By Vladislav Strnad, The Institute of Cultural Diplomacy
The summer open-air theatre festival aims to put on the works of William Shakespeare and takes place at several stages in the Czech Republic and Slovakia from the 25th June to the 7th September, 2013
“The Summer Shakespeare Festival is the oldest and the largest open air Shakespearean theatre festival in Europe,” says artistic director Libor Gross. For several years this Czechoslovakian project has been held at various venues across the region between Prague and Kosice. The festival takes place on open stages at the Prague Castle, courtyard of the Liechtenstein Palace in Prague, the castle Špilberk in Brno, the Slezkoostravský castle in Ostrava and the Bratislava Castle in Bratislava. This year performances were also shown in the Zvolen Castle in Zvolen.
Throughout its existence, the event has annual premieres to introduce newly staged Shakespeare plays. It has established itself as an unmissable event that attracts an audience from all over the region. It is not only because of the interesting productions, quality drama and exceptional cast, but also due to the charm of the historic locations where the theatre festival takes place that so many people are drawn to spectate. The organizers are always trying to surprise audiences and offer them new, innovative perspectives on the works of Shakespeare. The Summer Shakespeare Festival is remarkable not only for its thematic focus, but also for its Czech-Slovak dimension. Open air theatres within the castle courtyards have their own characteristic features and therefore a unique charm.
The Summer Shakespeare Festival productions are prepared by internationally acclaimed directors from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and from abroad. Performances are put on by excellent Czech and Slovak actors.
The locations for the Summer Theatre festivals are selected very carefully and they are usually places of cultural interest which can facilitate open air performances. The Brno Castle has the largest capacity with 1000 seats. In Prague, the Prague Castle and the Liechtenstein Palace can accommodate 600 spectators, in Ostrava the capacity is around 700 and it is even slightly less in Bratislava. Performances begin in the evening and artificial lighting enhances the atmosphere of the surroundings. Celebrations are accompanied by a mass audience interest. Last year there were up to 87,000 visitors and the cast successfully performed over 140 shows.(1)
This year’s season started at the Prague Castle with the comedy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ an emotive play about a magical summer night, mischievous fairies and an entertaining love triangle. In addition to excellent performances and the romantic setting of the castle, the audience enjoys the unusual scenery which brilliantly alternates night and day, the extravagant costumes and especially the directors’ interesting individual style.(2) The Prague festival has staged successful reprises of ‘Richard III’, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor.’ Ostrava offers the play ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost.’ The Prague premiere will have the Slovak-Czech version of ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, and is performed in a multilingual version. The Bratislava production this year has prepared another multilingual comedy ‘Twelfth Night: Or What You Will’ for audiences in Bratislava and Brno. They were not afraid to experiment with staging and decided to put on the stage an entire rock band. So much emphasis was put on creating the perfect sound-score that the play was nominated “the most musical performance” of the year.(3)
The emergence of the festival was initiated by President Václav Havel. He opened the Prague Castle to artists which attracted the public to the Castle. The first Shakespeare performances took place in 1990. Since 1998, the festivities have been held regularly. Between 1999 and 2000 the festival took place under the auspices of Václav Havel. The event was supported in 2004 by the then President Václav Klaus.
In its early years, there were only two productions over the summer but the festival has gradually grown stronger to its present form. The existence of the Shakespeare Festival once even caught the attention of Buckingham Palace when Prince Charles expressed in a personal letter his interest for the continuation of the festival.(4)
The British Shakespeare Company, the second largest and best known Shakespeare Company in the UK, has also been affiliated with the festival giving it even more accreditation.(5)
Although William Shakespeare did not write for children, special children’s days focussed on the interaction of children and their parents were organized. At the Prague Castle there was a medieval market, where children had the opportunity to try a variety of activities from fencing to making puppets for the production of costumes or to play theatre.
As an accompanying program of this year’s festival in Ostrava, from the 2nd to the 10th of August there will be a lot of interesting theatre, music and performer achievements. For the second year in Ostrava, there is a “ShakespeareOFF”, which gives space to domestic and foreign young artists.(6)
In Brno “Gallery Vaňkova” there was an autographing opportunity with the main actors of “The Taming of the Shrew” and a photo and costume exhibition from the show.(7)
It should be noted that without quality translations of the Shakespeare plays, the festival would not be such a success. Anglophone and Shakespearolog Martin Hilský took care of Czech translations. His translations of the complete work of William Shakespeare were published in one volume in 2011. “Sometimes I wonder how current Shakespeare is….. It is a déjà vu, “says Hilský, who was appointed as honorary member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 for contributions to the spread of English literature in the Czech Republic and for Shakespeare translations.(8)
By Vladislav Strnad, The Institute of Cultural Diplomacy
On the 28th of July 2013 on the top of Velká Javořina, in the border region of the Czech and Slovak Republic, hundreds of citizens from both sides of the border met during the traditional festival of brotherhood and unity. This annual event reminds each nation of their common history where two increasingly interconnected nations gradually established a peaceful path to full independence over the last century. However, there still remains a certain bond and sense of togetherness between them which can be seen in similarities in culture and lifestyle.
Velká Javořina (970 m) is not only the highest point of the Bílé Karpaty, but also the oldest protected area of this mountain range. The mountain, which is steeped in legends traditionally chanted about in Slovak and Moravian songs, became a landmark meeting place for the Moravians and Slovaks in the 19th century. Then, it was a meeting place for not only for Slovak and Moravian students, teachers, priests and artists but also for ordinary people. Javořina was a gathering place for the building of friendships between Moravians and Slovaks, a space for manifestations, a place of joint excursions and a place for cheerful socials. This tradition was revived in 1990. Now, a new meeting, entitled “Celebration of Czechs and Slovaks Brotherhood, Javořina”, has been created. The Czech – Moravian – Slovak memorial, a work of sculptor Otmar Oliva, symbolizes that despite the current and future transformations of Europe, people in the Moravian-Slovak border remain close. The Javořina festivities are the culmination of a project of “Czech and Slovak reciprocity”. Throughtout the year there are numerous cultural and tourist events. Festival organizers have one common goal; to maintain the special relationship between the people and to increase the quality of life of people from both sides of the border.(1)
This year’s celebrations were attended by many folk ensembles, brass bands and choirs from the border region. There was a varied program of authentic fair stalls and traditional activities taking place in the natural amphitheater for the hundreds of visitors and well-known personalities from the media and politics who attended the aevent. Soloists and groups of different genres performed. Their art is an example of the rich folk traditions and extraordinary cultural and social affinities of the two nations. There were also competitions for children. The day before, a meeting of cyclists from the Czech and Slovak Republic, called the ‘Javorina Tour 2013’, was held on the top of the Velká Javořina.(2)
Czechs and Slovaks actually lived in one state from the times of the Hapsburg monarchy. The first independent state of Czechs and Slovaks was created in 1918. After seventy years of the existence of one united state, the Czechoslovak Republic broke into two on January 1st 1993 and became the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. Both nations had a chance to start building their own sovereign states. Mutual relations remained, and always have been, fair and good. Regular meetings between Heads of States are conducted and there is constant communication between both cultural, educational and scientific spheres. The Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the European Union and NATO. Slovakia has ceased to be a “younger brother” and relations between the two nations”were given the standard level of relations between two neighboring countries, which between them have no problems and, by contrast, have much in common in the past.” (3)
Even after 20 years, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia is considered by Slovak former Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar and by a former president of the Czech Republic Václav Klaus as a necessary step which helped everyone.
Mečiar said that the decision of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia was the right move, and if the republic did not divide in 1993, Slovakia would now be considered as insignificant European region. (4)
Václav Klaus justified the political decisions that “… our priority was to preserve the friendship and good relations between Czechs and Slovaks and preserve our future cooperation. We have stood the test because we approached each other with respect and a desire to understand one another. We have stood the test because we wanted success not just for us, but for the other side as well.”
Today the President for Czech-Slovak Relations has heralded the relationship between the two nations as great; unburdened by historical burdens and feelings of injustice or negative sentiments. “I believe that the Czechs and Slovaks remain true brothers to each other,” he said.(5)
Former Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said that “the Slovaks are for Czechs the closest, truly fraternal nation; the nation on which we always rely, even at an international level, we know that we can rely on him.” It is difficult to find in Europe two nations with such friendly relations.(6)
By Ludmila Vávrová, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
After the success of her projects, “Memory of Snow” and “Memory of Light”, Clare Maynard, a visual artist based in Wales is introducing a new project, “Memory of Fire”. Maynard‘s work is based on journeys she has made with the intention of connecting artistically with the landscapes and cultures of the regions she has visited. This exhibition of photographs stems from an interest in the culture of Etruscan history.
Maynard travelled to Lazio in order to walk amongst the remains of the Etruscan civilisation, including tombs, village foundations and other relics in the landscape. Some of the photographs represent the local foliage and food resources. The possible original uses of the land and the spiritual side of the culture in relation to animal symbolism and nature worship became a deeper interest for the artist over the course of her visit.
A selection of her photographs is available to view and purchase at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
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