Na Kovarne Theatre, Podebrady

An amateur school group

Director:  Josef Sahula, Starring: students of a local secondary grammar school
Milos Forman: performing in – Nikolaj Vasiljevich Gogol: Marriage (husband), Molière: The Miser (Harpagon), Vaclav Kliment Klicpera: Hadrian z Řimsu (Hadrian)

Forman jumped at the chance to join a play at a boarding school for war orphans in Podebrady at their local theatre Na Kovarne. The director of the student theatre was art professor and academic painter Josef Sahula who had previously cast Forman in several plays.

Milos Forman about the performances:

  • “Not only did we star in the play, but we also prepared our costumes, made props and did all the other necessary things.”
  • “We always had two performances, one in the afternoon for students, another in the evening for parents. Both audiences laughed generously at all the slapstick we did and they were roaring with laughter when somebody screwed something up. They shouted jokes at us, and they enjoyed themselves.  They also applauded enormously at the end.”
  • “I loved acting, but even more I loved changing costumes and doing my make-up. As we performed Harpagon or Hadrian, I had to take the role of an old man, and I always couldn’t wait to put my costume and funny wig on, or to hold the makeup brushes in my hands.”

Rag Ballad

An amateur theatre performance

Director: Milos Forman
Starring: Ivan Kheil, Jiri Hruby, Jaromir Toť, Milos Forman and others
Premiere: 1950, Prague, Czechoslovakia

While attending high school in Prague, Forman and a couple of his friends rehearsed an amateur performance of a very well-known musical from the pre-war times - the Rag Ballad, originally written by the popular Czech comedians and drama writers Jiri Voskovec and Jan Werich.

They managed to organize not only actors, but also a small band and dancers. The performance premiered at the beginning of 1950 in the school hall. Their success inspired the young artist to look for a place where they could perform on a commercial basis. This performance took place at Prague's D50 Theatre (currently the Archa Theatre). Forman convinced the director E.F. Burian to let them rent the theatre on Monday evenings. According to critics, the performance (which ran until spring 1950) was a great success. Milos Forman played the role of the Parisian councilor. Libor Pesek (the famous conductor and Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) was also involved with the performance. The students also toured through small towns and villages with the performance group.

Milos Forman about the performance:

  • “When I look back, I really can’t understand how we did it. I just know we had to steal some special permission forms from the Cultural Department in our district, then fake several signatures and stamps and we had also bribed the man hanging the posters to put our poster over the one belonging to the National Theatre.”
  • “The first Monday performance was already almost completely sold out and people were laughing like crazy. We felt as if the old building was waking up from its deep slumber. The word had spread around very quickly and a bunch of teenagers had the most popular show in all of Prague. That just proved how desperately the people longed for some entertainment in those days.”

Laterna Magika

Multi-genre Theatre Performance

Directors: Alfred Radok, Vladimir Svitacek, Jan Rohac
Starring: Zdeňka Prochazkova, Sylva Danickova , Valentina Thielova
Dancers: Jarmila Mansingrova, Naďa Blazzickova, Yvetta Peskova, Eva Poslusna, Miroslav Kura, Vlastimil Jilek and others
Co-screenwriter: Milo Forman
Premiere: 9th of May, 1958, the World Exhibition EXPO ‘58, Brussels, Belgium
Premiere in Czechoslovakia: 9th of May, 1959, Adria Palace, Prague

Laterna Magika was originally created for the World Exhibition EXPO ‘58. The theatrical project combined dance, film and black light theatre. The official goal of the project was to introduce life in Czechoslovakia from the 1950s in an approachable and attractive way. The performance became a smash hit at the World Exhibition. Before the exhibition was over, 14 states had asked for the license to it, for at least a guest performance.

The history of new multimedia technology starts in 1958, when the director Alfred Radok and the stage designer Josef Svoboda created a special performance called Laterna Magika (Magic Lantern). Laterna Magika was first staged in the Czechoslovakian pavilion at the World Exhibition in Brussels, Belgium. The program consisted of several different parts, which helped to develop a relationship between the projected film and the live acting. In the first performance there were thirteen short scenes: Konference (Conference), Cimbalovy koncert (Cymbalo Concert), Tanecni intermezzo (Dance intermezzo), Inspirace (Inspiration), Žive sklo (Live glass), Praha (Prague), Symfonieta (Symphony), Československo (Czechoslovakia), Slovenske lidove pisne (Slovak Folk Songs), SĽUK - Slovensky ľudovy umelecky kolektiv (Slovak Artistic Folk Group), Deti (Children), Jan Amos Komensky (Jan Amos Komensky), and Finale (Finale). The program characterized life in Czechoslovakia with a focus on the nation’s unique qualities, and related to Czechoslovak history. To make the performance entertaining and educational at the same time, the informative parts were followed by the creative ones. The film was not merely projected but was mixed with action of the theatrical scene. Laterna Magika deserved all of its success at the World Exhibition.

Milos Forman about the performance:

  • “Radok was a magician of theatrical illusion and none of those big bosses had a clue that the famous “propaganda” collage was just the set piece for his own poetics and invention. Of course, the mandatory scenes from current Czechoslovakia and its cultural life weren’t missing, but what Brussels was fascinated with was Radok’s method and invention. There was a film show on the screen and suddenly a live actress came out of it and started to talk with her other self on the screen. Or a pianist would disappear in the middle of the note with his instrument, a bunch of dancers suddenly would appear on the deserted stage. The wit and originality, these were the things which attracted millions of visitors to our pavilion. Even Walt Disney came one day in person to say, how much he admired our work, so I could finally shake the hand of the creator of the heroes of my childhood.”

Laterna Magika II: Tour programme

Show for the tour of Laterna Magika

Director: Alfred Radok
Starring: Irena Kacirkova, Sylvie Danickova, Marie Staňkova, Jaroslava Panyrkova
Co-screenwriter: Milos Forman
Premiere: 5. 12. 1960, Adria Palace, Prague, Czechoslovakia

This continuation of the successful project Laterna Magika was originally created as a special show for the theatre tour abroad.  Unlike Laterna Magika, this show focused on the plot more than the propaganda. One of its parts – The Opening of the Wells – was banned in Czechoslovakia.

After Laterna Magika’s success in Brussels the theatre company received its own permanent space in the Adria Palace in Prague in the former building of the Moscow Cinema. Director Alfred Radok was also asked to put together another performance called Laterna Magika II: Zajezdovy program (Laterna Magika II.:  Tour programme). This performance was put together in order represent Czechoslovakia abroad, and focused on culture and the arts. The live stage performance was substituted for part of the dancing performance.

The scene The Opening of the Wells with music by the Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu (who had died in Switzerland in exile shortly before) was supposed to be part of the program. However, this scene was controversial for the communist committee tasked with judging the performance from “a politically correct” point of view. The First Deputy Prime Minister and author of the communist cultural policy Vaclav Kopecky accused A. Radok of “reactionary and Jewish expressionism.” Kopecky claimed that Radok’s manners and morals were behind the times, and that the director did not show the ultra-modern techniques of Czechoslovakian agriculture. 

The premiere was postponed and Radok was fired from the Laterna Magika Theatre.  His young colleagues (including Milos Forman) were officially asked to finish the rehearsals without the controversial part, and to make other minor changes in other scenes (these changes were made). Alfred Radok considered this to an unforgivable betrayal, as he expected them to leave the theatre to support him. 

A few members of the political and cultural scene only attended the Czechoslovakian premiere. In January 1951, “The Tour Programme” was performed in London. Its success wasn’t so overwhelming especially in comparison to the Brussels premiere, however it was enough to be able to perform it in 16 more countries until the year 1967. This performance was performed at EXPO ’67 in Montreal with a few minor changes.

Milos Forman about the performance:

  • “Alfred Radok was worshipped and cursed in the same breath during the 1950’s by the communists. But at that time, he was immediately asked to create a new version for the Laterna Magika performance. But because London and other Western countries were interested, he planned to sneak in a bit more amusement and less propaganda. He had asked me, Rohac and Svitacek again to help him with the show. I agreed without hesitation.”
  • “If Laterna Magika was a marvelous theatrical experiment, the second production was even better.”
  • “One part of the show followed the rhythm of rural life in the countryside with such natural focal points as births, weddings and deaths. This sequence was inspired by Bohuslav Martinu’s music and was of the same name as the musical piece, “The Opening of the Wells”. The set showed the interior of a cottage in the countryside with a few pieces of the original furniture and the projection on the screen where windows and pictures on the wall had been depicted. Two dancers came onto stage and were performing an erotic dance around the bed, and at the same time the projection was focusing closer and closer on the viewers. It took a while to realize that three people had been peering inside through one of the windows. The lovers were dancing their erotic dance, but those three terrible heads with grinning faces were growing fast and they soon overwhelmed the lovers. Such a magical piece was the reason why people wanted to cooperate with Radok. Nevertheless, he was a very nervous and demanding person and he was able to give you hell from time to time.”
  • “Of course, Radok mattered to me more than the show, but to do such a romantic gesture (to leave the theatre and the project) was too much for me at that time. Neither me nor Rohac nor Svitacek had enough courage to accept the label dangerous troublemaker, which we would have definitely received after such an action. I think Radok never forgave us.”

Laterna Magika: Variace 66, Otvirani studanek
Laterna Magika: Variation 66, The Opening of the Wells

Multi-media theatre performance

Director: Alfred Radok
Starring: Jaroslava Panyrkova, Marie Staňkova, Katerina Travnicka, Frantisek Filipovsky, Irena Kacirkova, Milos Kopecky, Frantisek Zwarik, Milena Dvorska
Dancers: Jana Andrsova, Blanka Modra, Pavel Vesely, Vaclav Štadler, Olga Šulcova, Daria Vobornikova, Karel Vrtiska, Sasa Aismanova, Jarmila Belsanova, Ruzzena Beniskova, Jana Braunschlägerova, Taťana Henrychova, Sylva Jilkova, Monika Lichtagova, Vera Masarikova, Miloslava Rejholcova, Vera Novakova
Co-screenwriter: Milos Forman
Premiere: 27. 5. 1966, Adria Palace, Prague, Czechoslovakia

The third performance of the legendary Laterna Magika was a compilation of the most successful parts of the previous series. Due to the political liberalization in the second half of the 1960’s Alfred Radok finished his formerly banned section entitled “The Opening of the Wells”

Director Alfred Radock returned his scene “The Opening of the Wells”returned to the Laterna Magika in 1966 thanks to political liberalization. With his return, Radok introduced the stage performance called “Variation 66, The Opening of the Wells”. This program consisted of the favorite parts from “Laterna Magika” from Expo ’58, “The Tour Programme” and (originally forbidden) “The Opening of the Wells”. It also included new pieces from Jiri Srnec’s famous Black Light Theatre and pieces from the famous Czech filmmaker and artist Jan Svankmajer. This performance was staged continuously until the 1968 invasion of members of the Warsaw Pact. Alfred Radok and his family emigrated to Sweden immediately after the invasion.


The Little Black Book


Director: Milos Forman
Starring: Richard Benjamin, Delphine Seyrig
Premiere: 25. 4. 1972, Little Theatre, New York, USA

In 1972 Milos Forman directed a comedy written by his friend Jean-Claude Carriere. The production was staged in the smallest Broadway theatres. 

Carrière’s play (English adaptation by Jerome Kilty) is a story about a girl who suddenly appears with a suitcase in an aging playboy’s apartment. It turns out that she is in the wrong apartment, however, she quickly feels at home there, and needs a place to stay for a day. The girl offers to clean the old bachelor’s apartment. But the man can’t get rid of the thought that he knows her from somewhere.  He is not sure, whether she was one of his little flings from sometime in the past. When the girl mentions that she had a miscarriage not too long ago, he starts to be afraid of possible revenge from her side. But the girl stays as secretive as she was at the beginning and it depends only on the audience, which interpretation is preferred – did the girl and the bachelor have something in common or not?

The set had an interesting cast. The French theatre and movie star Delphine Seyrig (Last Year At Marienbad, Muriel, Stolen Kisses, The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie, The Milky Way etc.)  played the lead role. Her partner was the American actor, director and producer Richard Benjamin (Catch XXII, Deconstructing Harry). Despite its star cast, the performance only ran for seven performances. 

Milos Forman about the performance:

  • “I enjoyed our arguments about the text with Delphine Seyring and Richard Benjamin during rehearsals. I enjoyed the whole thing, but then I had to admit that I wasn’t a theatrical director. There are just a few directors – and Ingmar Bergman being one of the best – who are able to direct films as well as stage performances – and they are able to do it well. I’m not one of them. What I miss is the abstract imagination, which theatre definitely requires. I always have a feeling in the end that I’m holding a camera in my hand and that I’m being forced to look at the same shot for two hours and I have to choke back the urge to cry: ‘Stop!’”

A Walk Worthwhile

A stage performance of a Jazz Opera

Director: Milos Forman, Petr Forman
Starring: Petr Stach or Zbynek Fric, Jana Mala or Dasa Zazvurkova, Petr Pisa or Tomas Trapl or Lukas Kumpricht, Jiri Suchy or Petr Machacek or Zbynek Fric, Zuzana Stivinova or Jitka Molavcova or Tereza Halova, Jana Fabianova or Beatrice Todorova or Irena Magnuskova, Miroslav Lacko or Petr Wajsar
Premiere: 22. 4. 2007 and 23. 4. 2007, The National Theatre, Prague, The Czech Republic

The stage performance of the jazz opera “A Walk Worthwhile” was originally written by the legendary co-authors Jiri Slitr and Jiri Suchy and performed for the first time in their Semafor Theatre, in Prague, in the 1960’s. Milos Forman directed the new production of “A Walk Worthwhile” together with his son, Petr, in Prague’s National Theatre.

In the mid-1960s, Jiri Slitr-Jiri Suchy were one of the most popular artistic couples, connecting theatre and popular music with unmistakable stage performances, music and sense of humor. In 1966, Milos Forman and the Jan Rohac brought “A Walk Worthwhile” to TV.  Forman decided to return to the play forty years later with his son Petr Forman as co-director. Petr had experience in staging operas at the National Theatre. Forman’s son Matej created the stage set.

The play tells the story of a young couple named Uli and Vanilla whose divorce becomes complicated when they receive a message from their aunt from Liverpool informing them that she has left a million pounds to their future child. The notion of inheriting one million pounds forces the young couple to try to settle their differences.

The original 1965 notation was not preserved (musical notation for every single instrument), so a brand new one was composed for this performance by the young composer and conductor, Marko Ivanović.

Milos Forman about the performance:

  • „The National Theatre is a sacred place for me, something like the Cathedral of St. Vitus, even nowadays. So I had to cope with all these emotions. This play had originally been written just for a small and intimate environment, but to stage it in the “Semafor” way just wouldn’t work. So we brought in a little bit of Broadway poetics. And if we managed it successfully, then I’d have been really pleased. “
  • “We were trying to persuade the current interpreters not to play their parts exactly as the original actors in the Semafor Theatre had. We didn’t want to see another ‘Slitr’ or ‘Hegerka’. Fortunately, each of them found their own way. Everyone is different.”
  • “From the human perspective, it was my happiest professional period – to work together with my boys (Milos Forman’s older sons, Petr and Matej). Of course, we all have our own opinion, which we all pushed for. But we knew as well, that it was necessary to come to a compromise in the end. That’s the point. It was wonderful cooperation and I’m really very proud of my boys.”


Alfred Radok Awards (2007)
Location: Prague, The Czech Republic
Prize: The Laurel Leaf
Cathegory: Scenography – Matej Forman

The Theatre Newspaper and Sazka Awards (2007)
Location: Prague, The Czech Republic
Prize: Stribrny Orfeus (Silver Orpheus)
Cathegory: Musical – Milos Forman, Petr Forman, Matej Forman