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PQ Forum – Past to Present

Photo of Prague's Industrial Palace

Industrial Palace - Photo by Richard Finklestein

By Corinne Robinson

PQ Forum Sunday, June 17th, 2007 – How did the PQ adapt to the Velvet Revolution, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the political changes around the globe? What were the economic difficulties to overcome? What is PQ now? Discussion with the General Commissioner Arnold Aronson (US) and panelists Pamela Howard (GB), Simona Rybáková (CZ), Ondrej Cerny (CZ), and Sodja Lotker (CZ).

In this amazing lecture the history of PQ was discussed, as well as it’s evolution throughout the past twenty years. In my opinion it was truly unfortunate that so few people attended this fascinating discussion, as it was my personal favorite. As a PQ newbie I found it extremely interesting to hear how this amazing exhibit and festival has grown and changed over the years, including what it was like for those who attended it years ago as first-timers.

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According to the panelists, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s PQ was purely an exhibition. Pamela Howard remembers each exhibit literally having its own box, which was not very interactive or exciting. She found it symbolic of the walls that were built up between countries and cultures. Over the years though, these walls have been broken down and exhibits have become much more open, inviting, and interactive. Arnold Aronson recognizes the growth in even the past four years. At the last PQ all the exhibitions by each country were in just the left wing of the building, while the right wing was used for architectural and technology design, and the center was purely thematic. As a first-timer to PQ this year, I find it hard to imagine all of the countries having their exhibits in only one wing; it must have been crowded.

So how have the political and social changes all over the world (specifically since the Velvet Revolution) affected PQ and its growth? Simona Rybáková reflects that after the Velvet Revolution it started to become more of a festival than a pure exhibition, mainly because of the addition of more live performances. She also professed that, unexpectedly, there were new political problems. It is something extremely hard to separate from, for art and theatre are both significantly influenced by political, social, and economic situations. Sodja Lotker admits that when experiencing the exhibitions from other countries, it is hard to find the context without knowing the political and social problems connected to them. Pamela Howard agrees that we make art within social and political contexts, no matter what manifestation. Art is powerful, and artists push through; art may not change nations, but it will make holes.

One extremely interesting discussion was on the topic of media, specifically video media, throughout the exhibits. There seemed to be a consensus throughout the panel that while the video art is a nice feature, and certainly good with which to see actual performances, it is not actually very important. Pamela Howard reflects that it is most important for the spectator to see new things and be engaged in actual, active art. The spectator can look, watch, meet the artist, and have discussions about what they have just experienced. She has noticed that there can be a number of large screens with fantastic graphic qualities, but people walk up to them, look, and simply pass by. She believes that when PQ is smaller and more interactive it is actually much better. Simona Rybáková adds that if everything is digitalized it seems more remote and passive. Also, the motivation for expensive travel is not justified if the presentation is something we could all watch at home in our DVD players.

“If this is your first PQ, do not let it be your last”

So what makes this year’s PQ different than any of the previous ones? What were the intentions of creating new sections that help PQ become more of a collaborative celebration rather than a museum of theatrical works? Ondrej Cerny thinks that each PQ surpasses the last. He believes that there is a strong educational function, which is extremely important, and that has continued to flourish. Also the addition of live performances spilling out into Prague’s Old Town is a significant difference from the beginning. Sodja Lotker admits that while the panelists have had a great influence on the shape and recent growth of PQ : it is itself a living organism. The festival is put together by thousands of people from all around the globe and therefore it is impossible to mold every aspect. It can be influenced and given direction, but it truly has its own life. Another somewhat recent addition to PQ is the opportunity for countries to have National Days. This is extremely important, especially for countries that cannot acquire the funding to have their own exhibit. Pamela Howard has an amazing vision of what PQ, and of course Scenofest, ultimately aims to do. For her the point is simple; Scenofest is specifically designed to enhance the experience of the young people who come to Prague. It is her desire to create the opportunity for youth to have a life-changing experience. Certainly, it is a life-changing experience to be involved with PQ in any way, but it is also extremely important for any young student of art or theatre to see the exhibits from all around the world. But how are these exhibits created? What are the requirements and inspiration for each country? Ondrej Cerny says that the countries were not given a theme per se, but given the opportunity to create their own theme. The National Exhibits are not solely about what each country can display, but are an amalgamation of art, theater, life, and the spirit of their country. Pamela Howard states shockingly that she doesn’t like National Exhibits, and she doesn’t know how else to say it, but as long as they are not nationalistic then it’s alright. She hates the idea of prizes though, awarding for one country over another. Unfortunately this year she has heard the comment quite often, that there is no point to coming to PQ unless you come to win. This is appalling to her, as well as many others, including myself. It defeats the purposed of the entire project.

Do we need prizes?

The question then arose “do we need prizes?” There was no final answer to this question, only more questions. Ondrej Cerny poses the idea that if we take away the awards, will it take away some of the activity? The awards in some way create their own criteria and motivation for each country. Arnold Aronson also points out that the winning of awards has often influenced more funding, which is necessary for the National Exhibits. One problem that has arisen because of the growth of PQ is that there is no section or award for collaborators. Pamela Howard has noticed that over the years designers, artists, and scenographers who have met here begin to cross boarders and work together. However, there is no section, or award for cross-collaboration. Instead their work is exhibited either in their native country or in the country where the art was produced. Arnold Aronson adds that, sadly, there has yet to be a structure to encourage that, though it is happening increasingly often.

First PQ?

Pamela Howard ends by giving some inspiring words to first-time PQ attendees. “If this is your first PQ, do not let it be your last.” She recalls the saying “try stepping into someone else’s shoes. For her though, it is not a matter of stepping into someone else’s, but stepping out of her own and letting someone else put them on. So if this is your first, second, fourth, or eleventh PQ – keep coming back, get involved, and perhaps one day you can find someone else’s shoes to step into.

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