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Theatres face uncertain future

Under a long-term plan to decentralise the activities of Slovakia's culture ministry, most state theatres in Slovakia will be transferred from the administration of the ministry to the country's regional offices as of July 1.
Culture ministry officials maintain that the transition will provide theatres with more independence from the state and give them greater opportunities to get funding from sources other than the state budget. But many theatre professionals are criticising the plan as solely an administrative change which does not get to the root of the budgetary crisis of many independent theatres in Slovakia.


This theatre in Nitra is one of hundreds which will soon be administered by regional officials.
TASR

Under a long-term plan to decentralise the activities of Slovakia's culture ministry, most state theatres in Slovakia will be transferred from the administration of the ministry to the country's regional offices as of July 1.

Culture ministry officials maintain that the transition will provide theatres with more independence from the state and give them greater opportunities to get funding from sources other than the state budget. But many theatre professionals are criticising the plan as solely an administrative change which does not get to the root of the budgetary crisis of many independent theatres in Slovakia.

Under the administration of Ivan Hudec, who served as Culture Minister in the past cabinet of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, all state culture institutions, including theatres, were administered by the regional culture centers, which were established for this purpose.

Hudec's steps were harshly criticized by both political opposition and theatre professionals, who said the system created a huge bureaucratic machine of state administrators, most of whom were political friends of the Mečiar regime.

In December 1998, the new Culture Minister Milan Kňažko announced that the end of the 'Regional Culture Centers' and said that state culture and art organizations would go under direct administration of regional offices and the Ministry.

The move is being criticised by the Association of Independent Theatres in Slovakia, said Blaho Uhlár, director of a small Bratislava fringe stage called Stoka and a spokesman of the group. He claims that "the Ministry will hand over powers to incompetent people at the regional offices, but this won't solve the biggest problem which is money."


The independent Stoka theatre would like to see some state funds.
photo: Courtesy Stoka Theatre

"This is pure cowardice of the Ministry, they're just trying to get rid of their responsibility and throw it on someone else's shoulders," he added.

Uhlár's main complaint is that the state distributes money to the theatres not on a basis of the artistic quality but "on a basis of principles established by Bolsheviks from the previous regime, which leads to corruption and stealing of the state property in the biggest state theatres."

Uhlár said that Stoka currently faced up to 600,000 crowns indebtedness due to unbearable financial demand on the maintenance of the theatre building and taxes.

"The state acts like a careless Mafia group. We don't get anything from it but they still ask for money, and this policy will soon bring us to our knees," he said.

Nová Scéna, Bratislava-based musical and dance theatre, is another theatre with gross financial problems. Its management is considering cutting the staff to make the theatre survive.

Nová Scéna's new director, Marek Ťapák, announced in late March that the theatre would have to fire the theatre's orchestra, claiming that, given the economic situation, the theatre cannot afford to keep the band as it only performs up to eight times a month.

"Even with sold out shows, the theatre faces a loss up to 1.2 million [Slovak] crowns a month, and the loss is still growing," Ťapák told journalists at a March 31 press conference in Bratislava.

Ťapák suggested that the theatre would rather employ freelance musicians for the musical performances than have full-time employed orchestra, services of which were not fully used.

Vlado Černý, director of Astorka Theatre, a popular Bratislava theatre, said he was rather sceptical about the Ministry's decision. "It was just a half step, and now no one know what is going to happen, because there is just a lack of money at the Ministry as it is at the Regional Offices," Černý said.

Černý said he is concerned that the regional offices, which will be responsible for distributing the money from the state budget to particular theatres, will not use the money for the proper tasks and instead channel it elsewhere.

"We want the Ministry to secure that the money budgeted for particular theatres will only be available for the theatres, so that the Regional Offices would not be able to use them in a different way," Černý said. "This change in the theater administration idoesn't take into account that in the current situation many theatres are on the verge of survival," he added.

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