A new festival that has just got underway in Prague focuses on social outreach or community theatre, in which professionals engage in a hands-on way with the world around them. The organisers of the Akcent festival have brought together leading directors in this field from around Europe, with the aim of kick-starting a similar movement in the Czech Republic.
The inaugural Akcent festival of social outreach or community got underway on Monday at Prague’s leading avant-garde venue, Archa. What exactly is community theatre? Henk Keiser, of the now defunct cutting edge Dutch theatre Dogtroep, is an advisor to the festival.
“Well, it’s already old. It’s been done for a long time. But it means that professional theatre-makers work with people in the community. That can be in a village, or in a prison, or wherever. They take the stories and the history of these people as a starting point for the performance, the music, the visual art, that they are going to make. They are not only interested in the piece of art that they can make themselves as an artist, but they are interested in the world around them and take that for inspiration to create theatre. That means that it’s very connected to what’s going on in the world.”
Among the highlights of the festival is a musical by the Allstar Refjúdží Band, which is made up of seven different nationalities, based on the testimonies of real immigrants to the Czech Republic. The group’s saxophonist Jana Svobodová is also the festival’s programme director.
“We are trying to involve people who are seeking asylum in the Czech Republic in the artistic process. We’ve been doing it for eight years. And we already know that there’s an audience for this kind of theatre. This is theatre which wants to go to the streets, which wants to deal with society and talk to people who normally don’t go to the theatre. We’ve got big audiences, small audiences. Not only at Archa theatre, we also tour. It’s different from place to place, and we have really good responses.”
While there has been some community theatre in the Czech Republic, the tradition is far smaller than in a number of other European countries. For that reason the emphasis at the first Akcent festival is on seminars and workshops, where leading directors in the field can share their experiences – and perhaps generate interest in this kind of theatre in this country. Ondřej Hrab is the man who runs Archa.
“We would mainly like to see encounters with people who do this work. We would like to present and inspire Czech artists, not only artists but also theoreticians and critics, to see that this is an art form that is important for the future of the society.”
The Akcent international festival runs at the Archa theatre in Prague until Thursday night.
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