This weekend the legendary Malá Inventura festival takes place in Prague. It is certainly one of the greatest festivals of independent theatre in Europe. Creative City Berlin is this year's media partner and accompanies the Prague delegation Pralin in cooperation with the Performing Arts Program. We spoke to Petr Pola, the festival organizer, about Prague as a city of culture and a vibrant independent scene. We asked him: what makes such an exchange program so important?
CCB Magazine: Hi Petr. You with your colleagues are currently organizing the Malá Inventura festival in Prague. In Germany they say it is the greatest festival for the performing arts in Europe. Is that true?
Petr Pola: Hi Thomas. It sounds very flattering. But to say that would be a bit exaggerated. It is certainly one of the greatest festivals of independent theatre in the Czech Republic. We do not have sufficient conditions in the Czech Republic to compete with other European festivals in size and scope. But maybe you meant it metaphorically, then it would be a different story.
CCB Magazine: Tell me about it, what makes your festival special?
Petr Pola: The festival mirrors independent theatre productions from Prague and elsewhere focusing on cross-genre projects. For this reason, the program structure seeks to adapt to the requirements of an independent scene. We present performances created on so-called Festival Venues - these are established scenes for independent theatre in Prague, which strongly influence its development and direction. Another part of the main program consists of performances, which we select through an open call. These are mostly productions that are not space-bound and are more on the move, therefore called Migratory Birds. We also present the work of foreign artists who work in Prague as well as those from the Czech Republic. One of the most interesting sections each year is the creation of young talented artists who are just getting started called New Blood on the Stage. This is roughly the structure of the main program, which functions as a kind of showcase. But that's not all. In the accompanying program we try to present a selection of projects that originated outside Prague, explore and stimulate cooperation between Prague and Berlin as part of the Pralin project.
"The Malá Inventura festival mirrors independent theatre production from Prague and elsewhere focusing on cross-genre projects"
CCB Magazine: When you compare Berlin to Prague, what’s the difference? In Berlin, 200,000 people are working in the cultural and creative industries. There are more than 2.500 dancers city wide. How is the situation in Prague? What makes it unique?
Petr Pola: Berlin is an extraordinary city. It is a mecca for artists from all over the world that has been known for a long time. Prague is considerably smaller, and in many ways may seem to be lagging behind Berlin. However, when it comes to theatre it is extremely fruitful. In order to grow, it needs intensive contact with the surrounding countries, which can encourage it and raise the low self-esteem, which is still a legacy of previous decades – also the current cultural policy of the state. Regarding the independent scene, we see enthusiasm and the need to create at all costs, no matter what the conditions are. Freedom and the belief that I do something meaningful is a powerful engine. The Prague scene is unique because it is located on the very border between the West and the East; the artistic creation is increasingly comparable with the West, but the conditions are still similar to those of the East. How will this turn out in a few years, I ask myself?
"The Prague scene is unique because it is located on the very border between the West and the East; the artistic creation is increasingly comparable with the West, but the conditions are still similar to those of the East"
CCB Magazine: Berlin's dance and theatre scene is characterized by the independent scene, off-theatres and niche diversity. In Berlin, more than 400 million is spent annually on public cultural funding, which is a lot, but competition for public funding pots is also rising because Berlin is becoming increasingly international and more and more international artists are applying for the funding pots. What is the situation in Prague? Are there comparable structures?
Petr Pola: If you look at the theatre scene, Berlin associates with cities like London, Paris or New York and its multicultural approaches. Prague on the other hand belongs to the context of Budapest or other smaller European cities. But that’s the way it is given the size of Prague and the Czech Republic compared to the size and role of Germany in the EU. So far, Prague has not faced problems with competition of artists because of its ever-expanding attractiveness. On the other hand, as I said, the scene is extremely rich and resources limited. And I think there is another aspect too: a growing generation born after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, who doesn’t want to take a back seat any more, just because it is devoted to art, and therefore, at least now, standing on the edge of society. This is currently our biggest challenge.
CCB Magazine: This year we are at your festival with a Berlin delegation. What do you expect from this?
Petr Pola: The delegation is a tool to get to know each other, a way to get closer and thus create a space for mutual cooperation. The primary goal is not to achieve results in the form of mutual hosting of individual projects or actually realized co-productions. The idea is to learn what is happening right behind your door. We care about this kind of connections and influences that might open new perception of the things around us. This is exactly what the Pralin project is all about. The delegation is composed of various representatives of the independent scene, dramaturges, artists, scene directors, but also representatives of media like Kulturprojekte Berlin. In the long run we hope to have a regular exchange of such delegations, meaning that a Czech delegation subsequently visits also Berlin.
"Financial resources are limited in Prague, but a growing generation doesn’t want to take a back seat any more, just because it is devoted to art. This is currently our biggest challenge"
CCB Magazine: Keyword international networking: How important is that actually? What added value does it have for the artists?
Petr Pola: Indeed, it is of primary importance for artists who are already or intend to enter international waters. Secondarily, this is essential for the whole art scene, because with international networking new ideas might pop up, possibilities to do things differently. These then act as advocacy arguments, for example, for dealing with public administration. The fact that the networking part of the festival is important for artists is also demonstrated by the fact that they understand the way the festival works and, for example, in the case of fees, they approach their performance at the festival on a partnership basis. And we appreciate it very much, although we continue to work to get better financial rewards.
CCB Magazine: But does this create more opportunities for performances and cooperation? Or does it lead to more competition for funding?
Petr Pola: Yes, certainly, talking about the first question. Of course, it depends on everyone, but almost certainly this will have an impact on future cooperation’s and other partnerships. Financial support for projects, however, is a tricky thing, but the competition that prevails in the Czech environment is still acceptable. And perhaps not every project deserves financial support.
CCB Magazine: Last question: Where do you want to go with your festival in the long run? And why does Prague never play in the Champions League?
Petr Pola: The festival goes where the independent scene goes. It is there to strengthen professionalization, to create a fruitful environment for sharing ideas and creative practices, to promote the visibility and attractiveness of the “new theatre” area, especially towards the general (not necessarily theatre) public. And we hope that international initiatives like Pralin can make a big contribution to that. Concerning the Champions League, yes, you are right that Prague has not been in the Champions League for a long time. But you know how it works, times are changing, and maybe one of the Prague teams will make it to the league again. However, I am not a connoisseur of the Czech football league, so do not take me very seriously.