The Court Theatre at Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov Stage
Wednesday, September 1, 2004 - 12:00am

Mohler, Frank. "The Court Theatre at Cesky Krumlov and its Machinery " [forthcoming]

Cesky Krumlov is a small town in southern Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The second largest castle in Bohemia overlooks the town, which was ruled by the Rosenberg and Schwarenberg families. Performances began in the castle as early as 1666, but the surviving theatre opened in1768. The theatre survives with machinery for the wing change, border change, backdrop change, traps & elevators, a flying machine, wave machine, footlights and wing lights.

The Theatre

There are four levels within the stage house:

  • The stage proper with a raked floor containing a prompter's hood, an extensive trap system, slots for the wing trolleys, footlights, and proscenium doors,
  • The sub-stage area (trap room) with machinery for raising the footlights, machinery for moving the scenic wings and the elevators,
  • The lower gallery with axles for raising and lowering the borders,
  • The upper gallery with axles for raising and lowering the borders and border lights, winches for raising and lowering the front curtain and drops, and tracks for the flying machine.

The Wing Change

The wing change uses a variation of the mechanised system found in many theatres in the 17th and eighteenth centuries. Five sets of tracks are located in the substage area on each side of the stage. Wheeled wing trolleys ride in the tracks and extend up through slots in the stage floor. There are three wing frames in the first three sets of tracks and four wing frames in the last two sets of tracks. The offstage ends of the wing frames are connected together with a rope that passes around a pulley. This allows one wing to be pulled offstage as the other is pulled onstage.

Trolleys in the first four sets of tracks are connected to a long central axle with winch handles. centered in the substage area; the trolleys in the fifth set of tracks are connected to a separate winch. When

the axle or winch is turned, the trolleys (and the wings attached) are pulled on or off stage.

The Border Change

There are three sets of border axles; one with winch handles on the lower gallery and two on the upper gallery with drums. The borders are brailed. The brailed border would be raised as a unit to the overhead grid. Each set of borders was attached to one of the axles mounted at the side of the stage. The axles were turned by a rope wrapped around a drum or the winch handles.

The back drops and the front curtain were also brailed. The brailing lines lead to one of the many large winches located on the upper gallery.

Backdrop and Front Curtain Change

There are a series of winches along each side of the upper catwalks. These winches are used primarily for brailing the backdrops and the front curtain. Each curtain has a series of small rings sewn into the back of the drop. a series of cords are attached to the bottom batten and run through the rings to a rubrail (polished hardwood board used in lieu of a pulley) and to a winch. As the winch is turned the cords are pulled gathering the drop like an Austrian drape.

Traps and Elevators

Most of the stage floor at Cesky Krumlov is trapped. In the "streets" between the banks of wings, the trap covers side to the side. Hinged trap covers are used between the "streets."

There are three elevators on SL and one on SR. Counterweights are used to assist the stagehands operating the elevators.

Wave Machine

A sea scene could be created by the use of wave machine consisting of a rotating axle with arms with small wheels on their ends. When the device was covered with a painted cloth and rotated, the arms press against the cloth and create the effect of moving waves.

Flying Machine

The flying machine at Cesky Krumlov was capable of horizontal, vertical, or diagonal flight patterns. A rolling cart rides across the tracks that connect the galleries at each side of the stage on the upper level. The cart contains a winch from which the performer's seats are suspended. The cart can be pulled from side to side using the large winches at the ends of the track. [A large beam installed in the 19th century prohibits the cart from being pulled all the way across the stage today.]

A variety of flights are possible using the device. Horizontal flight is achieved by pulling the cart across the tracks using a winch.

Vertical flight is achieved by using the winch on the cart.

Diagonal flight is achieved by pulling the cart across the tracks while using the winch on the cart.

The Lighting

The lighting equipment at Cesky Krumlov consists of footlights that can be lowered below the stage floor, lighting boards that can be installed behind each set of wings, and border light frames that can be raised or lowered.

Boards with lights can be hung on the back of the wing trolleys. There are two hooks at the top of the boards allowing the boards to be positioned to shine onstate or offstage.

The footlights are mounted on the top element of a parallelogram frame. The winch controls the height of the framework allowing the lights to be raised to stage level or lowered below the stage.

Although they are not rigged at this time, two axles are mounted in the center of the stage house and could be rigged to raise and lower frames with lights behind each set of borders.

Special thanks to Peter Perina. The research for this material was assisted by a travel grant from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.

Cesky Krumlov Plans
Cesky Krumlov Wing Change Axle, Photo By Pavel Slavko
Cesky Krumlov Border Axle
Cesky Krumlov Wave Machine
Cesky Krumlov Flying Machine

the development of scenice spectacle


usittThis material is made possible, in part, by a grant from the New Initiatives Fund, United States Institute for Theatre Technology and by grants from the University Research Council, Cratis D. Williams Graduate School, Appalachian State University.


Dr. Frank Mohler
Department of Theatre & Dance
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

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