SPACE - BODY - FACE

The Language of the Theatre Poster I. / The Slovak Theatre Poster after 1989 (from the collections of Theatre Institute in Bratislava)

By The Theatre Institute

Festival poster, Festival Week of Czech and Slovak Theatre (1992) by Ján ZavarskýThe Theatre Institute

Many 20th century authors consider the poster to be “the superior medium” of graphic design. Besides, posters always communicate several messages and become the source of information about all kinds of human activities.

Each poster has its own story – some stories may be banal, while others are extraordinary. Be that as it may, they always speak about people and their place in society. There are hundreds of stories depicted on theatre posters – and they relate to the stories of their authors, their plays, the creators of theatre art, as well as audiences and theatres themselves.

Production poster, William Shakespeare: The Tempest (2000) by Dušan JunekThe Theatre Institute

What makes an excellent theatre poster? Is it a punchline, emotion, atmosphere, expression relevant for the production, visual quality, or important information?

Production poster, Klaus Pohl: Karate Billy Comes Home (1994) by Ľubomír LongauerThe Theatre Institute

SPACE

Space has always been a big issue in theatre. The restricted space of the stage has become the source of infinite staging solutions. Space has also fascinated creators of theatre posters because it entices them to transfer the 3D space of the theatre onto the 2D space of the poster.

Production poster, Hans Christian Andersen: The Little Mermaid (1991) by Peter ČisárikThe Theatre Institute

The cold, metaphysical space of the poster for the puppet production about a little mermaid from early 1990s expresses the dense atmosphere of the play in a single image. The stylized protagonist shown in slanted planes that define a vast space initially almost completely escapes our sight.

Production poster, Giacomo Puccini: Tosca (2000) by Milan Mikula, Peter JankůThe Theatre Institute

The tragic fate of the well-known dramatic heroine is implied using a red-coloured sky and the initials of her name. The outer area behind the barriers is only hinted at – a typical feature of many stage designs.

Production poster, Patrick Süskind: The Double Bass (1988) by Dušan JunekThe Theatre Institute

THE BODY

The portrayal of the body is an important element in theatre poster art. The classical 20th century poster was characteristic for bodies that were visually stylized and abstracted, representing not only the dramatic characters as such, but also their ideas and desires.

Production poster, Sławomir Mrożek: Tango (2008) by Tom CillerThe Theatre Institute

One of the functions of the theatre poster is to attract attention of potential spectators. Nudity on stage and on theatre posters can be an important tool to portray dramatic characters and situations, as well as to catch attention.

Production poster, STOKA Theatre: Eo Ipso (1994) by Matej Plekanec, Albert MarenčinThe Theatre Institute

Depicting protagonists on promotional materials might be in line with marketing principles; however, a sophisticated spectator does not need to see the actors’ portraits on the poster. 

A poster of the independent STOKA Theatre uses meta-meaning – it shows director and co-founder of the theatre Blaho Uhlár, the enfant terrible of Slovak theatre sitting majestically in an armchair. 

Production poster, Giacomo Puccini: Madame Butterfly (2007) by IQ Design Studio (Milan Machajdík, author of the photograph: Jakub Hauskrecht)The Theatre Institute

A popular motif of poster artists has been the combination of dramatic characters and theatrical artefacts. A striking artefact can dramatize a static picture and imply a growing conflict and future tragedy in the presented dramatic work.

Festival poster, Divadelná Nitra (1999) by Milan MikulaThe Theatre Institute

In a poster picture, fragments of the human body can be used as whole bodies. They allude to the physical character of the theatre and allow spectators to identify with actors. Body fragments always captivate potential audiences because the human brain tries to complete the parts that are incomplete in order to comprehend the visual stimuli.

Production poster, Jiří Voskovec – Jan Werich: The Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank (1991) by Tomáš BerkaThe Theatre Institute

A dynamic scene in which a horse’s mouth is licking a woman’s foot is cleverly using erotic symbols to hint at the play’s genre – a variation of vaudeville.

Production poster, Milan Uhde: The Collector (2002) by Pavol Bálik, Filip VančoThe Theatre Institute

THE FACE

The face is a specific part of the human body, an almost separate universe which the theatremakers use to express emotions and various mental states of the characters. Authors of theatre posters also love faces – they combine them with colours and typography to distinctly express the atmosphere and character of the play. 

Production poster, Franz Kafka: The Trial (1990) by Milan VeselýThe Theatre Institute

The facial expression of Franz Kafka, the author of the play, abstracted from an authentic photograph using the silkscreen technique, corresponds with the character and theme of the play. The poster thus communicates several messages at once – it captures the attention of those who like Kafka and the heavy atmosphere of his works.

Production poster, Václav Havel: Protest (1990) by Jozef Dóka Jr.The Theatre Institute

Another well-known playwright, Václav Havel, the first post-1989 President of Czechoslovakia, on a poster for his play. The graphic art alludes to a photograph published in a newspaper and both the portrait and text on the poster are reminiscent of a well-known anecdote from Czechoslovak history.

In socialist Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel was a dissident, a persona non grata, and a banned author. One of his friends made fun of the regime by publishing an ad in the principal communist daily – it featured Havel’s picture and the following text:

“On 5 October 1989, FERDINAND VANĚK of Malý Hrádek celebrated his birthday. His friends and colleagues would like to thank him for all the hard work he has done in his life and wish him good health and many professional achievements.”

Ferdinand Vaněk, of course, was the name of a character from Havel’s play Audience. The author of the poster used the date 5 October 1990, the date when the play Protest was staged in the Trnava Theatre.

Production poster, Viliam Klimáček: Eva Tatlin (1997) by Rastislav MichalíkThe Theatre Institute

Does the face of a fictitious heroine in a retro-allusion to Russian constructivism express both hope and fear?

Production poster, August Strindberg: A Dream Play (2000) by Pavol Bálik, Filip VančoThe Theatre Institute

An ambiguous female face behind a misty glass and the colourfulness typical for states of despondency and depression – that is how the author of the poster read the atmosphere of Strindberg’s A Dream Play, a title from his later period.

Production poster, William Shakespeare: Macbeth (2009) by Eva BrezinováThe Theatre Institute

The blending of two faces, one male and one female, is as worrisome as the fragments of their figures. The mind of a potential spectator tries to find out which face is more expressive – that is how the poster keeps the viewer’s attention.

Production poster, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol: Dead Souls (1988) by Tomáš BerkaThe Theatre Institute

The eye, “a window to the soul” is perhaps the most outstanding feature of the face. The multiplied eyes in the poster for Gogol’s classic Dead Souls suffice to imply the “crushed” souls.

Production poster, Molière: Don(a) Juan(a) (2001) by Ľubomír LongauerThe Theatre Institute

The eye, as the most important organ of any visual artist, is assigned a surprising place. Theatre posters, as well as staging of dramatic works in general, often rely on paradoxes, surprises, or unexpected punchlines.

Production poster, Thomas Bernhard: The Ignoramus and the Madman (2005) by Slavomír FondrkThe Theatre Institute

Metaphorically speaking, playwrights conduct an anatomical dissection of their dramatic characters. The author of the poster uses an anatomical light probe to allude to the professions of the protagonists – a soprano singer and a surgeon.

Production poster, Roland Schimmelpfennig: The Woman Before (2009) by Emil DrličiakThe Theatre Institute

A woman’s head, or rather the head of a spectre from the past, or an alien. At any rate, the face feels strange, foreign, non-human. The author of this piercing and distinctly visual poster composed it with mathematical accuracy, cleverly balancing on the edge of symmetry and asymmetry.

Production poster, Eugène Ionesco: The Bald Soprano (1991) by Milan VeselýThe Theatre Institute

A worrying combination of facial features, a winged English clock, the space behind an apartment door, and leaping typography. An observant theatre spectator can easily put these fragments together to assemble a work of theatre of the absurd.

Production poster, Edmond Rostand: Cyrano (1993) by Boris KudličkaThe Theatre Institute

The famous nose belongs to a famous actor. The author of the poster combined a typical Cyrano-esque motif with the portrait of comedian Milan Lasica – an actor who is very well-known in Slovakia.

Production poster, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (2009) by IQ Design Studio (Jakub Hauskrecht)The Theatre Institute

The double portrait of actresses alternating in the main role of the Slovak National Theatre’s production does much more than just meeting the marketing requirement to show star performers who are known to theatre audience. The tension between the image of Anna Karenina and her reflection in the mirror – another, real woman – alludes to the drama itself.

Credits: Story

The Language of the Theatre Poster I.
The Slovak Theatre Poster after 1989 (from the collections of Theatre Institute in Bratislava) 
Author: Mária Beňačková Rišková 
Slovak proofreading: Mária Kvaššayová 
English translation: Ivan Lacko 
Editors: Vladislava Fekete, Dominika Zaťková 
Production: Marko Popović

The Theatre Institute has made all possible efforts to identify the authors of the graphic or photographic works used in this publication, as well as to obtain legal permission for their use. If you are the holder of the rights to any of the works used herein, please contact the Theatre Institute: du@theatre.sk.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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