the best show you’ve ever seen. In a “Black Theatre.” In Prague.

Perhaps the “Tom Cat” said it best, when he closed the show with the line “Ladies and Gentlemen, there haven’t been any better show!”

Image Credit: J. Randall. More of his stuff here

12 thoughts on “World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Czech Republic

  1. Thank you for all your great posts. I have nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award. Continued Success and Thank You for nominating me and Positive Cookie Attitudes(tm)for the award. Jay

  2. “Easily 90% of the show was meowing sounds and squiggly arm choreo.” This is still cracking me up. I would love to see some Black [Light] Theatre – do you think this might emerge in the US?

    • That’s fantastic that you got to spend some time over there with her. And yes, it’s a gorgeous city. I first arrived right when the sun was coming up and got to see the whole city come to life – truly incredible.

  3. oooh lovely! I spent some time working in Brno (Czech 2nd city) with a group at the experimental theatre there. I have to say that Eastern European theatre is amongst my favourite. I love their use of puppetry and kind of un-precious ensemble work. I saw an amazing version of Black theatre from Poland there but with moving objects in aquariums leaping out of the darkness. I’m back there in October to give a paper on community theatre… I’lkl try and check out the Czech black there whilst I’m there!

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