Josef Svoboda (1920-2002)


Scenography of Josef Svoboda
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Born: May 10 1920
Died:  April 8 2002

Legendary Czech Scenographer (set, projection, lighting designer)

Playbill obituary (April 23 2002)

Guardian obituary (April 22 2002)

Graphicene – Josef Svoboda – Light and Shadows

Design by Svoboda (Tabs - 1967)

Documentary: Theatre Svoboda

Wonderful documentary featuring Svoboda’s grandson, Jakub Hejna discovering about his grandfather’s work.

From the Laterna Magika website:

Josef Svoboda was born May 10; 1920 in the town Cáslav. After completing his secondary studies; he apprenticed as a cabinet-maker. Following a master´s course; he enrolled in the Central School of Housing Industry in Prague. However; he was drawn to the theatre; where while in his home town and later in Prague he acquired his first practical experiences. Shortly after World War II he enrolled in scenography courses at the Prague Conservatory and studied architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague.

One of the predominant characteristics of Josef Svoboda was his consistent confrontation of theory and practice; in 1945; during his studies he participated in the founding of the Grand Opera of the May 5 Theatre. He became the theatre´s chief stage designer; as well as collaborating with the Theatre of Satire and the Studio of the National Theatre. In 1948; he joined the staff of the National Theatre; initially as stage designer and; as of 1951; as the head of its artistic and technical operations. Until 1992; he remained loyal to the National Theatre; when he left – and became the managing director of the independent Lantern Magic Theatre; where he had also served as artistic director since 1973.

In the May 5 Theatre he met his two principal directors – Alfréd Radok and Václav Kašlík. His collaboration with Radok refined his sense of the director´s concept of scenography and of the functional incorporation of the stage design into the context of the other components of a theatre production. Their common desire for discovery led them to a series of experimentations; the result of which was the founding of Lantern Magic; the creation of the polyekran (multiple screens); and other audiovisual forms. Svoboda´s cooperation with opera director Václav Kašlík inspired his love for music; which helped to introduce a number of excellent operatic works to theatres both at home and abroad. During the nineteen-sixties; he met other outstanding directors; among them Otomar Krejca and Miroslav Machácek; resulting in yet other outstanding works staged at the National Theatre in Prague; and; in Krejca´s case; at the Divadlo za branou in Prague; as well as numerous theatres around Europe. In the nineteen-eighties; Svoboda´s collaboration with stage director Evald Schorm in Lantern Magic signalled a major change in the orientation of this unique theatre.

Josef Svoboda created stage designs for more than 700 theatre performances in his own country and abroad. During the second half of the 20th century; hardly any prominent director could be found worldwide with whom Svoboda would not have collaborated. These particular artists include A. Delcampe; J. Dexter; C.H. Drese; A. Everding; G. Friedrich; G. Strehler; L. Olivier; R. Petit; J.-C. Riber; and others. He was at all times appreciated more abroad than in his home country; obtaining awards and titles; such as Dr.h.c. at the Royal College of Arts in London (1969); International Theatre Award in New York (1976); Chevalier de l´Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Paris (1976); Doctor of Fine Arts at Denison University and Western Michigan University in the U.S.A. (1978-84); a prize of the U.S. Institute for Theater Technology in the U.S.A. (1986); the title The Royal Industry Designer in London (1989); the French Légion d´Honneur in 1993; and Dr.h.c. at the Université Catholique de Louvaine-la-Neuve in 2001.

Svoboda enjoyed the young generation; he gave his experiences at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague; where he brought up a strong generation of Czech scenographers; and also at institutes and universities throughout the world. Only one dream he failed to fulfil – that of designing and building a theatre in Prague; one that could materialise his ample theatre experiences and demands.

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