A Short History of The Bear Educational Theatre

This is the story of the theatre from 1996 to now.

by David Fisher

The Bear Educational Theatre is the longest-running professional English Theatre in Central and Eastern Europe. Over the last 27 years it has performed literally thousands of live theatre shows for tens of thousands of students. This is the story of how the theatre went from its first show in 1996 to where it is now.

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The First Shows

The Bear Theatre officially started back in November 1996 with the production of a short play called The Bear by Anton Chekhov. At that point I was a practising teacher and an amateur actor. A friend who was a professional actor (David Nykl) directed the show and I prepared materials to make it student-friendly. At that time it was a one-off hobby project but I found it very satisfying and decided to do it again. The next year I did another short play, The Man With a Flower in his Mouth by Pirandello. This was played twenty or thirty times.

At that time I was happy to act, but was not confident about directing or writing my own shows. The next projects were still collaborations, The Pied Piper of Hamelin with Leah Gaffen and Laura Zam, then Romeo and Juliet with John Heckel. After that I worked with Nika Štěpánková in Brno on her show for young learners The Magic School. Then I finally had the confidence to write and direct my first piece, an adaptation of the short story The Rocking Horse Winner by D.H.Lawrence. This show was special in many ways. It was the first show that I wrote and directed, the first show to tour out of Prague and the first time that I acted with Lenka Nováková, now Lenka Fisherová, my constant partner in the theatre as well as in life.

Becoming Popular

In the year 2000 the theatre was working under the organization Dum Deti a Mladeze in Prague and we produced a number of shows there that are still very popular in the repertoire today. They were Jackie and the Giant, Jackie and The Horrible Family, The Detectives, and The Alien Grammar Show. The popularity of these shows gave the theatre the stability it needed to grow. Tours became a regular thing and we were soon playing in Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary as well as all over the Czech Republic. We also had our first shows in the Reduta Theatre in Prague where we still play regularly today.

Busy Times

The busiest period of the theatre was from 2009 to 2017. There were a total of 15 different shows on the repertoire and we would typically play over 700 shows a year with three different teams playing every day, This included 10-12 week tours of France and Poland. It was chaotic and exhausting, but also very satisfying. A lot time was spent training new actors and dealing with one crisis after another, cars breaking down, actors getting ill, etc. But this was also the period that gave us the most experience and taught us how very effective educational theatre can be.

Covid Times

And then of course in 2019 it stopped, very suddenly. We were playing two days back to back in the same school in Poland. After the first day we were told that we could not play there the next day.

Covid was a difficult time for everybody. Schools closed and classes went online. We had to stop travelling and playing in schools and we essentially lost everything, We had to sell the cars, the actors had to find other work and we hardly played in-person shows for one and a half years.

Some good things did come out of that time though. We became familiar with zoom and learned how to play live shows online. We developed an excellent and original online program for schools, which we also really enjoyed producing. We got fantastic feedback for this program from the schools that we played for, but it was difficult to make any money from it at that difficult time.

Where We Are Now

In some ways we are still recovering from covid in the sense that our team of actors is smaller than before and we are still building back the contacts and the reputation that we had before. We have just one car (not three) and no cash reserves. On the other hand it is a very positive time. Our smaller team is very good indeed and we are producing extremely good-quality work. We are also in a position to build on the experience of the covid days and develop our online programs. So while we are a smaller organization than we were seven years ago, we are clearly also wiser. The new shows are more ambitious than ever before and I think we are ready to produce something quite special. So please watch this space, and thank you for being part of the journey!

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