The Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space was established in 1967 to bring the best of design for performance, scenography, and theatre architecture to the front line of cultural activities to be experienced by professional and emerging artists as well as the general public.

The Prague Quadrennial is globally known as a two-week event taking place every four years since 1967 in Prague, Czech Republic. This model has been evolving. More and more designers now understand PQ as a platform: a continual stream of activities and collaborations happening across the globe with many different partners, creative professionals, artists, researchers, and theorists. Each on-site festival of PQ is now a culmination of the efforts of the preceding 4 years: a celebration and an opportunity for performing arts professionals from around the world to come to one place and share their work, ideas, and thoughts during the quadrennial festival. We work towards making the 2023 edition once again an opportunity for many new and unique shared experiences.

While celebrating the diverse forms of performance design/scenography around the globe, the Prague Quadrennial strives to present it as an art form concerned with the creation of holistic performance environments, not just decorative backgrounds; these performative spaces creatively respond to current issues of our world, ask important questions, and invite us to participate in unique moments. Every four years, PQ’s central curatorial concept shapes the festival and offers its participants a fresh look at the artistic reflection of our times in performance designs and scenographies.

How do we see performance design/scenography?

Performance design/scenography today is often presented through live and immersive experiences, where all senses can be involved and the audience members take on an active role. We see performance design/scenography as an art form that goes beyond the visual, into experiential and sensorial realm with a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, giving creative expression to new ideas and experiments. Contemporary performance design/scenography is an art form within parameters of multi-sensory environments – creating worlds of sensations appealing to the imagination, the mind, as well as the sensory organs: the eye, the ear, the nose, the skin. Scenographic environments take on a life that by default eludes the designer’s grasp: no matter how carefully it is planned and executed, it is truly completed by the participants engaging with the designed space. Every creation, then, is impermanent and changeable; it is also visionary and volatile in that it works with, and rests on, many unknowns.

Performance design/scenography can occur in an unbounded range of environments: from the traditional theatre stages, through experimental performance venues, to any type of found sites and spaces – from urban to rural, industrial to landscape, interior or exterior, physical, virtual, or mixed. A growing amount of creative work comprises a variety of new media and involves various other professions and disciplines – in applied settings, as well as in innovative experimental formats. Performance design/scenography is more and more leaving behind thinking in creative compartments and the times when scenography fell into (often gender-specific) departments of set design and construction, costume design and wardrobe, lighting and sound designs, and prop making. While the industry sometimes still operates in these creative bubbles (and sometimes even vehemently protects them), the novel developments in performance design/scenography embrace a mind-boggling variety and diversity – interlinked, multidisciplinary collaborative practices that defy our conventional descriptions, terminologies, or even understanding. Present day practice of performance design/scenography is one of the most exciting art forms and creative domains – in the innovative, fresh and holistic ways of engaging their audiences, participants, and the public.

Performance design/scenography has evolved substantially and expanded far beyond established theatre conventions towards a wide variety of venues, sites, and spaces. Traditional theatre architecture – while firmly rooted at the heart of performance design/scenography – has, however, become a confining name for the riches of spatial practice. In response to these developments, PQ’s traditional program, Theatre Architecture Exhibition, has transformed into Performance Space Exhibition to include any type of space created or adapted as a performance venue. This space can be outside or inside, new architectural structure, or an adapted space that was created by a community. This is a step towards the inclusion of diverse creative practices in a variety of settings, environments, and cultures.

PQ’s journey from an exhibition to a festival

Since the beginning of PQ in the late 1960s until about the turn of the millennium, exhibitions of models, sketches of designs, performance photographs presented the international developments in scenography were central to the Prague Quadrennial Exhibitions. These formats still remain excellent resources that map the minds and open the door to the imagination of their creators. On the other hand, these formats capture only one part of the creative process and performative art work: models, drawings, and photographs sometimes tell us little about the environment, circumstances, emotions, and overall atmosphere of the performance. Naturally, the one way to present scenography in its genuine form, comprising all of its parts, including audience participation, is to experience it live – or to present it in action, in performative settings and curatorial environments that create or recreate its operations.

Since 2003, more and more countries have been bringing exhibitions that included performative elements, drew the viewer into new imaginary spaces, and turned audiences into active participants. The festival that gradually emerged around the main exhibitions from these impulses has grown in size and popularity. Both of these developments opened PQ to other art professions and showed the multidisciplinary nature of performance design/scenography.

The 2023 edition will recognize the need to experience performance design/scenography in its performative format: live and with audience engagement. Our recognition of these predominant trends has led us to rename PQ a festival rather than an exhibition.

The last PQ took place in 2019

In 2015, PQ received an EU EFFE (Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe) prize as one of the most innovative festivals in Europe. In the last edition of PQ, in 2019, the festival and live performances made up a majority of all PQ activities.

The 14th edition of the largest international festival of theatre and stage design took place from 6th to 16th June 2019 on the Prague Exhibition Grounds premises and elsewhere in Prague. During those 11 days, the PQ locations drew some 70,000 viewers. 8,005 professionals, students and other active participants from 106 countries accredited for the main part of the program consisting of exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and performances.

Written by Markéta Fantová, Barbora Příhodová, Pavel Drábek.