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Prague’s black light theatre: an explosion of magic

Black light theatre, a well-established tradition in Prague, can be considered one of the hallmarks of the Czech capital. This type of fantastical performance is the perfect match for a city known for its magic and mystery. Visiting one of the many performance venues in the city is an exhilarating experience. The city, steeped in a Kafkaesque air, is not short on enigmatic places and, despite its popularity, the countless companies offering black light theatre performances seem like secret spaces.

The effect of light and shadow enchants spectators. Actors dressed in black are barely visible on the many darkened stages that can be visited in the city. Each element helps to stimulate the imagination in these silent works, which are increasingly more experimental and innovative. It’s hard not to be captivated by the stories that are told, by the striking costumes and by the evocative staging.

Prague’s black light theatre and its characteristics

A sense of mystery, something so characteristic of Prague, accompanies visitors at all times and everyone who attends one of Prague’s black light theatre performances does so in order to be astonished. No matter what you’ve been told, it won’t be able to capture its true magic.

 

 

Instead you must experience it for yourself and gauge its effect. Although the technique may seem complicated, with just a few elements a miracle is created.

In black light theatre everything is an optical phenomenon. Performers cannot be seen against the dark background and only show what they want to be seen. Ultraviolet light is shone on moving props, which are impregnated with fluorescent liquid and as a result become visible. The actors perform like magicians steering the audience towards a world of illusion in which objects come to life: people who seem as if they’re flying, hidden hands moving tables and chairs; the stage is permeated with a deceptive reality.

Watching a black light theatre performance is like being inside a Chagall painting. The play of movement, light and shadow is truly captivating. The fairy-tale landscapes that are recreated make viewers forget everything going on around them. Meanwhile, the music, the miming, the acting and the acrobatics create an irresistible metaphor right there on the stage.

Teatro Negro

Black Theater in Prague

Black light theatre’s long history

To explore the origins of black light theatre we have to journey back to Imperial China. Candlelight was first used to stage shadow and silhouette performances on white screens during the time of the Chinese dynasties. The use of black costumes to create eerie effects on dark backgrounds originated in Japan at the hands of puppet masters in the sixteenth century.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the technique was introduced in Europe, spearheaded and updated by French artists such as George Lafaille, whose influence later made its way to Czech stages. In 1959 the couple Josef Lamka and Hana Lamková founded the first black light theatre company in Prague. And in 1961, the dramatist Jiři Srnec created the Black Light Theatre, a movement that enriched the performances from an artistic perspective.

From then on, fantasy took hold of Czech stages. Actors became invisible as they blended in against the black backgrounds. By contrast, props stood out thanks to the effect of the ultraviolet lights. The performance’s illusion was accentuated with music and the use of videos and other resources. Srnec’s company began to exhibit its art as part of international tours and in 2011 it was awarded the Czech state’s highest cultural distinction.

Black Light Theatre Srnec, the oldest in Prague

There are a wide variety of black light theatre performances on offer in Prague. These days, different companies help enrich the city’s art scene; among them, what is today known as the Black Light Theatre Srnec, occupies a special place. The family company was named after its founder, Jiři Srnec, who passed on his fantastical legacy to his descendants.

Often referred to as ‘a small theatre of great miracles’, its charming main venue is situated in the Nové Město area, the most modern part of the historic quarter. It has capacity for 100 people who can enjoy a show suitable for all ages. Works by this experienced ensemble of professionals have been performed on stages throughout the whole world and have been seen by more than five million people.

One of its most well-known pieces is titled Anthology, which compiles different scenes from black light theatre created since its inception in 1961. Those responsible for it define the show as a surrealist experience.

Other famous black light theatre companies in Prague

One of the most popular companies in the capital is Ta Fantastika, headquartered on the historical Karlova Street. It has been in operation since the 1980s and stands out for its projections on giant screens and for the use of live music in its performances. Its puppets also attract great attention, as they are larger than normal. The most famous show in its programme is Aspects of Alice, a highly distinctive adaptation of the famous story by Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland. The work has been performed in over 30 countries and is produced in such a way that it is immersed in poetry and magic—a journey through life’s joys and sorrows through the different stages of life of the lead character.

Adaptations of classics for black light theatre

The company Wow is another great option to bear in mind. It puts on shows at the Broadway Theatre, next to the Powder Tower. What makes them stand apart is that they invite members of the audience to go up on stage and take part in the show. Another place worth visiting is the Black Light Theatre of Prague, which stages performances of great literature classics such as Goethe’s Faust, and Frankenstein, based on the legendary novel by Mary Shelley.

Also worth noting is the company HILT, which takes Phantom to the stage at Prague’s Theatre Royal. The independent group brings modern influences from contemporary theatre to the genre and incorporates dance and mime into its performances.

Those who would like to know more about the secrets of black light theatre should also visit Metro Theatre, on Národní Avenue, where each performance is accompanied by a short workshop at the end. This way spectators can find out how some of the tricks used in the show are carried out.

 

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