The Arts and Theatre Institute bids farewell to one of the greatest Czech playwrights

The sad news of the death of Václav Havel has personally touched many in the wide community of theatre artists that Havel belonged to for more than half a century. Havel had ties to the Theatre Institute (now the Arts and Theatre Institute) already back in the 1960s and again during the Velvet Revolution, when the Theatre Institute gave support to the theatres on strike. When the continued existence of the Theatre Institute was at risk, Václav Havel interceded to keep it in Prague.

Cooperation with Václav Havel began back in 1964, when the Theatre Institute published Havel’s first extensive theatre study ‘Josef Čapek: Playwright and Stage Artist’ (‘Josef Čapek: dramatik a jevištní výtvarník’; co-written with Věra Ptáčková). The Arts and Theatre Institute (ATI) has records of all the professional Czech productions of his plays since the 1960s. The only domestic staging of The Beggar’s Opera (Žebrácké opery) in the 1970s (Divadlo na tahu in Horní Počernice, 1975) could not be documented until after 1989. The Theatre Institute coordinated the activities of the theatres during the strikes in November and December 1989 for the then still emerging Civic Forum, and as a result the archives of the ATI contain many original materials from that period. While Havel was President, the Theatre Institute devoted itself to documenting his theatre work and made efforts to obtain documentation on stagings of his work abroad. This was done in close cooperation with President Havel’s personal secretary Anna Freimanová. At the end of Havel’s term as President of the Czech Republic, the Theatre Institute assumed management of materials from his personal archives connected with the production of his plays. When the Václav Havel Library (KVH) was founded, an agreement was reached between it and the Theatre Institute according to which most of its materials (the property of the KVH) remained in the management of the Theatre Institute, and the two organisations continue to work very closely together.

Horský hotel, Divadlo na tahu, 1991, s režisérem Andrejem Krobem (v popředí), foto: archív IDU

In the two decades since the Velvet Revolution the ATI has collected many unique photographs of domestic and foreign productions of Havel’s work, and from the period before 1989 it has stage and costumes designs that now serve as reminders of the premieres of Havel’s plays on the Czech stage after 1989. A successful playwright in the 1960s, Havel’s work was banned at home for almost twenty years though frequently staged abroad, and in 1989 he returned to the Czech stage. Thanks to the photographer Viktor Kronbauer, there are records of the premieres of Havel’s most recent work, especially his last play Leaving (Odcházení), and of various Havelesque collages inspired by his work.

Václav Havel a Karel Schwarzenberg, foto: archiv IDU

All of these materials (and many other personal documents that President Havel kindly loaned curator Helena Albertová to work with) are frequently used to organise exhibitions, in which there is a great interest both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Two basic types of exhibition have emerged, varying in form, scope, and artistic concept, and held in cities all over the world (Theatre and Revolution/Divadlo a revoluce, Václav Havel – Citizen and Playwright/Václav Havel – Občan a dramatik).

In cooperation with Lidové noviny publishers, in 1997 the Theatre Institute published the book Dear Václav...: Thoughts on Václav Havel (Milý Václave...:Přemýšlení o Václavu Havlovi), a collection of letters and recollections from Havel’s friends from the ranks of philosophers, directors, Charter 77 signatories, writers, and actors, written to commemorate Havel’s 60th birthday.

Havel’s The Garden Party (Zahradní slavnost) was included in the publication Teatro checo contemporáneo (Contemporary Czech Theatre), an anthology of Czech plays translated into Spanish and published in Argentina (in cooperation with Emergentes Editorial publishers and with the Czech Centre in Buenos Aires) at the ATI’s initiative.

The documentary 89 Minutes with Czech Theatre (89 minut s českým divadlem), a promotional film on Czech theatre released in Czech with English, Spanish, and Japanese subtitles, was created in direct cooperation with Václav Havel. It presents contemporary Czech theatre in the eyes of figures such as Matěj Forman, Dušan D. Pařízek, Vladimír Franz, Petra Hauerová and Rostislav Novák, as well as Václav Havel.

Testimony to Havel’s interest in contemporary theatre is the fact that he lent his backing to the Contemporary Theatre Arts Centre, which supports the creation of new plays and is organised by LETÍ Theatre (Divadlo LETÍ) and its partners, one of which is the ATI.


In October 2011 Václav Havel took part in a discussion organised on the theme of the samizdat periodical On Theatre (O divadle), arranged by the Association of Czech Theatre Critics in cooperation with the Václav Havel Library, the National Theatre and the Arts and Theatre Institute. This was one of Havel’s last public appearances, and a video recording of the event is kept in the ATI’s videotheque.

The Arts and Theatre Institute is also indebted to Václav Havel for the very concrete assistance he provided the Theatre Institute in 2006. When then Culture Minister Vítězslav Jandák made known that there were possible plans to move the Theatre Institute out of Prague, Havel, by putting his signature to an open letter to the Minister („...The Theatre Institute is an important centre of activity of international non-governmental theatre and music organisations and part of a network of similar European cultural institutions, which are naturally located in major cities. We believe that ill-considered interference in the work and functions of the Theatre Institute and its relocation elsewhere would threaten the very essence of its existence...’), positioned himself firmly behind those who were in favour of keeping the Theatre Institute in Prague.

Václav Havel a Pavel Landovský, foto: archiv IDU

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