Josef Svoboda

Definition

Theater

  • (1920 - 2002) Influential Czech stage designer, who createddesigns for over 700 productions in a career of some 60 years. Heis particularly noted for introducing mixed media technologyinto the theater, as in his 1965 production of Luigi Nono's operaIntoleranza. Svoboda linked several studios to the main stageby two-way television, allowing performers some miles away to seethe conductor and follow the main drama.

    In 1948 Svoboda became head designer of the National Theatrein Prague, where he presented a stunning production of Gogol's TheGovernment Inspector. However, he was given little chance to develophis ideas until the communist regime eased restrictions in the late1950s, allowing him to create an unconventional Hamlet in 1959.

    His multimedia ideas developed from experimental work carriedout in the 1930s by E. F. Burian (1904 - 59) and Miroslav Kouril(1911 - 84), the latter offering Svoboda the support of his PragueInstitute of Scenography. In 1958 Svoboda collaborated with the directorAlfred Radok in devising a means of combining still and moving pictureson screens. This Polyekran project was followed by the developmentof the Laterna Magika, which combined live actors with projections.The two techniques were a great hit at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair,and the following year Svoboda began to incorporate them into hisstage work, projecting images onto such surfaces as plastic, mirrors,and netting. The Laterna Magika established a base in Prague's famousTheatre Behind the Gate and Svoboda created designs for many of theproductions there.

    During the 1960s Svoboda also experimented with flexible stagingusing movable platforms. For the 1963 production of Sophocles's OedipusRex at the Prague National Theatre, Svoboda constructed a 30-footwide semitransparent staircase rising from the bottom of the orchestrapit up to the grid above the stage. Svoboda's work was seen in Londonduring the 1965 World Theatre Season and a year later atthe Edinburgh Festival. He was subsequently commissioned by the NationalTheatre to create abstract sets for Ostrovsky's The Storm (1966)and Chekhov's Three Sisters (1967). In 1970 he designed thesets for Simon Gray's adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot(1970) at the Old Vic. Despite the communist clampdownon the Czech theater in the late 1970s, Svoboda was allowed to continuehis work because of his international reputation. He continued todesign for the Laterna Magika throughout the 1980s and 1990s, becomingits managing director in 1992.

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