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!”