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Dead medium: The Velvet Revolution in the Magic Lantern
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): VACLAV HAVEL: THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Eda Kriseova. Translated by Caleb Crain. St Martin's

Press, 1993. ISBN 0-312-10317-4

((bruces remarks: I suspect that this little Czech

theatre's aging combination of film, theater and ballet

classifies as "dead media," even if the Laterna Magika

theater is not quite so dead as its namesake the magic

lantern. If your country has been through forty years of

deep-frozen cold war and is being revolutionized by a

surrealist playwright, perhaps a theater full of not-

quite-dead media makes a very sensible headquarters.)))

pages 250-252

"Part 51 -- *Laterna Magika*

"Civic Forum was looking for a space where they could take

shelter. The visual artists offered the U Recickych

Gallery, where Civic Forum was in fact headquartered for

the first few days, but it was a small space, and suddenly

someone came up with the Laterna Magika (the Magic Lantern


* footnote page 250: "The Prague theater that uses a

multiscene format == a combination of film, theater, and

ballet. The theater was a great success at the 1958

World's Fair in Brussels and again at Expo 67 in


"I had never been in the dressing room at the

Laterna Magika. It was a hot labyrinth with no air.

There was practically no ventilation, and everyone smoked

like chimneys. When we went there nine months later with

the president of Brazil, who had asked to see the place

that had been the headquarters of the revolution, I could

not understand how we had managed to survive there. In

the largest dressing room, about three by four yards, the

staff == about ten people == held its meetings. Costumes,

ballet tutus, and quaint monsters were hanging everywhere.

It smelled like make-up, and there were mirrors on all

sides. I could not get used to seeing myself everywhere,

and I started to feel a little paranoid.

"The ballet dancers buttered bread, sliced salami,

and boiled coffee. The whole Laterna Magika was working

for the revolution. Everything was flurried and feverish,

but people were unbelievably kind and decent to each

other. (...) In the Laterna Magika, everyone moved

quickly and purposefully. If someone frowned, he saw it

instantly in the mirror. (...) They worked long into the

night, laughing often. From time to time, it was as if

Havel had written an absurdist play that he starred in and

directed. I will never forget that he took me with them

and I was part of almost everything that happened. Once

again I had the exhilirating feeling that I was in the

right place at the right time, that this was the best

place in the world, and that I did not want to be anywhere


page 260

"On Sunday, December 3, Vaclav went outside for the

first time in fourteen days. He and Olga went for a walk

in Pruhonice park. When he returned to the Laterna Magika

underground, he said, 'At last, outside under the high and

wide heavens, I realized that this is for real and it is

definitely not a dream.'

"For a while, time settled down == it slowed down to

a realistic pace, only to run ahead again, still faster.

I thought that, to a certain extent, the atmosphere of

unreality was the fault of the underground labyrinth, of

the Laterna Magika where amid artificial light, mirrors,

and a limited air supply, everything took on a magic,

brand-new form. We only saw the light of day on city

squares and Letna Plain. Otherwise we did not crawl out

from underground.

"At one of the first meetings with the authorities,

Vaclav asked about allocating a building for Civic Forum.

In the end, they alloted us the building that had belonged

to the Union of Czechoslovak-Soviet Friendship on the

corner of Wenceslas and Jungmann Square, the Spalicek

building. Here, everything seemed to be more real."