In February, Prague’s Laterna magika debuted its first performance geared specifically to children. Pavel Knolle, head of the artistic ensemble, talks about the new performance and the history of the company.
Multicolored blocks overhead greet patrons as they walk through the doors of Prague’s Nova Scena, or new stage. The banister staircase is lined with children’s drawings as it winds up to the theatre’s café on the second floor. Children’s voices echo up and down the stairs as mothers and fathers bring down screaming toddlers. The building is something out of a child’s dream, which is perfect for the multimedia, black-light theatre group Laterna magika.
This past February, Laterna magika debuted its first show specifically for children entitled ‘As far as I see.’ The story revolves around a young girl who is born blind and shows her interpretations of the world she lives in.
“When she doesn’t see, she has the big imagination about the world that is around,” says Pavel Knolle, head of the artistic ensemble. “She hears (a) raindrop, and in her imagination, the raindrop is dancing. The plates and the cups are moving on the screen.”
After connecting with the National Theatre, Laterna magika was encouraged to create a performance specifically for children. One of the significant differences between ‘As far as I see’ and other productions is the use of actors instead of just dancers.
Knolle says that having a performance specifically for children is a good idea, stating that the show has received rave reviews from critics.
“The children are absolutely loving it,” says Knolle smiling, his laugh lines becoming more prominent. “It’s very interesting because it’s not things which you normally see. A lot of other people that I was talking with told me the children at home are always playing for the mother and the (father) and the (rain) drops.”
Although this theatre is anything but traditional, it has become a tradition in Prague, attracting tourists and Czechs alike to its unique performances.
Originating as a project for the 1958 Expo in Brussels, the group has been a institution in Prague for the past 50 years. People were intrigued by its format, which included dance, projection and film, all working together to deliver a synchronized performance. What started as a presentation on Czech culture has transformed into the definition of Czech culture itself.
Knolle says that Laterna magika is rooted in Czech culture in part because of the critical role it played in the non-violent Velvet Revolution of 1989. When the revolution began the National Theatre held a meeting with all its branches, including Laterna magika, and insisted that the branches continue performing and not support the revolutionaries.
“Our director stood up, and he said, ‘No, Laterna magika will stop their performances,'” says Knolle, who has been with the company since 1985.
Laterna magika gave up its space to the revolutionary leaders and became a command post where newspapers were printed which helped to spread information about what was happening in Prague.
Since then, Laterna magika has been a staple in Prague, putting on new performances and drawing an international as well as Czech audience. This healthy mix of attendees is possible because the performances include no dialogue. In addition to the children’s show, Laterna magika has six others that it rotates throughout the year.
One of these is ‘Wonderful Circus,’ a show that revolves around the lives of two clowns from birth until death. Since it began its run in 1977, the show has been performed over 6000 times, making it the company’s most successful show.
Although Laterna magika is popular in Prague community, Knolle says it’s hard to stay original in the world of theater.
“In this age, you have to (take) more risk, to try new things for the people,” he says.
With the success of ‘As far as I see,’ Laterna magika has proven that the company still has the ability to bring new and interesting performances to life.
“(We) are a little bit like children, and we like to play with everything,” Knolle says. “Maybe it’s about the playing with the movie and actor that makes (Laterna magika) so good.”