Czech Republic

Contemporary playwriting and theatre translation in the Czech Republic are characterised by established structures of support for writers, yet our interviewees reported contrasting opinions on levels of interest in new plays from commissioning theatres and audiences. The theatre scene in the Czech Republic includes state-run venues, which operate on a repertory system and employ an ensemble of actors, and the independent scene, which is subsidised but not state-run, and instead employs freelancers. Money is scarce in both, but state-run theatres operate a more sustainable business model because they enjoy relatively stable funding and can plan ahead. Contemporary plays are produced by both state-run and independent theatres.

Respondents were split between those who see the interest in new plays growing and those who note that Czech audiences are still not very open to contemporary playwriting. Our survey showed that 40% of respondents believe Czech theatres “regularly” programme contemporary plays, while over 50% think they are “sometimes” programmed. 55% of respondents are confident that “some” or “most” Czech audiences and makers are interested in contemporary Czech plays, while 45% think that audiences and makers are not generally interested in new plays by Czech authors. Many respondents commented that while theatre-makers would like to stage more contemporary plays, audiences are more interested in classic plays. By contrast, our respondents think Czech audiences are more likely to be interested in contemporary plays in translation (80% of our respondents think “some” or “most” audiences are interested in contemporary plays in translation, versus 55% for contemporary Czech plays). Confidence in the popularity of contemporary local plays in the Czech Republic was among the lowest we recorded.

Nataša Mikulová, Michal Bednář and Vojtěch Vodochodský in Europe Connexion by Alexandra Badea. Trans. from French by Markéta Damková. Dir. by Adam Svozil. Dramaturgy by Marie Špalová. Produced by Divadlo Letí. VILA Štvanice, Prague, January 2019. Photo: Alexandr Hudeček © Fabulamundi
1. Key Players

The main centre of contemporary playwriting is located in the capital city of Prague, but activity in smaller cities is also lively. In Prague, the most important venues supporting living playwrights are the National Theatre (Narodni Divadlo Praha); Švanda Theatre; X10 Theatre; A Studio Rubín; Studio Hrdinů; Venuše ve Švehlovce; Palmovka Theatre; Kampa Theatre; Studio Dva; Disk Theatre; Na Zábradlí (Theatre on the Balustrade); Vinohrady Theatre; and Dejvické Theatre. Prague is also home to many companies who work in this area: Divadlo Letí (which has a stable home in VILA Štvanice), Vosto5, Masopust and others. In the second largest city, Brno, venues include the Brno National Theatre, HaDivadlo, Husa na Provázku and the theatre company Divadlo Feste.

Smaller cities featuring work in this area are České Budějovice (South Bohemian Theatre); Ostrava (venues such as the Arena Chamber Theatre and the Petr Bezruč Theatre); Liberec (with its puppet venue Naivní Theatre focusing on children’s theatre and the Theatre F. X. Šaldy, which programmes the WTF Festival); Ústí nad Labem (with the Činoherní Studio theatre); Hradec Králové (Drak Theatre focusing on children’s theatre and Klicperovo Theatre); and Pilsen (Alfa Theatre, focusing on children’s theatre).

2. Systems and Practical Conventions
2.1 Funding and Income Opportunities

Initiating a production. The most likely way for new play productions to be initiated is for resident dramaturgs or artistic directors of venues or companies to commission a playwright to write a new script, or for playwrights to pitch to venue dramaturgs. Less frequently, playwrights pitch new work to directors, or playwrights’ agencies promote their plays with venues and companies. If a play is commissioned by a venue, the playwright is supported by the dramaturg and director along the creative writing process.

Playwright fees. Playwrights based in the Czech Republic find it very hard to sustain themselves through playwriting alone, including the most established. Playwrights under commission tend to be paid through a combination of flat fee—currently “around €750–2,000” for a commissioned play, according to several experts—topped up by 6–12% of gross box office intake. If a play has not been commissioned but has been selected by a venue, the writer is paid through box office percentage only, again 6–12%, without a guaranteed minimum.

Translator fees. If a translation of a play is commissioned, it is usually paid €500–€1,100, plus a variable percentage of box office intake, around 5%. If translators have not been commissioned, there is no fee, and they are offered 5–6% of gross box office intake only.

Play development funding. Thedevelopment of new plays tends to be funded by authors’ private money or, less commonly, by state or E.U. funds. The Czech Literary Fund and the Ministry of Culture provide bursaries for authors to write new texts.

Length of run and touring. New play productions in the Czech Republic tend to have repertory-style runs, so that they are performed once to three times a month for two to five years. Sometimes, new plays tour to a few other national venues after the premiere but do not tend to tour internationally. National tours most commonly happen in theatres that do not have a permanent ensemble.

Exchange with other media. Many Czech playwrights also write for TV, film or radio, and the exchange between media is the norm. One expert commented: “It is impossible to live off plays, so you have to write for other media, or have other jobs.” The Czech national radio, especially the stations called Vltava and Dvojka are key players in contemporary playwriting because they commission new plays “more often than theatres” and “pay better rates,” according to several experts.

Prizes. Prizes for scripts that have yet to be produced include the Evald Schorm Award for emerging playwrights and translators, run by the Dilia agency, which comprises several categories, including Best New Play, Best New Adaptation and Best New Translation; and the prize for Best New Play awarded by the Aura-Pont agency, which has a category for Best Radio Play too and is open to any script regardless of the author’s agency affiliation. Theatre Letí run the Mark Ravenhill Prize for Best Production of a New Play, which contributed to promoting the culture of contemporary playwriting in the Czech Republic.

Theatre Letí, Vila Štvanice, Prague ©
2.2 Gatekeeping and Support Structures

Gatekeepers. Most theatres and companies in the Czech Republic employ resident dramaturgs (who are also sometimes playwrights themselves), whose role it is to source and suggest new plays to artistic directors. In state theatres, the dramaturg’s tasks include picking the best plays that would develop the ensemble, matching plays with directors and supervising rehearsals on all matters of text. However, artistic directors of venues have the last word in the selection of new plays for production.  

Agencies. Local theatre and literary agencies, Aura-Pont and Dilia, also have a key role in promoting authors working in Czech and Slovak, as well as in foreign languages. These agencies, which offer a copyright fee collection service and look after playwrights’ professional needs, also operate on a commercial basis—charging 10% of royalties—to sell works by represented authors to state-run venues and independent companies. Both Aura-Pont and Dilia fund speculative translations of foreign plays.

The promotion of writers happens mostly through the agencies’ own trade magazines, DILIA News and Aura-Pont Papers (both published quarterly), which are a pivotal way to communicate with professional dramaturgs around the country. Most authors in the Czech Republic are affiliated with one of these agencies and many dramaturgs, though not all, heavily rely on the agencies’ magazines to find new plays. One expert commented: “Czech agencies cannot be compared to what we know from other countries like the U.K. or Germany. It is important to realise that there are only two agencies for thousands of foreign and hundreds of Czech playwrights. The promotion that agencies do is effective, but it’s not targeted—it’s very generic.”

2.3 Education, Publishing and Press

Higher education. Czech higher education institutions offer acting, directing or dramaturgy courses, which can include some creative writing sessions and practical playwriting modules, but otherwise specialist playwriting courses are not available at drama schools such as the DAMU in Prague and the JAMU in Brno. University theatre studies departments, such as the one at Prague’s Charles University and the Masaryk University in Brno, concentrate on history and theory.

Publishing. Plays appear to be rarely published as books in the Czech Republic, and those that are published are mostly by established writers. The publishers Větrné Mlýny and Akropolis have published many contemporary plays, including those by the most established writers.

Press. Articles about contemporary plays appear to be very infrequent in the general press, such as in national newspapers. Contemporary plays appear to attract more attention in specialist theatre magazines, such as Svět a divadlo (World and Theatre) and Divadelní noviny (Theatre News), and in culture magazines, such as Revolver revue. The theatre magazine Svět a divadlo, published bimonthly, includes a new contemporary play in each new issue. The webzine publishes professional and amateur reviews of plays. Audience development and public engagement activities do not appear to be high on the agenda.

Poster for the production of Alexandra Badea, Europe Connexion, Theatre Letí, Prague. Photo: Fabulamundi
3. Advice for Foreign Playwrights

“The role of theatre agencies in Czech Republic is significant so I think it is important to have an agent (or agency) here as well. Do contact Dilia or Aura-Pont. Also, it is good to know which theatre or company specializes on contemporary drama and try to be in touch with them (and this is also something the agency can help with).”

“I think the best approach is to send your work directly to dramaturgs of the theatres, rather than wait for your work to be discovered.”

“Unfortunately, my advice would probably be: write for less than seven actors and write comedies.”

Copyright © 2020 Margherita Laera
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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