October 18 - The Technological Art of Josef Svoboda



Primary Sources

Josef Svoboda, "Introduction," and "Scenography" in The Secret of Theatrical Space p. 12-30 (peruse rest of book) (reserve book)

Secondary Sources

Jarka Burian, The Scenography of Josef Svoboda, p. 3-144

Jarka Burian, "Chap. 6: Der Ring des Nibelungen," in Svoboda:Wagner p. 54-92 (reserve book)

Christopher Baugh, "Chap 5. The Scene as Machine, 3: The Kinetic Stage Machines of Josef Svoboda," and "Chap 7: The Century of Light 2, Light Beams and Images," in Theatre, Performance, and Technology p. 82-93, 134-44 (reserve book)

Greg Giesekam, Chap. 2 "Polyscenicness: Josef Svoboda and Laterna Magicka" in Staging the Screen p. 51-71 (reserve book)


Laterna Magika repertory website, especially the photos and videos of each performance:

Motivator Post and Images

Motivator 1: Einav

“Just as there is a law of the conservation of energy, there's also a law that the accumulated experiences and discoveries of a given generation produce a certain psychic energy that begins to permeate the culture at large.” –Josef Svoboda, The Secret of Theatrical Space: 15.


What I gathered from the readings concerning Josef Svoboda, is that he has a distinct sense of place, both in his awareness of the theatrical space in which he works, and in his understanding of the place he occupies within the scope of theatre history. Unlike some of the other designers we’ve studied – Craig, Marinetti, Piscator – Svoboda does not seek to abandon everything that theatre has become, but rather to build upon past experience towards a greater plateau. He does not expect Europe to tear down its traditional theatres, but rather expects designers to use the existing spaces to their fullest potential.

Moreover, in thinking of theatre as a collective art, he invokes a similar trope to that of Wagner in his theory of the “Gesamtkunstwerk.” It makes sense that he was responsible for the set design of Der Ring des Nibelungen. He does not believe that the scenographer alone should have a sense of commitment towards the set design, but rather the whole team should understand and work towards a comprehensive artistic vision. His willingness to embrace modernity means that he is not limited to the established structures of his predecessors. At the same time, he sees experimentation with new technologies as a means to an end, and not an end onto itself. In talking about implementing camera shutters for lighting, he emphasizes that “the reason was always dramatic necessity.”

The type of design he does reject is one that attempts to recreate life in the most literal sense - there is more honesty in embracing “emphatic artifice.” Svoboda tries to create a more subliminal, emotional, or even dream-like reality than a mere facsimile of observable surroundings. However, he believes in illusionistic elements, so that while he creates a world within the space, he makes it clear that this world isn't real.


He discusses the difference between theatre space and production space, which to me seems like the difference between working inward and working outward. It reminded me of a time during my first year of undergrad, when I was still a visual arts student. We were given an assignment to evoke a memory within a 12 inch cubic area. The resulting solutions fell into two distinct groups: those that were designed to look essentially like boxes, defined by the limits of the space, and those that built out from the center, as though these limits were wholly abandoned. Svoboda is arguing for the latter – the production space, which is more concerned with the driving forces of the play than the four walls that contain it. This approach is more difficult than one would think - I was one of the students who produced a box.

I now study design at the Bard Graduate Center.

Top: The Anabaptists (Prague, March 1968), Bottom: Romeo and Juliet (Prague, 1963)