NEVER AT REST! is a new permanent exhibition by the Alfa Theatre at the Puppet Museum in Pilsen. It consists of fourteen original exhibits that map and preserve in live form the puppetry of artist Ivan Nesveda and his colleagues from 1990 to 2020.
Ivan Nesveda was born on 11 May 1959 in Cheb. His family had moved to the town from Brno in 1953 under a law whereby specialists were required to move to certain places in accordance with the needs of the state. Thanks to the fact that his father worked in the theatre, Ivan gained his first role at the age of two, playing a baby in a pram in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. At the age of twelve he had his biggest role to date, this time a speaking one, as the farmer’s son in Josef Topol’s Midnight Wind. However, he was not overly attracted to the stage and acting. He far preferred to spend his time in the magical realm of the prop room, wardrobe, dressing room and wings. He discovered puppet theatre through the amateur puppet scene in Cheb and later Františkovy Lázně, and above all through the puppets of Jaroslav Král and Gustav Nosek; the latter lived and worked in Cheb until 1974. In the border regions, with their specific character, he had developed and trained as an artist from nursery school onwards at extracurricular art school (painting and graphic art techniques under the guidance of Věra Rajtmajerová and sculpture with Vladimír Relich). On the recommendation of Miroslav Cygan, the set designer at the West Bohemian Theatre in Cheb, Ivan sat the entrance exams for the Secondary School of Applied Art in the Prague district of Žižkov. He got in, but to study not set design, for which he had originally applied, but the making of toys and small decorative items. This was a programme led by the distinctive teacher, painter, sculptor and graphic designer Jaroslav Bartoš, who encouraged his students towards a degree of creativity that was unusual for the time. Ivan’s graduation project was a tabletop puppet theatre, and he has lived under the spell of puppets ever since. Immediately after graduating in June 1978 he started to work in Pilsen’s Alfa Theatre as a technician and carver. It was here that he met Vladimír Čada, Blanka Luňáková, Miroslav Pokorný, Tomáš Dvořák, and above all the Alfa Theatre’s then dramaturg and director, Karel Makonj. It was he, Ivan says, who had the greatest influence on his view of dramatic work and his gradually developing creative method. He continued to work with the Alfa Theatre even when he took up a place at DAMU theatre school to study under Václav Kábrt. While a student at DAMU, from 1979 to 1983, Ivan Nesveda worked with the Drak Theatre in Hradec Králové, where together with Zdeněk Říha he created his first professional set for the production The Evil Goat (1981). At the Alfa Theatre he and Pavel Vašíček created the set for the production The Treasure of the Old Hag Frowny (1983) and at the Puppet Theatre in Ostrava he created his graduation project, A Story Like a Caress (1982), directed by Irena Křehlíková. On graduating he started to work at the same theatre, again as a technician and carver, and as a set designer he created sets for the plays The Treasure of the Old Hag Frowny (1983) and Ruslan and Ludmila (1984). After military service he returned to the Alfa Theatre in Pilsen to work as a technician again, later as a stage artist and head of set design. During this period he worked on productions with renowned directors, for example with Markéta Schartová on The Three Beauties of the World (1990), Pavel Polák on Daddy, Well Done! (1993), and Anna Vášová on The Prince and the Pauper (1988) and Guignol in Paris (1989). It was at this time that his widest-ranging working relationship started, with Tomáš Dvořák (first abroad and later on a wide number of productions at the Alfa). A specific part of Ivan’s work consists of his work with Vladimír Čada and Milada Nuslová – Problems with Fun (1988) and The Lovers from the Box (1991). Since then Ivan Nesveda has been one of the pivotal employees of the Alfa Theatre, with two breaks when he taught at the art school in Nýřany and the secondary school of applied arts Zámeček in Pilsen. He has also worked with other puppet theatres, however, both at home and abroad, including in Prague, Kladno, Liberec, Dresden, Szczecin and Košice. In the early 1990s he met Jiří Fiala and started to work with the puppet theatre V Boudě (In the Hut), of which he was one of the founder members. It was for this theatre that he wrote his first play, Jossile Golem (1993). He has written ten plays to date, of which five have been produced at the Alfa Theatre – The Lonely Giant (2004), That Mrs. Myšuta (2006), Birch Beauty (2010), The Knight Wynda and the Bewitched Markéta (2012) and The Stubborn Princess (2018).
Ivan Nesveda has created numerous interesting productions, including, in Liberec, the plays The Headless Knight (1993), Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (1994), The Beautiful Fireman, or Fire in the National Theatre (2005) and Swan Lake (2009). In Pilsen, where he creates the unmistakeable style of the Alfa Theatre, he designed the set for the plays A Star Appeared Over Bethlehem (1990), Goldenhair (1993), Tom Thumb and Long Tom (1996), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1997), Chief Evening Breeze, or the Gruesome Banquet (1998), Rikki-tikki-tavi (2001), Love Saves All (2002), Tonka the Gallows (2003), The Three Musketeers (2006), Punch and the Indians (2007), Royal Poker or the Black God and the Israelites (2010), The Gingerbread House (2011), Granny Sheep’s Stories (2014), The Doctor in Spite of Himself (2016) and The Stubborn Princess (2018). In 2019, together with director Tomáš Dvořák, he created the grand-scale adventure comedy Look Out, Zorro! (2019).
Ivan Nesveda has won a number of awards for his productions at both home and abroad, for example at the Zagreb International Festival of Puppet Theatres, PIF, and at the International Festival of Children’s Theatre in Subotica, Serbia (for the production Punch and the Indians, 2007). The hand puppet grotesque The Three Musketeers won the Alfa Theatre almost thirty accolades, including two nominations for an Alfréd Radok Award and the Audience Prize at the international festival of contemporary puppet theatre for children and adults Bábkarská Bystrica. The production also brought the company an ERIK, the highest award in the field at the festival One Flew over the Puppeteer’s Nest. A number of productions on which Nesveda has worked have won awards at the Mateřinka festival in Liberec, the Skupa’s Pilsen festival and the Child in Dlouhá Street festival. Productions on which Nesveda has worked on have also travelled abroad. The play The Lonely Giant (2003) was performed at a workshop for amateur puppeteers in the Japanese city of Takasaki, and the successful production of The Three Musketeers played to audiences around the world. In 2009 photographic portraits of the puppets from the Alfa Theatre were exhibited at the International Festival of Puppet Theatre and Film in Tel Aviv, Israel. Artist Jan Rauner presented the work of various Czech set designers and artists, including Ivan Nesveda.
In 2020 a permanent exhibition of Ivan Nesveda’s work was opened at the Puppet Museum in Pilsen, although the author himself is not too keen on the idea of exhibiting his puppets. He believes that in a passive display puppets lose their purpose, which is only functional in the context of a dramatic work. Ivan Nesveda has tried to overcome this difficulty by creating kinetic scenes, in which viewers set the puppets in motion themselves using ingenious mechanisms. The second floor of the Puppet Museum as a result now houses something that the author describes as “Ivan’s Ark”, where visitors can see excerpts from 14 of Ivan Nesveda’s productions. We believe that the exhibition will be enjoyed by both child and adult visitors, and that the puppets on display will thus be NEVER AT REST!