Contemporary trends in Slovak theatre

Lecture

In many respects the state of Slovakia’s drama and theatre repertoire reflects the milestones of the country’s political and social life. Since the early days of the foundation of the Slovak National Theatre in 1920, primary emphasis had been on supporting and staging original Slovak plays as part of the endeavour to raise the national self-awareness of the citizens of the recently-founded Czechoslovak Republic, and to champion Slovak as a separate language, distinct from Czech. The period of the independent Slovak state during World War II – when theatre professionals were to some extent able to catch up with movements of the 20th century artistic avant-garde – was followed by the suppression of freedoms and the promotion of socialist ideas in the late 1940s and 1950s. Many original Slovak plays produced in this period have now become outdated due to their schematic nature and black-and-white political outlook.

Dramatic art continued to stagnate until a brief relaxation during the Prague Spring. Few original plays for adults were staged by Slovak theatres between 1968 and 1989, with the majority of texts being written for children. In this period, many of the most acclaimed present-day playwrights today worked with amateur theatre companies, which were subjected to less intense scrutiny by the censors. A collective approach to play writing, which emerged in smaller student theatres as early as in the 1960s, blossomed on professional fringe stages in the 1990s. However, repertory theatres were not used to productions of this type and found themselves unprepared for the political changes of the post-1989 period, which were accompanied by changing demands on theatre.

1989 represents a key milestone for Slovak society. Having anticipated many of the impending political changes, theatre lost its political function after the Velvet Revolution, remaining in a limbo while theatres were unsure what plays to stage, for whom and how.  In the 1990s a new form of drama prevailed in Slovakia. This ‘new drama’ upended the idea of fully-fledged works for the stage, characterised as it was by a diversity of motives, discontinuity, decomposition and fragmentation. Emerging authors made a point of distancing themselves from their predecessors. New drama and stage productions were additionally boosted by support from various institutions, competitions and festivals. The changing relationships between theatres on the one hand and a new generation of writers and directors on the other have brought about a change in world outlook and new social and technological trends inspired by those prevalent in Western Europe.