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15. 6. 2011, 10:10

How important is the role of the scenographer in theatre today? Is he more important than in the past or in traditional theatre spaces? Why and how?
The scenographer’s role today is much more universal. When working with auteur theatre, which gives birth to new and progressive approaches, the scenographer is also dramaturg and co-director, and works intensively with the director throughout the entire process of the performance’s creating. Within today’s interpretative and highly independent method of director-based theatre, scenography has become looser. It is now an open-ended structure, a kind of construction of ideas, while at the same time providing a large amount of freedom for interpretation and metaphor. It leaves – and for me personally, this is the most important thing – the final form unfinished. I believe that theatre communicates much better with audiences this way.

Why is theatre abandoning traditional spaces? In your opinion, where can we find theatre space today?
The boundary that contemporary theatre has crossed is exactly what we wish to explore at this year’s PQ. We want to document the road taken by scenography in theatre from its illustrative role towards being a structure that inspires, that has an independent narrative value. Contemporary scenography is also becoming an autonomous branch of visual art. We want to show hot artistic installations or performance art inspire theatre and how theatre is making its way into visual art.

Do “non-theatre” spaces present new themes that the scenographer has to deal with? How is this expanded understanding of scenography changing the traditional presentation of drama?
From my personal experience as a scenographer, I see theatre space as a universal space. In my view, the classic black box is a universal packaging in which I create my theatrical world. When I go to work in a space that has been designed for me, that has its function, then it naturally has to inspire me somehow –theatre or performance art does not work without the context of the space in which it takes place. Nevertheless, I am more of a representative of traditional brick-and-mortar theatre. That is where I spend most of my time, and that is why it is easier for me to talk about those approaches than about alternative spaces. If anything the use of alternative spaces – which is hardly a new phenomenon – is an attempt at making the theatre experience more attractive by allowing us to be a part of the action within an authentic space. That is something that has a large influence on the entire performance and on our experience of it.

Do you see scenography as an independent artistic discipline, or does it become an art form only within the context of other factors, thus making it a part of a work of art – the theatre production?
In my opinion, this is a question for art historians. I feel that the answer is yes – that scenography is becoming an autonomous artistic installation. Of course, its primary origin is in the service of the story and the performance, but scenographies frequently become autonomous entities that I can easily imagine being exhibited in a gallery. This is what will make Intersection so interesting: We will see several entities that worked within theatre space and that, placed within this mosaic, become fully-fledged works of art. It is an interesting topic for discussion, and I am sure that the sparks will fly between theatre theoreticians and visual or performance art curators. I would love to hear such a conversation.

Contemporary theatre makes significant use of lighting design. Is it a part of scenography, or is it a distinct artistic discipline? And is the lighting designer a scenographer?
That is a question that we plan to assign to several of the lighting designers who will be at the PQ and whose work we will be presenting. We have selected several artists who have left a strong artistic imprint on lighting design. I often ask myself who actually is the author of the visuals (in theatre), because light and projections have such a strong influence on the overall form. We have known for many years that light plays an important role in theatre, and in my opinion this is especially obvious in the Czech Republic. What I am really interested in, though, is the extent to which contemporary lighting technology serves theatre and the extent to which it dominates it. Does it hide the actors, does the use of video turn theatre into film...?

How important are photography, video, projections or new media in general for the scenographer’s work today?
New media are a fantastic tool, but they are also a very dangerous element in a performance, because they are so very attractive and enticing. They look as if they were easy to use. For instance, I have great respect for projections, mainly because of the local tradition of Josef Svoboda and his use of light and light projection. But I believe that projection is horribly abused, that it has become a kind of simple tool that is used to fill space. It always looks very effective, but there isn’t always a good reason for it. Video today is becoming a kind of added layer – not just an extra visual and formal layer, but also an extra story layer. I, too, use video as part of multimedia performances, but I consider carefully the proportion of the various media throughout the course of the performance: when the story will be told by light, when by space, when by video – and in this combination, I see very interesting communication.

Can we use scenography to update a classic work of theatre, bring it closer to today’s audiences, make it accessible? Can scenography change a work’s historical context?
I believe that my duty as the creator of a theatre performance is to analyse it and find a new, individual theatre approach. When we are doing Hamlet for the thousandth time, we cannot constantly repeat the same motifs and approaches. That would be the end of theatre. Neither theatre nor audiences would grow any further. I am concerned that this is what has happened to classical ballet. It long agonized over its new role within theatre. Today it is no longer ballet, but movement theatre and modern dance that are moving forward. In my opinion, the same approach is required not only by drama, but also by opera and all theatre genres. With each new project, I try to analyse the story and to interpret it with the director. I must be capable of telling the story through my interpretation. If not, then I feel that it is not finished. When I feel that I have managed to apply my layer onto history while at the same time “contemporising” it and finding within it that which is of current value for me, then I begin to think about the spatial realization.

For you as a scenographer, what is the main purpose of the PQ? Can scenographic works, which require the passing of time, even be presented at an exhibition?
I believe that in today’s age of intensely experiencing or functioning within everyday reality, the PQ gives us the chance to meet, to be together and to help each other at a time when theatre is not exactly having it easy. The PQ inspires and defines the current state of things. It is a unique exhibition of theatre visuals. I know from colleagues throughout the world that the PQ is a concept that has value as a cultural event, that it continues to be a prestigious event and – what is interesting – that renowned and prestigious artists fight to be a part of their national expositions! This is great, and it shows that the entire event does have meaning.

Interview was conducted by Markéta Horešovská, editor ČTK
Interview was published in the Harmonie magazine.