Clownish high-jinx and quirky, otherworldly imaginings find a natural home onstage in Prague.
As the birthplace of both Tom Stoppard (who turns eighty this summer) and renowned playwright-president Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic has a rich theatrical tradition.
However, Czech live theater isn’t just for highbrow, thespian types: the offbeat and quirky find a natural home onstage in Prague, whether that means avant-garde clowning, Laterna Magika’s otherworldly multimedia imaginings, or the Prague Fringe’s beguilingly bizarre shows. Here are the 5 best ways to dive into Prague’s weird theater scene.
Jatka 78, a former slaughterhouse in a sprawling, grungy market now rebranded as the home of the alternative clowning theater troupe Cirk La Putyka, is the place to go for an evening of live surrealist theater, Czech style. Sell-out shows are packed with all the high-jinx and acrobatics you associate with a night out at the circus—with a bit of trampolining and an electric guitar jam—while also exploring profound themes like love, loss, and the challenges of aging.
Nova Scena - Kouzelny Circus
Dramatic pioneers Laterna Magika, based at the Czech National Theatre’s Nová Scéna venue, were the first to combine movie projections with live stage performances as early as the 1950s, essentially inventing multimedia theater. Kouzelny Circus—the Magic Circus—one of their best-loved productions, was created in part by Czech surrealist film director Jan Švankmajer. The show is described as “the poetic narrative concerning the futile pilgrimage to the unreachable”—hardly promising ingredients for a fun evening out. But rest assured that while there’s a poignant undertone to all the madcap clowning, the multimedia assault on the senses packed with fairytale and mythical motifs adds up to an undoubtedly weird, peculiarly Czech experience. It’s a language-free, dreamlike show that you’ll remember forever.
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Every August. picturesque Letná Park is awash with a sea of enormous tents as it becomes the venue for the international contemporary circus extravaganza which is Letní Letná. Acclaimed acts from across the world descend on Prague to show off their skills: This year’s program features Canadian company Cirque Alfonse, who promise original acrobatics and flawless lumberjack beards along with the French-Belgian act Colectiff Malunés, whose exquisite acrobats confront the limits of the human body and the laws of physics.
Now in its sixteenth year, the Prague Fringe takes over a series of underground (often literally) venues in picturesque Malá Strana with a veritable cornucopia of international theater, stand-up comedy, and cabaret. Previous standout weird highlights of the Edinburgh Festival’s naughty grandchild include Romeo and Chulio, a gay version of Shakespeare’s classic performed by disco-dancing men in neon bear suits. Runs annually from late May to early June.
Housed in a former factory, La Fabrika is a cultural center in the up-and-coming suburb of Holešovice, which hosts a colorful repertoire of dance, non-verbal, and avant-garde shows. Don’t miss the chance to see Czech screen stars Marta Issová and Anna Polivková in the wacky two-woman act, Arte a Marte. The cake they smack each other’s faces into is served up at the bar afterward for fans to have a slice of—if they dare.