Research

Department of Theatre Studies conducts a long-term research project "National Theatre and Normalization".

Applicant: Prof. Vladimír Just

Description and explanation of the project:

(1) Current state of research and its topicality

(a) The period of so-called normalisation, i.e. the process of political and social changes that formed and regulated Czech and Slovak society after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact military troupes in August 1968 and which lasted until 1989, has not been comprehensively and systematically examined by the historiography yet. The same applies to the historiographical assessment of Czech theatre of the 1970s and 1980s (unlike the history of film and television of the same period). Albeit it was the period of normalisation that – unlike the preceding decade – brought about considerable changes in theatre culture, we have only either synthetic monographs (e.g. Vladimír Just’s Theatre inTotalitarian System, 2010 – see applicant’s bibliography) or valuable scholarly papers and essays, which – however – arbitrarily analyze isolated issues related to the two decades of Czech theatre history before the fall of Communist regime. Nevertheless, our preliminary material research implies that the changes of dramaturgy and stage practices, indoctrination with ideological paradigms and multifarious power mechanisms that interfered with art and theatre structure and organization, as well as a change of the notion of art could be convincingly identified and demonstrated while discussing the Czech National Theatre, a traditional cultural institution which stands for a model in which cultural/national, political/ideological, social and artistic issues and relations converge and are being projected and re-enacted. Since its foundation in the second half of 19th century, the Czech National Theatre has acquired an exceptional and symbolic position in terms of cultural, political, national and artistic life. No wonder that the first state theatre, whose main task has been (and still is) to represent, foster and cultivate national identity and preserve cultural heritage, was under an immediate and massive control of normalisation power, who/which exploited and re-interpreted a traditional role of the National Theatre for its own ideological and political purposes. National Theatre was actually the only theatre in the country that was, from 1970, put under the direct administration of ÚV KSČ (Central Committee of Czechoslovak Communist Party), authority that concentrated all power in the state. The project intends to detect these intricate ideological, as well as discursive mechanisms, individual, as well as collective/transpersonal agents, inter-relations and transactions between power structure and art/theatre that is formed but also actively participates in producing the overall (totalitarian) architecture. From this perspective the Czech National Theatre stands for the model or laboratory which provides us with concrete and rich material base through which we read and interpret not only the end products – i.e. stage productions – but also general and complex cultural topics related to the relation of art/theatre and politics/power and society that resonate not only within the Central European region but also in the wider international context (see e.g. annual conference of International Federation for Theatre Research in 2009 which was held in Lisboa, Portugal). Besides, the project addresses issues connected with the formation or re-enactment of national identity through theatre (namely opera), which have so far mainly been discussed discussed in the context of the 19th or the first half of 20th centuries.

(b) The presented project is organically connected with the applicant’s above-mentioned synthetic
publication Theatre in Totalitarian System. However, the whole concept of the new project radically
differs from the monograph both thematically, as well as methodologically. Theatre in Totalitarian
System was conceived as a synthetic and contextual interpretation of the general development of Czech
theatre culture in relation with the political system (and other kinds of art) between 1945–1989. The
monograph reflects the activities of the National Theatre (namely the parts of the book that examine the
period between 1945–1970 and then so-called “nomenclature”) as one of the agents that co-participated
in the wider spectrum of cultural network. Moreover, the part of the Theatre in Totalitarian System
which discusses the period of “normalisation” stems from the premise that the key development of
Czech theatre culture between 1970–1989 occurred not on the stages of big official theatre playhouses,
among which National Theatre as a state controlled cultural institution assumed the leading position,
but on the opposite side, represented by small, so-called studio or alternate theatres, or peripheral theatre
activities and genres: mime and puppet theatre, physical theatre etc. Apart from that, the most inventive
theatre artists of the pre-normalisation period (Otomar Krejča, Alfréd Radok, Miloš Hynšt, Alois Hajda,
Evald Schorm, Jan Grossmann), whose seminal work broke into the official stages, were
excommunicated from the center (some of them even from the country) to the small regional theatre
venues. Due to this fact, the The Theatre in Totalitarian System predominantly focuses on these
artistically, as well as socio-politically progressive activities and the operations of Prague National
Theatre (which effectively ceased to be our “first stage”) and other official theatre houses are not
specifically reflected to such an extent. The presented project that intends to thoroughly examine the
complex operations of National Theatre as a state/party controlled cultural institution will be an
important contribution to the previous research.

(2) Concept of the research project
The research project focuses on the Czech National Theatre of the 1970s and 1980s, including all the
relevant and related aspects connected with its administration, organization and artistic production.
National Theatre will be analyzed as both an artistic subject and generously subsidized but ideologically
exploited state institution.
Besides the concretization of stage productions as artistic/aesthetic objects – and in relation with them
– we will observe:

  • personal changes in the management, as well as in all three ensembles (drama, opera, ballet);
  • procedures and motivations of personal changes (cadre and personal politics);
  • relations between the three ensembles;
  • contacts with foreign theatres (touring and guest performances);
  • auto-censorship and censorship interventions in the dramaturgical plans and completed stage productions;
  • mechanisms of administration and manipulation of theatre on all levels and reactions to them;
  • representation of National Theatre in official press, as well as in prohibited “illegal” samizdat;
  • circulated image of National Theatre in other state controlled media;
  • use of National Theatre (both space and ensemble) for extra-aesthetic, ideological political campaigns and ceremonies;
  • personal engagement of National Theatre performers in other cultural media controlled by the normalisation power (TV and film industry);
  • spectator and wider public response to the National Theatre activities                                                   Such a concept of the project enables us to:
  • identify, describe, and analyze symptomatic stage practices, presented by the authorities as exemplary achievements to be followed by other Czechoslovakian theatres;
  • observe an intricate and broad political and social network in which productions were situatedand which they to certain extent co-created;
  • examine Czech theatre culture of the 1970s and 1980s;
  • detect the mechanisms of totalitarian power in the period of normalisation;
  • analyze a manipulation of art, cultural heritage, national tradition, human and artistic lives by totalitarian power;
Core of the inter-institutional and interdisciplinary team of researchers consists of experienced scholars
with a long-time academic career, as well as promising researchers of emerging generation, who focus
on the history of Czech drama, opera and ballet/dance theatre of the 20th century (team of researchers
from the Faculty of Arts’ Theatre Studies Dept. and Musicology Dept.) or general and political history
of normalisation (researcher from The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes) – for the research
team see section 6). Such a team guarantees reasonable research concept and contextual assessment of
the topic.

(3) Methodology
An initial method of the project represents a systematic and broad basic material research of archival
resources of various nature and origin:
  • National Theatre internal material regarding productions staged in the 1970s and 1980s;
  • internal documents of individual normalisation theatre seasons, including realized activities (e.g. The Year of Czech Theatre organized on the occasion of the opening of both re-constructed historical building and New Stage);
  • personal records;
  • correspondence between members of ensembles and management, or between the management and superior authorities etc.;
  • articles and reviews published in the period press, as well as in samizdat;
  • published memoirs of active participants;
  • documents from the funds of Central Committee of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia,namely the records related to the National Theatre;
  • documents from the National Theatre Committee of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and Ministry of Culture
  • nterviews with contemporaries
All these documents are concentrated in several archives and institutions (National Archive, State
Central Archive Prague, National Theatre Archive, Arts and Theatre Institute, National Library).
Registration, assessment, critical interpretation and contextualization of as-yet minimally examined or
entirely untouched resources and documents will allow us to identify crucial moments and turning points
of transformative process of the National Theatre during the period of normalisation. Analyses of
resources will enable us to newly re-interpret operation, administration and position of the first state
theatre in the 1970s and 1980s. Moreover, our research, however based on the concrete material, intends
to address complex and paradigmatic issues regarding relations of totalitarian system with
artistic/cultural institution, or identify institutional and personal “survival” or existential strategies while
confronted with authoritarian political regime.

(4) Objectives of the project
Based on the wide-ranging research of the National Theatre activities and operation in the 1970s and
1980s, the project intends to identify and describe intricate principles and processes that influenced the
operation and position of the first state theatre, which turned into an ambivalent object, as well as subject
of normalisation. In our research, the National Theatre is taken as a symptomatic apparatus of complex
power structure by means of which we intend to analyze and describe a wide spectrum of social,
political, cultural, or ethical relations. The project seeks to present a thorough diagnosis of “poetics” of
totalitarian culture, observed through the lenses of one of the significant display windows of the power.

Team of researchers:
Prof. Vladimír Just
Theatre scholar, theatre and media reviewer, author of twenty monographs and hundreds of academic papers, and an award-winning journalist. In his research he focuses on a wide spectrum of topics mainly related to the 20th century Czech theatre history (Vlasta Burian, Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich’s Liberated Theatre, Czech cabaret, little theatre movement of the 1960s, studio theatre of the 1970s and 1980s, Václav Havel’s playwriting, contemporary Czech theatre, relations of theatre and power).

Barbara Topolová, PhD.
Barbara Topolová studied at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies of the Faculty of Arts, Charles
University, Prague. She received her doctorate in 1997 with the dissertation Czech Revivalist and Postrevivalist
Drama. Between 1992 and 1995 she worked as an editor of Theatre Journal (Divadelní
noviny). Between 1996 and 2010, she was employed as a researcher at the Department of Czech Theatre
Studies of the Arts and Theatre Institute. Since 2005, she has been an editor of the Czech peer-reviewed
academic theatre journal Theatre Review. From 2009, she works as an assistant professor at the
Department of Theatre Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. From 2014, she is a member
of editorial board of the project “Czech Theatre Encyclopaedia – Biographical Lexicon – Personalities
of the 20th Century”. Between 2000 and 2010, she participated in the grant projects “Czech Theatre
Encyclopaedia – Biographical Lexicon – Czech-speaking Drama Theatre of the 19th Century (1785–
1862)” and “Czech Theatre Encyclopaedia – Biographical Lexicon – Czech-speaking Drama Theatre of
the 19th Century (1862–1918)”, implemented by the Department of Czech Theatre Studies (Arts and
Theatre Institute). In her research she specializes in the history of Czech drama theatre of the 19th century
and post-war theatre history, namely the work of Otomar Krejča and Josef Topol. In recent years she
focuses on the period of normalisation in the National Theatre. She is an editor of various books:
Josef Topol a Divadlo za branou (Josef Topol and the Theatre Beyond the Gate, 1993), Sergej Machonin
– Šance divadla (Sergej Machonin – Chance of Theatre, 2005).

Martin Pšenička, PhD.
Martin Pšenička studied at the Theatre Studies Department of Masaryk University, Brno. He completed his doctoral studies in 2007. From 2007, he is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Theatre Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague (from 2017 Department Head). From 2011, he works as an editor of the Czech peer-reviewed academic theatre journal Theatre Review. His current research focuses on the methodological and theoretical issues connected with an analysis of theatre performance as a specific
historical, as well as an aesthetic and cultural event. His recent scholarly work examines concrete stage
productions created by Czech studio theatres of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Between 2012 - 2016, he participated in the Faculty of Arts interdisciplinary project “Culture and Totality”.

Mgr. Julie Kočí
Julie Kočí completed her M.A. studies at the Department of Theatre Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague in 2007. She is a doctoral student at the same department. In her doctoral research, she focuses on the operation of National Theatre’s ballet ensemble during the normalisation. In her research she intends to analyze intricate influences of totalitarian regime on the development of ballet, as well as dance art in Czechoslovakia in relation with the development of ballet and dance theatre in the world context. Between 2009 and 2010, she was an editor and reviewer of Dance Zone. As a reviewer she also co-operated with the journal A2. From 2014, she regularly teaches at the Department of Theatre Studies.

Petr Blažek, Ph.D.
Petr Blažek studied at the Institute of Czech History, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague. In 2008, he completed his doctoral studies. Between 2004 and 2010, he worked as a researcher at the Institute for Contemporary History. Between 2007 and 2008, he was a head of research department of the security services archive, Ministry of Internal Affairs. Between 2008 and 2010, he was a head of the Research of Totalitarian Regimes Department, Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. From 2010, he has worked as a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. He is a member of various editorial boards (Securitas Imperii, Memory and History, Pamięć i Sprawiedliwosść). Participant in several research and grant projects: Historical Research of Co-operation of Polish and Czechoslovak Opposition, 1976–1989; Independent Peaceful Initiatives in Czechoslovakia; Committee for the Defense of Unjustly Prosecuted. The History of the Opposition Group (1978–1989). Author of a number of monographs and scholarly papers (see: <http://www.ustrcr.cz/cs/petr-blazek>). His area of research covers the following topics: 20th century Czechoslovakian history, opposition and resistance to the Communist regime, and Polish-Czech relations.

Mgr. Tereza Havelková
Tereza Havelková is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Musicology, Faculty of Arts, CharlesUniversity, Prague. In 2001, she completed her award-winning master thesis (The Janáček Prize for an
outstanding Master’s thesis). In 2016, she will complete her doctoral studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. She was an editor of contemporary music journal His Voice. She currently participates in the interdisciplinary research project “Culture and Totality”, implemented by various departments of the Faculty Arts, Charles University, Prague. Her major research area is contemporary music and opera in relation to the issues of politics, tradition, and nation.

 
 
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