Modern Czech Theatre: Reflector and Conscience of a Nation (Studies Theatre Hist & Culture)

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I always saw excellent individuals, but rarely a fine whole. Kvapil simply never grasped direction as an ensemble operation. He created moods rather than drama. The impressionistic taste of the time seemed reflected in this vacillating stage work, which took impressionistic theatre ad absurdum. It was a sharper, more concentrated, heightened form of theatre compared to that of Kvapil, more aggressive and hard edged, and with a distinct inclination toward irony and satire.

Psychological realism was subordinated if not suppressed in favor of markedly stylized, rhythmically orchestrated voices, sculpturesque blocking, and artificially imposed movement as Hilar, the master shaper of the total stage work, found vent for his will toward form. As the war drew to a close and was followed by revolutionary movements and the birth of new states throughout Europe, Hilar was attracted to plays dealing with the masses, their turbulence and aspiration, their ecstasy and. Characterization was sacrificed to artificial constructs of essential forces and ideas; physical staging and lighting were deliberately and drastically manipulated to achieve striking contrasts and confrontations; the grotesque was a constant though variable element, and a middle range of emotional display was rejected in favor of extreme pathos or ecstasy.

Photo: J. It was among the last surges of his expressionist period and his greatest public success at the National Theatre. William Brady invited Hilar to stage the work on Broadway, and although Hilar was not able to obtain sufficient leave of absence to do it, his Regiebuch formed the basis of the New York production in October Nevertheless, several other productions made it clear that Hilar was overreaching himself, and that his extreme approach had become reduced to certain schematic formulas.

The world had changed and the spastic distortions no longer had much relation to social reality. In short, he culminated his search which began at the Vinohrady theatre; his Penthesilea and Cid. What had been experiment, here ripened to pure form. And Hilar made theatre of this poem. New Czech direction was already attempting [in ] a denser, simplified stage expression, as yet theoretically unformulated. Three years after his first production at the National Theatre Coriolanus, , Hilar had a crowning success with Shakespeare, thus silencing those critics who still compared him unfavorably with Kvapil, for Hilar had now produced Shakespeare with greater vividness, excitement, and passion than had previously been seen on the Prague stage.

The extravagant dynamics were still present as was the element of the grotesque in the comic servants , but now they had their roots in believable, passionate human beings, not in imposed, schematic patterns. The image of humanity began to be more complex and relative, even as Hilar still strove for maximum impact and economy in the acting.

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To concentrate and accelerate the force of the action, he reduced the number of scenes to eighteen by cuts and transpositions, eliminating explanatory detail, flowery description, and philosophical rambling. The key to the visual dynamics was a sustained curving, interweaving, often circular movement, with varying rhythms and intensities,.

A drama of love — yes — and a drama of cold reason. I congratulate your actors, who were able to master their roles with such an abundance of excited enthusiasm.

Modern Czech Theatre: Reflector and Conscience of a Nation (Studies in Theatre History and Culture)

In May , less than a month after this new crest in his career, Hilar, at the age of 39, suffered the crippling stroke that kept him away from the stage for a year and a half. Illness shattered his inner equilibrium. It disintegrated his self-confidence, and under the broken visage of a nearly absolute ruler one could see. For the time being, at least, he seemed to turn inward and become more reflective, less masterful, more questioning.

The stark confrontation of his own mortality seemed to make him more tolerant and considerate of others, even compassionate. The effects were also evident in his productions once he resumed a sharply reduced schedule. The change, for Hilar, had at least three sources: primarily, his own stroke and its debilitating and sobering aftermath; the sociopolitical stabilization of Europe including the new Czechoslovakian state after the spasms of the war and the years immediately following; and what Hilar saw as the consequent irrelevance and sterility of expressionism as a viable artistic mode.

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He thought a good deal of a human-centered art. Der Mensch in der Mitte became his byword. Hilar attempted to define and justify his new mode in numerous ways: Theatre needs a disarmament of expressiveness, a spiritual demobilization.

By civilism I mean the artistic expression of this spiritual calming which contrasts psychologically with the heightened feeling of war or revolution. As Hilar regained his former strength and spirit, however, civilism in the strict sense became too pale and calm for his innate temperament, which had to find expression in more full-blooded work. In these productions Hilar forged a synthesis of the best elements of his earlier Dionysian creative exuberance and fantasy with increased psychological depth, complexity of feeling, and restraint in expression. What further evolution might have produced — some contemporaries anticipated a more philosophical turn, others a greater social involvement — can only be guessed at, for in March , not yet 50 years old, while preparing for productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar, Hilar had a second massive stroke and died within a few days without regaining consciousness.

Although he introduced no startlingly new theories or methods of direction, Hilar gave serious attention to the concept and functions of the director in modern theatre, and his practices demonstrated painstaking thoroughness as well as creative fantasy. The ideal is equal value of all three, which guarantees the harmony of the result on stage. In a word, to be a director means to be a poet who, instead of making experiences fictive, materializes the given fictions.

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A poet is an artist who from the visible world creates symbols. A director is a poet who creates from symbols a visible world.

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It means more: two fundamental antitheses in his own being. The will to create a suprahumanly pure artistic whole, but on the other hand an effect, which prompts a crowd to applause. There is an intimate and intense relation between dramatic art and musical art. Music, precision, composition, sound, this is the primary inspiration for Hilar. Every scene or sub-unit on stage has its specific rhythm. New, precisely differentiated, conceived to capture not the externals of reality but its inner meaning. Hilar himself defined the difference between the old and new theatre as the former comprising outstanding individuals and the latter an.

Eventually most of them learned to adapt, not without considerable resentment on the part of some, and not before Hilar imported a number of his former actors at Vinohrady as replacements for those unable or unwilling to meet his standards. Hilar himself counted on considerable talent, creativity, and responsiveness from an actor: An actor who takes over a clarified, imaginative sense of proportion from the director and is incapable of experiencing it subjectively, but returns it unassimilated and not worked over in a theatrical performance, is not a dramatic artist in the real sense of the word.

Not sobriety, not empty coloration.

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A Hilar actor rode on an unsaddled horse and leaped wildly and unexpectedly. Detail was secondary for him. The main outline was most important. He asked for absolute release, and constant self-control. His close associate F. The Hussites. It was apparent from the beginning that the talents of each were ideally suited to those of the other. Hofman provided exactly the kind of monumental, highly expressive, bold statements that Hilar sought, and Hilar was an ideal source of stimulation and inspiration for Hofman.

Instead, he saw scenography as fundamentally concerned with the shaping of space and as an independent co-creator of action. His work with it extended to various experiments with projections — Herakles and The Dawns — and his interest in stage space and movement led to his innovative use of turntables — King Lear and Oedipus — and treadmills — What Price Glory?

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Never any fine detail, but statuesqueness. After long cooperative work I recognized what Hilar wants: dark colors, restless outlines, sharp color contrasts, oblique, demolished forms always seeming old and sculpturesque. Only on rare occasions did the scenography in a Hilar production radically distort or eliminate recognizable objects or forms; rather, in the tradition of Appia and Craig, it eliminated secondary details and magnified essential or symbolic forms, sometimes literally in their construction or by dramatic, unorthodox lighting.

The justification for viewing Hilar as the fountainhead of modern Czech theatre extends beyond his innovative scenography to include other directorial precedents that may now be recapitulated. In Czech theatre he established the decisive role of the director, the priority of theatre over dramatic literature, and the right of the director to edit and modify the dramatic text in order to make it viable on the stage for a given audience.

He also demonstrated the vitality of nonrealistic forms and the dramatic power inherent in the contributions of related arts to the art of theatre: choreographed movement, orchestrated vocal delivery, sophisticated lighting, and sculpturesque blocking. In these and other ways, Hilar broke ground for the avant-grade directors of the younger generation, E.

The reactions of the contemporary leftist, anti-establishment avant-garde of the s were testimony to his stature in his time. One might expect dedicated Communists like E. First, the greatest Czechoslovakian theatre organizer, an innovative spirit on world scale, under whose influence the entire official Czechoslovak theatre stands today, and whose creative strength is not matched by any young or old theatre worker of the Czechoslovak bourgeois theatre.

Hilar — that is the evolution of theatre after the overthrow [of the Austro-Hungarian Empire]. If his productions are criticized today it is done with the awareness that they represent the best and most modern that can be expected in Czechoslovakia. He is able to join elements of scenic art organically and support the entire scope of a dramatic poem in an organism that is solidly rhythmic in production. Not only was Hilar a bourgeois by class but he was constitutionally non-ideological, felt more kinship with the culture of the West than of the Russian east, and had no awe of Stanislavsky.

He epitomized art that was the antithesis of Socialist Realism, and, in his position with the National Theatre, he was almost an official representative of the First Republic. Not until the mids had conditions in Czechoslovakia liberalized to the point of allowing for a tentative rehabilitation of Hilar, which took the form of a symposium of theatre critics, scholars, and artists, and a subsequent publication of its proceedings. Such questions began to surface later, but after August most such relatively free critical speculation was tabled indefinitely, and in the liberated s critical work was primarily concerned with the post era and the present.

And bow to the memory of this greatest Czech director. It was he who at the cost of his life fought through the battle for the sovereignty of the director in theatre. What Hilar gave to the Czech theatre, that which he gave to me, exists and will exist. A thousand-fold changed, a thousand-fold newly formed, there will always remain a bit of that embodied energy that was expended then. It would be difficult to imagine a stronger contrast within Czech theatre during the interwar years than the one between the large-scale drama productions of K.

Hilar in state-supported, established repertory theatres such as the National or the Vinohrady, and the jazz-oriented, cabaret-like revues of Voskovec and Werich that were produced serially — and commercially — in several smaller, more recent Prague theatres. Many of its routines and songs were known by heart, recordings of its songs sold in the tens of thousands, its plays were performed by amateurs soon after they were released, and films made by Voskovec and Werich with or without other members of their company were sure-fire hits.

If ever a theatre became spokesman of a generation or rallying point of a nation, it was the Liberated Theatre during its final years, as Fascism was gaining ever greater strength and arrogance in Europe. During its brief existence their Liberated Theatre presented twenty-five fulllength original productions, variations of a basic revue pattern which they developed into a flexible, distinctive form that moved toward musical comedy or, indeed, drama with musical interludes, with political satire as its core.

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They made their greatest impact performing the central roles in each production. Regardless of the details of a given plot, they appeared in stylized white makeup, like eternal clowns or zanni of the commedia, but with the difference that their comedy could be intellectually sophisticated and they themselves were highly articulate.

Nevertheless, much of their charm and comic effectiveness derived from their basic stage identities as naive, earnest, goodnatured, but invincibly dense personalities — grown-up but ingenuous boys trying to cope with a world difficult to comprehend. Born in , they grew up as schoolmates in Prague.