Puppet theaters demand their independence

Slovakia's regional puppet theaters, united in their wish to regain legal independence they enjoyed before July 1996, are contesting the government over its installing regional superintendents to monitor the theaters' activites. The wave of dissatisfaction erupted on February 13, when the puppet theater in Nitra went on strike. Since then, the puppet ensembles in Žilina and Banská Bystrica have ceased performing, citing the same conflicts with their regional superintendents.
The Nitra puppeteers want to be separated from the Ponitrianske kultúrne centrum (Nitra Regional Cultural Center - PKC), which took control over the theater's administration last summer. The last straw was the firing of the Nitra theater's director Karol Spišák by Miloš Bačo, the regional superintendent.

Slovakia's regional puppet theaters, united in their wish to regain legal independence they enjoyed before July 1996, are contesting the government over its installing regional superintendents to monitor the theaters' activites. The wave of dissatisfaction erupted on February 13, when the puppet theater in Nitra went on strike. Since then, the puppet ensembles in Žilina and Banská Bystrica have ceased performing, citing the same conflicts with their regional superintendents.

The Nitra puppeteers want to be separated from the Ponitrianske kultúrne centrum (Nitra Regional Cultural Center - PKC), which took control over the theater's administration last summer. The last straw was the firing of the Nitra theater's director Karol Spišák by Miloš Bačo, the regional superintendent.

"We have a state superintendant who is supposed to guide us and lead us. But what he's doing isn't helping us at all," said Marcel Nevín, a member of the strike committee in Nitra. "When we were on a tour in Moscow in December 1996, we couldn't sign a contract with the theater there because [Bačo] was not there with us. We actually signed a contract with the puppet theater in St. Petersburg [for them to come to Slovakia], but Bačo tore it into two pieces, and said they would not perform in our theater."

Neither the ministry nor the regional superintendant has addressed the problem, Nevín said. "The ony thing we can do is go on strike and not perform," Nevín said. Bačo declined repeated attempts to be interviewed for this story.

Supervisory shift

The puppet theaters were moved under regional superintendents when parliament ratified the government's plan to set up eight regional administrative centers across the country. Only regional superintendents have the power to approve plays, budget, and sign contracts, all aspects of the theaters' activities.

"The first reason we went on strike is to support the puppet theater in Nitra," said Peter Sagan, a dramaturgist at the puppet theater in Žilina . "We don't have legal independence. We want to be taken out of the regional cultural center." "What happened in Nitra can happen anywhere," said Andrej Šamaj, a member of the local strike committee at the Banská Bystrica puppet theater. "The puppet theaters are being moved under the regional cultural centers, which is not what we want. We want our legal independence."

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