Keys to the kingdom

- March 24, 2009

A view from the classroom window in Castle Cesky Krumlov. (Photo courtesy Peter Perina)

It’s not just the classes, which are cool and take place in a Bohemian castle. It’s simply … everything.

For the past five years, Dalhousie’s Department of Theatre has been offering students a chance to study abroad in the Czech Republic by taking Advanced Seminar in Baroque Culture (THEA 4735). Students take classes in Castle ?eský Krumlov, UNESCO World Heritage Site about 180 kilometres from Prague.

“I think it’s Dal’s best-kept secret,” says Antony Dobrzensky, a fourth-year student in the acting program. “If more students knew about it, they’d be banging down the theatre department’s door.”

SEE PHOTOS: Living, breathing history

The class is ideally suited to students in the summer before their third or fourth year of study. While offered through the Department of Theatre, the class cross-listed in history class and, for the first time, music. This year, it will be taught by theatre professor Peter Perina, history professor Gregory Hanlon and music professor Adrian Hoffman.

Students are expected to do all the usual things they would for any summer class; they attend lectures, do research and write an exam, but besides all that, they’ll attend a Renaissance fair in costume, take in an international conference on Baroque theatre and spend three days in romantic Prague, sightseeing and going to the opera.

Besides all that, they’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the castle’s Baroque theatre courtesy of Prof. Perina, who first worked at the castle as a scenography student in the 1960s. Since that time, he’s maintained a strong connection with ?eský Krumlov as the Chair of the  Baroque Theatre Foundation and as a board member of Perspectiv, an association of historic theatres in Europe.

“This is an unusual opportunity for students, to learn about this history while being totally immersed in it,” says Prof. Perina, who has worked at Dalhousie since 1972.

The castle’s theatre—“a gem in the crown of theatre heritage on our planet,” says Prof. Perina— is one of only two court theatres that still survive in Europe from the Baroque era. The theatre has been preserved, complete with its original stage machinery, scenery, props and costumes.

“The whole place is like Disneyland—Baroque Disney,” says Mr. Dobrzensky with a laugh. “And Peter has the keys to every door in the magical kingdom. He takes you to see everything.”

On one occasion, relates Mr. Dobrzensky, Prof. Perina brought the students to a secret garden high atop the castle to watch the fireworks capping off the Five Petal Rose Celebrations, the renaissance festival that involves the entire town of 600 residents. “It was the most amazing view. We felt like feudal lords looking down from our castle,” he laughs.

The class is being held in the month of June, with travel at the end of May. Based on the value of the Euro, the class is expected to cost about $4,000, including tuition, air fare, accomodations and entry fees.

“It’s so interesting to experience history when it’s all around you, ” says Lara Mattison, a student of scenography. While she recommends the class, she also cautions students to “expect that things can change.”

'Unhappy day'

The castle theatre. (Photo courtesy of Peter Perina)

Befitting a castle of its age—the original structure was founded by the Lords of Krumlov some time before 1250— the halls, courtyards and cellars ?eský Krumlov abound with stories of ghosts.

The castle theatre is no exception; it’s haunted by Evelyna, “a beautiful virgin” of a long-ago visiting group of players.

“She fell in love with a leading man called David, but unfortunately the love was unrequited,” according to The Tales and Legends of ?eský Krumlov Castle. “During the last act of the play, poor Evelyna stabbed herself in the chest and died on the stage. It was impossible to wash the blood off the boards, and for a long time the stain was a reminder of the unhappy day.”


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