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ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
3. 6. 2004

Mezi ploty: Breaking down Fences for Thirteen Years

Spring and summer is the customary festival season in the Czech Republic: there is the famous Prague Spring festival, the newly established theatre and music festival at Vyšehrad and, there are, of course, many music festivals. The last weekend in May is traditionally reserved for the Mezi ploty theatre and music festival held at Bohnice mental hospital in the North of Prague (where it culminates after stops at hospitals in Brno and Dobřany near Plze-ň). The festival can pride itself on its continuity and relative longevity in the context of cultural festivals: This year Mezi ploty took place for an astonishing thirteenth time, defying feared cuts in the national cultural budget on the one hand and warning voices about the demise of Central European culture on the other (see the article by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian HERE).

However, continuity is only one reason why the festival is worth a closer look. It is above all its concept that sets Mezi ploty apart from similar cultural enterprises. The event was established to bring to people's attention -- with the help of music, theatre and sculpture -- the topic of mental disease, often demonised and ignored in a society that requires its members to be superhumanly fit, healthy and intelligent. The title Mezi ploty can be loosely translated as `inside the fence'. The deliberate ambiguity allows for a wide range of interpretations, as explains the Czech minister of culture, Pavel Dostál, in his address in the festival newspaper. Dostál speaks of fences as defining a garden in which to recover from the hustle and bustle of modern life but also as a restrictive barrier that perhaps should be broken down and climbed over --the physical as well as the metaphorical fence in our heads. The latter idea is most likely the one the organisers had in mind back in 1992: to overcome taboos and prejudices against mental disease and against those suffering from them. A number of artists participating in Mezi ploty were inspired to do so by their personal experiences of psychiatric wards, for instance Petr Fiala of Mňága a Žd'orp, who relates his stay at a similar institution in the festival newspaper. It goes without saying that Mezi ploty is a charity event; the artists perform for free and proceeds from ticket sales go to the hospital.

The weather wished the organisers well for the first time in 7 years: temperatures were soaring, and the audience was requested more than once to make sure of applying sun lotion and drinking abundantly -- which was perceived with a big cheer from the assembled crowd. (As I found out later, there was no alcohol on sale in the hospital grounds, for the sake of patients and visitors alike.)

Thanks to the fantastic weather an amazing 25,000 people watched over 150 theatre groups, bands and singers perform on eight theatre and 6 music stages. Stages for various different styles prominent on the Czech music scene were set up in the grounds: large ones for pop and rock music, smaller cafes for jazz, blues, folk and poetry as well as theatre and pantomime. Sponsors were naturally present as well, but not overbearingly so as is the case with many (commercial) festivals. A large number of food and book stalls, sellers of ceramics, T-shirts and knickknack created by the patients themselves rounded the overall peaceful picture. The many children present were kept busy painting and drawing, modelling clay, playing games, winning prizes or simply watching the action on the children's stage.

The festival programme was designed in a very democratic fashion: all artists had similar time slots of about 45 minutes; the "bigger" names played later in the day but interest was great overall. Theatre companies from Prague and the whole of the Czech Republic performed until early evening. The variety of genres on display atttracted a crowd as diverse as can only be at such a festival: as for music, there was punk rock and jazz, folk, blues and singer songwriters, rock, beat and gypsy music. Highlights were undoubtedly the performances of Dan Bárta, a recently very successful singer mixing jazz and pop, Slovak punks Horkýže Slíže and their compatriot, singer Jana Kirschner, as well as of rock bands Ready Kirken, Vypsaná fixa and Wohnout, singer songwriter Jiří Schmitzer and folk band Neřež, to name but a few. (Unfortunately, the author could not see all bands as they often performed simultaneously.)

The one feature that deserves harsh criticism was the abominable organisation of transport to and from Bohnice: buses were completely overcrowded and kept running on their weekend intervals. Therefore many people arrived late at the festival site, where procedures at the gate were also somewhat laborious and slow. The question remains why Prague Municipal Transport did not manage to run a special festival bus link as it did for the United Islands of Prague festival, which had its own bus link providing transport between the furthest points of the festival.

Next year will without doubt be challenging after this year's attendance record. The formula of Mezi ploty is very successful but it waits to be seen whether its original concept and relatively low price (230 in advance sale, 250 on the spot) will continue to attract the masses in a time of big competition for less money in the Czech cultural budget. Apart from possible financial pressures, the shifting focus from theatre towards music may well turn Mezi ploty into a genuine music festival. Thus it would lose its appeal and status as an arts festival-- a fact the average visitor perhaps will not regret but which would signal a loss in the wider concept of the festival. Maybe the critics` and pessimists` prophecies of the demise of Central European culture will come true. However, I am optimistic about the future of this as well as other Czech cultural festivals. After all, this year's festival has impressively proven that Mezi ploty has established itself as one of the most popular and best attended festivals in the Czech Republic.

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