The New Stage today
After a period of 18 years independence (1992–2009) when the New Stage served as home stage for e ensemble Laterna magika, the New Stage became part of the National Theatre in January 2010, so did the Laterna magika ensemble.
The New Stage of the National Theatre serves nowadays as an open space for performing arts with its separate management, a separate managerial unit within the National Theatre. The programming focuses primarily on contemporary cultural trends. The spotlight is aimed at contemporary dance, progressive drama alternatives, interactive performances, urban culture phenomena, multimedia projects, family programs and more. The New Stage has been since January 2010 playing an active part at the cultural scene in Prague providing the original concept of creative artistic institution within the structure of National Theatre.
The New Stage is open to both Czech and international audience and the programming meets the needs of both audiences. The repertoire of the New Stage can be divided into three parts: performances by the Drama and Ballet Ensemble of the National Theatre and performances by the artistic ensemble Laterna magika. The remaining third of the repertoire is devoted to international guest performances, local and international co-productions, emerging artists in theatre and visual arts, contemporary dance, workshops, conferences, festivals and other accompanying programs. The repertoire of the New Stage includes also a wide-range of special projects and one-off events that take place both in the New Stage building as well as the piazzeta of the National Theatre.
Within the framework of the reconstruction of the National Theatre in Prague which took place during the years 1977–1983, the demanding urban planning project of the new development of the area between the National Theatre and the Ursuline convent was also addressed. Three new buildings were to be erected on the free space: the operational building of the theatre, a restaurant, and a building with a hall for social functions located directly by Národní třída street. In 1980, when the reconstruction of the historic building of the National Theatre, and above all the construction of the new buildings were in progress, the project was suddenly re-evaluated. The decisive initiative came from the stage designer Josef Svoboda, who for a long time had been campaigning for the erection of a separate building for the Magic Lantern ensemble. Svoboda succeeded in opening up a critical discussion on the use of the new structure, the result of which was an extensive transformation of the entire project.
Genesis of the project
The vast reconstruction of the Prague National Theatre, which took place between 1977 and 1983, enabled the ambitious urbanistic task of creating a new edifice to be built in the area between the National Theatre and the St Ursula convent. The area used to be occupied by a complex known as Kaur’s Houses (Kaurovy domy in Czech): three Classicist houses which defined the orientation of the National Avenue towards the river, the bridge, the theatre. By the end of the 1950’s, these collapsing houses had to be demolished and the thus newly available space started challenging architects. The need for a fundamental reorganization of the area had actually been on the agenda for a long time, discussions were being held since the early 1920’s about the use of this place. Starting in the 1920’s, several waves of architectural competitions took place, while their clauses kept changing. The last one took place at the turn of the 1950’s and it was won by the architect Bohuslav Fuchs, who submitted his project – together with his co-workers – in 1966. After Fuchs’ death, the copyrights passed on to the State Institute for the Protection and Conservation of Monuments and Sites, whose employee Pavel Kupka was charged with the completion of the project. It was eventually approved for execution in 1976. The open space was supposed to welcome three new buildings: the theatre’s management building, a restaurant and right on the National Avenue, a building including a reception hall.
In 1980, while the reconstruction of the historical building of the National Theatre and mainly the construction of the new buildings was well under way, the project was suddenly re-evaluated. The decisive input came from scenographer Josef Svoboda, who had been for some time struggling to obtain a building exclusively for the troupe of the Laterna magika. Svoboda managed to instigate a critical discussion about the use of the new building and the result was a major modification of the whole project. The new task was entrusted to Josef Svoboda and Zdeněk Kuna, but Karel Prager was also charged with the same assignment.
Svoboda came with a project that respected the floor plan of the already partially built building and that suggested its rearrangement for the ensuing use by the Laterna magika; whereas Prager’s project focused on multifunctionality and space flexibility. On the 6th of October 1980, the Communist Council for the layout of the built-up area near the National Theatre chose Svoboda’s and Kuna’s proposal, who however asked for the postponement of the deadline, so as to be able to complete the newly drawn up ambitious project. This demand was not to the liking of the communist party’s municipal committee that held the floor when it came to the final decision concerning the project, and that insisted on the originally set date for the completion of the works on the 18th of November 1983. Karel Prager was hence entrusted with the execution of his proposal. The details of the project together with the interior arrangements were completed in a hurry during the construction works, which had to be finished in less than a year and a half.
This is how the New Stage was created. Ever since its completion it has become one of the most talked-about buildings in Prague and it was given more than one sarcastic nickname. The building, which cocksurely overlooks the National Avenue, was placed in the neo-Renaissance mouth of the street bluntly and without ceremony. It is composed of two parts: the one lying against the Baroque convent is discreet, transparent, with a smooth coat of solar-control glazing. The other part rises on massive pillars, between which a passage opens onto the theatre piazzetta. From the first floor up it displays a particularly unconvential architecture: its warped shape is beveled at the bottom, at the top and on the corners and it is paneled with over four thousand shaped pieces designed by Stanislav Libenský. These glass pieces that create the characteristic aspect of the New Stage have diverse shapes, and placed together they create a huge relief. The whole building becomes actually a peculiar sculpture; it is the unique example of such a use of glass.
Karel Prager (1923-2001) was born in Kroměříž. In 1949 he graduated from the Faculty of architecture at the Czech Technical University (České vysoké učení technické in Czech) in Prague, where his most famous constructions can be seen. The most prized one is the building of the Research Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry of the Czech Academy of science in Břevnov, which was listed as a cultural heritage site in 2000. His other constructions in Prague are not as univocally accepted. Some hate them, some are fascinated by them, whether it be for instance the former Parliament building or the building of the Komerční banka in Smíchov in the shape of a truncated pyramid. One of his latest works is the housing complex U Kříže in Jinonice, which received the title Best Construction of the year in 1999. This architect, known for his fantastic vitality and an incredible passion for his commissions, was awarded the Prize for life achievement from the Community of architects shortly before he passed away.
From the inauguration to 1989
Right from the beginning, the performances held on the new stage showed that there was a huge difference between the New Stage as promised and acclaimed by the media, and the real New Stage. All the inconvenient consequences of the sudden modifications made during the construction came to the surface, and in particular the poor technical planning of the project – on the theatrical level. For instance any rearrangement of the stage was extremely time-consuming and demanded a lot of staff, thus the possibility of having an adaptable stage was soon abandoned. The bad acoustics of the hall also created big problems, the communication system within the theater including elevators proved to be inadequate, and the heating and air-conditioning systems were disproportionate.
According to the original concept, the New Stage was supposed to offer a stage for the National Theater’s theatrical troupe, ballet ensemble, opera ensemble as well as for the Laterna magika troupe. The inaugurating performance of the New Stage took place on the 20th of November 1983 and was Josef Kajetan Tyl’s The Bagpiper of Strakonice. The not very successful mise-en-scene by director Václav Hudeček was destined to demonstrate the adaptability of the hall in its most radical aspect: the hall was arranged as an arena with the stage in the middle, and the premiere was transmitted live on television. The Mladá fronta reviewer remarked at the time: “Let’s hope that the dramaturgy of the theater will take a lesson from this bitter experience and will now select plays based on their propriety for the New Stage. The purpose is actually also that all the possibilities offered by this stage are taken advantage of on the functional and the artistic level.” Although the New Stage didn’t fulfill the high expectations put into it by the theater troupe, the latter performed a large part of its repertoire there over the following ten years due to the reconstruction of the Estates Theater. Between 1983 and 1990, it presented thirty premieres on the New Stage, among which the following successful plays: Jiří Hubač’s The Good Old Band (dir. Ladislav Vymětal, prem. 1984), Karel Čapek’s The Makropulos Affair (dir. Václav Hudeček, prem. 1985), Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (dir. Ladislav Vymětal, prem. 1986), Bernard Behan’s The Hostage (dir. Jan Nebeský, prem. 1987), August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (dir. Karel Kříž, prem. 1988), Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (dir. Miroslav Macháček, prem. 1988), Christopher Hampton’s Dangerous Liaisons (dir. Ladislav Smoček, prem. 1988), Alexander N. Ostrovskij’s Diary of a Scoundrel (dir. Ivan Rajmont, prem. 1989), Václav Havel’s The Garden Party (dir. Vladimír Strnisko, prem. 1990) or Anton Tchekhov´s Uncle Vanya (dir. Ivan Rajmont, prem. 1990).
The opera ensemble didn’t perform often in the New Stage. The ballet company presented four premieres here (the most successful was the ballet Macbeth by Václav Ridelbauch), as well as several ballet matinees and patchwork evening performances. In February 1984, the Laterna magika was introduced at the New Stage with the premiere of the children’s opera The Blabbering Slug. This play used to be performed on weekends, as well as another show: Wonderful Circus.
The Laterna magika at the New Stage
The New Stage was put to the exclusive use of the Laterna magika in 1992. The previous year in 1991, Otomar Krejča and his resuscitated theatre Divadlo Za Branou had returned to the then stage of the Laterna magika, the Theatre Adria. Although the Adria was intended for use by the Laterna magika, while the troupe of the Divadlo za branou was only supposed to rent it, an agreement between both subjects seemed impossible. And since the National Theatre was able to transfer all its artistic activities from the New Stage to the newly reconstructed Estates Theatre, the Laterna magika obtained for the next 18 years a refuge at the New Stage. The ensuing foundation of the independent state-funded organization Laterna magika formally settled this fact; the delimitation decree issued by the Minister Uhde determined that the Laterna magika would use the New Stage based on a lease. The building was also marked with the new inscription “Laterna magika” with the consent of the National Theatre. Some technical modifications were carried out and the negative consequences of some project mistakes were thus suppressed. During eighteen years, the artistic identity of the building merged with the creations of the Laterna magika. The Laterna magika as a state-funded organization was cancelled by the 31st of December 2009 and since the 1st of January 2010, the stage is once again part of the National Theatre.
Once again part of the National Theatre
In January 2010, the New Stage returned under the management of the National Theatre and serves nowadays as an open space for performing arts with its separate management, a separate managerial unit within the National Theatre. The building was marked with the orginal inscription “Nová scéna” which replaced the inscription “Laterna magika”. The program nowadays comprises performances by the Drama, Ballet and Opera ensembles of the National Theatre, performances by the artistic ensemble of Laterna magika and it also welcomes independent projects, festivals, foreign guest performances, exhibitions, festivals as well as educational projects and off - program.