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The establishment of natural political and social conditions in the Czech Republic after November 1989 is a milestone which cannot be ignored when considering the work of Czech dramatists. It has drawn a permanent imaginary dividing line between Czech theatre writers who wrote and were performed ”before“ or ”after“ 1990.
From the mid-1980s – after the vacuum of the years of ”normalisation“ when, through Communist censorship, texts performed in the theatres were mainly those expressing themselves tendentiously through the descriptive realism of social and ”universally human“ problems, or were toothless historical apocryphal stories – the attitude towards plays for the theatre, their formal shape and their themes, began to change noticeably. Texts by authors who after 1970 were published only in samizdat editions, such as Václav Havel, Milan Uhde and Karol Sidon, began to find their way through to the general consciousness, and later the stages of the theatres. Authors emerged who were non-Party professionals (Jiří Hubač, Daniela Fischerová, Jan Vedral); their work was, and still is, independent of social conditions, showing instead an interest in dramatic conflicts as general, timeless, without links to immediately topical impulses and themes or historical experience. They were followed by a threesome of authors, Karel Steigerwald, Arnošt Goldflam and J.A.Pitínský – not altogether contemporaries (Pitínský is a decade younger than the other two) – but linked by an effort to recast their personal experience of historical development into a more universally resounding visual parable. In their case, that personal hallmark, originality of language, humour and poetic expression was (and is) often accented at the expense of the purely dramatic structure of the plays. Beyond the cruel, formally polished mini-comedies by one of the most original of Czech dramatists – Hubert Krejčí – inspired by Kyögen and Commedia dell’arte, it is possible to sense the bitter laughter of someone observing the hustle and bustle of the world from an overview of eternity and death.
The Alfréd Radok Foundation was established in 1992 on the initiative of the theatre and literary agency AURAPONT and the theatre magazine Svût a divadlo (World and Theatre). The Foundation’s annual awards have had an essential influence in fixing attention on the introduction of original dramas in the Czech Republic, and supported their origin. We find amongst the finalists and winners of this competition an overwhelming majority of the authors who made their debut in the theatre after 1990. With just a few exceptions these students come from the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Jiří Pokorný, Markéta Bláhová, Michal Lang, Zdeněk Jecelín), where they were pupils of Professor Jaroslav Vostrý, and from the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts in Brno (Marek Horoščák, Luboš Balák, Roman Sikora, Pavel Trtílek), where they were all students in the studio of creative writing run by Professor Bořivoj Srba. Even though the plays of each of the named authors have easily recognisable individual formal features and recurrent themes, in the case of the Brno graduates one can identify a marked inclination towards expressiveness of the language employed, Brechtian alienating commentary, and hyperbolised situations. Where the DAMU graduates are concerned, the work does not have such striking common features. The hard naturalism of the action of Pokorný’s plays, strongly influenced by the wave of ”coolness“, is heightened by the linguistic stylisation. Zdeněk Jecelín writes his own, modern version of mythic literary material, and Markéta Bláhová ”young women’s“ psychoanalytic-surreal dramatic pictures.
Other authors who succeeded in the Radok competition are for the most part linked with specific stages or directors: the lyrical, detective-story texts of Egon Tobiáš were gradually introduced by Petr Lébl, Jiří Pokorný and Jan Nebeský; Miroslav Bambušek with his harsh, surreal visions is linked with the Drama Studio in Ústí nad Labem; David Drábek and his existential cabarets with the Olomouc Studio of the Burning Giraffs; René Levínský and his absurd-realistic grotesques with the Hradec Králové company The Most Beautiful Teddies; and the actress Iva Volánková and her poetic-psychological dramatic studies with the Brno HaTheatre. The victor in the first years of the competition was Tomáš Rychetský, who long before the wave of ”coolness“ in Czech drama wrote The Innocent are Innocent. His play more than any others in the Czech context conveys suggestively and precisely the feeling of the life from which these texts emerge. Iva Peřinová, the author of charming puppet plays ironically reflecting Czech literary myths and national character, has also succeeded in the competition. In the last decade only a few original loners such as Lenka Lagronová remained outside the Radok competition.
Their individual make-up most probably rules out their participation in such a type of artistic confrontation. Lagronová’s dark dramatic pictures are guided by an exceptional imagination behind which we sense a vulnerability and painful experience from efforts to bring a complicated inner world into harmony with external reality. Miroslav Krobot and Petr Zelenka introduced their plays in the Dejvice Theatre in Prague. Their texts raise questions – amongst the brilliant quips and jokes – about how to distinguish between absurdity, naturalness and normality in the contemporary world. Antonín Procházka works as an actor and occasional director of his own plays in the Tyl Theatre in Pilsen and is at present virtually the only author in the Czech lands of – in the best sense of the word – boulevard comedies.