Any expats prone to lamenting the slightly haphazard nature of English-language theater in Prague should clear their diaries. That’s right – the longer days and warmer weather can only mean one thing – the Prague Fringe Festival is coming to town!
For nine days from May 27th until June 4th, seven venues will host 39 productions, totaling 246 shows in all and hailing performers from 15 countries. This year’s feast of live theater, music, mime, puppetry, and cabaret is the tenth anniversary of the Prague Fringe Festival and promises some fantastic events.
I caught up with the lovely and (even with only one week to go) seemingly calm Steve Gove, the director of Prague Fringe. Gove was initially inspired to organize a Fringe event in Prague some years ago, due to the then limited theatrical scene dominated by Black Light theater and some “really dreadful” shows. Gove saw the potential for more English language theater in Prague, which even then had a large-enough expat population to support it, as well as a native Czech population so “beautifully fluent in English and already engaging in English theater”.
Ten years on and this year´s Fringe offers a “huge mixture of different styles” from student groups to professional companies at the peak of their careers. There are some particularly shiny new features including a new venue (at Malostranská Beseda – Malostranské náměstí 21, Malá Strana) and two new events: Fringe Sunday and Pop-Up Fringe.
Fringe Sunday offers the audience a minute-long taster of some of this year´s shows. Not all of the performers will be showcased here – some just cannot be properly captured in 60 seconds – but this promises to be a fun, fast-paced event to kick off the festivities. And what´s more, it´s free! Fringe Sunday will take place on Sunday, May 29th, on the Main Stage at Malostranská Beseda.
In case Fringe Sunday doesn´t help you decide what to see, Gove shared with Expats.cz his top tips for this year´s festival:
For “Quirky Value”, check out Australian singer/songwriter Merri-May Gill. She performed in the first ever Prague Fringe Festival and is now back ‘with a mission´. Gill will perform at Divadlo Na Prádle (Besední 3, Malá Strana), which is a small venue, so get your tickets early.
In the “Local Hero” category, Gove nominates Gail Whitmore with The Human Jukebox. One of the most unique acts, this is on for the first three nights only. Incredibly, Gail knows over 2,000 songs on instant recall and is able to perform them on demand. Working across a wide range of musical genres, The Human Jukebox will perform opera, rap, and everything in between, providing the audience with an interactive spectacle described by Gail as ‘musical potpourri!’ Showing at Malostranská Beseda.
As “One to Look Out For,” see Dutch company Het Geluid with their show Life is too Good to be True. This interdisciplinary theatre company offers a performance involving group therapy, pink ribbons, and Lady Gaga. From the online trailer (in Dutch, although the Fringe performance will be in English), it looks a little bit like an AA meeting gone wrong, but it comes well recommended, having won Amsterdam Fringe Jury Award last year. Life is too Good to be True is on at Malostranská Beseda (Trick Bar).
The prize for “Prague Fringe Long-timer” goes to singer/songwriter Andi Neate, returning this year for her ninth Prague Fringe. This Scottish acoustic artist was particularly successful in 2009, winning Pick of the Fringe. Catch Andi at Divadlo Na Prádle – Kavárna.
One of the productions I am most excited about (being both perpetually hungry and a bit of a foodie) is Dutch Iwan Dam’s Cooking For Love. It’s due to play at Edinburgh Fringe in August, but lucky Prague gets it first. Described as a love story shared through text, song and cuisine, the actor-chef slices, chops, and stirs the audience through his difficult romantic liaisons. Slicing, dicing, and cooking: every move brings the audience closer to the chef’s troubled love life. Get your tickets early for this one and arrive hungry – the audience are invited to dine on the finished product. Cooking for Love is showing at Divadlo Na Prádle – Kavárna.
If you are already worried about having time to see all your favourite acts, you´ll be pleased to know that Belushi´s (Odborů 4, Prague2), involved with Fringe for the first time this year, is hosting Pop-Up Fringe. All performers have been invited to showcase ‘tasters´ of their acts, in short chunks of one to five minutes each. If your appetite is not sated by these snippets, Belushi´s is also offering lunch-time sustenance: 25% off food if you mention the Fringe, or a free beer with every burger (from 12:00 to 16:00 each day). Pop-Up Fringe takes place every day of Fringe, from noon until 14:00, and is also free.
So what is next for the Fringe? In ten years it has come a long way. The first Prague Fringe Festival hosted 12 acts over five days with around 400 tickets sold. Last year it enjoyed ticket sales totalling 5,000, from 27 nationalities. Gove has no plans to turn this into an Edinburgh-type industrial-fringe affair however. “We´ve been complimented on the intimacy of the event” he told Expats.cz. “There is a real ‘family feel´ to the Fringe by the end. The festival belongs to everybody – performers, volunteers and the audiences”. At the same time, though, Prague Fringe Festival does seem to have “a life of its own” and is likely to continue to grow organically.
For the full program and further details go to the Fringe website. Tickets for each performance cost 150 CZK. For the keen beans amongst you, a value pack of five vouchers for 600 CZK might be just the ‘ticket´. Students presenting a valid student ID card are able to get cheap, last minute tickets for 50 CZK, from 30 minutes before start of the show. Advance tickets are available from Ticketstream.