Inclusive arts festival in its 20th unique year
If someone was to suggest organizing a party in the grounds of a psychiatric institute, you’d be forgiven for conjuring a particular scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Yet for the past 20 years, Prague’s Mezi ploty (“Between Fences”) has grown to become a peerless celebration of diversity and inclusivity, and an inimitable addition to the country’s festival calendar.
The music and theater weekender, which takes place May 28 and 29 at the gardens of Psychiatrická léčebna in Bohnice – the largest psychiatric facility in the Czech Republic – will feature more than 100 musical ensembles and theater companies. As every year, patients from the hospital will mingle with other festivalgoers.
“Tell me what you think the difference is between a patient and a festival attendee,” challenges Mezi ploty Director Robert Kozel. “If you share my view that everyone who attends is a spectator, a listener, an art lover, then you’d feel at home among the Mezi ploty people.”
Kozel recalls a time in the early ’90s when the grounds of the Bohnice hospital were closed to the public, something that reminded him of the Berlin Wall.
“The place was enclosed by a long fence, separating the life within the institution from the life outside the fence,” Kozel says. “That we know now that the world outside the hospital is crazier than the world inside is just a sad reminder of the nature of our ‘amazingly normal’ reality.”
Among the plethora of acts at this year’s Mezi ploty is Roma rap outfit Gipsy.cz, who have won plaudits across the world. Among their accolades, Gipsy.cz can claim to be the first Czech band to play the Glastonbury Festival. Recently back from a tour of Australia, front man Radoslav Banga, who grew up as a street kid in Prague, still cites the city as an important place for Gipsy.cz to return to.
“The Czech hip-hop scene is small but strong. We have one of the best crowds in the world; lots of very famous American artists are still returning here because of this,” Banga tells The Prague Post. “This is not the first time we are going to play at Mezi ploty, and I always enjoy it. It is a great festival with meaning. To have the chance to enjoy things is important, no matter what situations we’re in as people.”
In Mezi ploty, the Czechs have an event that is globally unique; the only other known festival of its kind is September’s Babí léto (Indian Summer), which also takes place at the Bohnice hospital. It’s perhaps ironic, then, how such a unique concept came about in the first instance.
“Thinking about it now, I would call the whole thing a miracle,” Kozler says. “I was running to the opening of an exhibition I’d organized called Nová situace. It had started a good while before without me present. I was looking for an excuse that would have justified why, as the event’s creator, I was not there.”
And then, he says, the idea for Mezi ploty struck him.
Sto zvířat The 10-piece ska outfit – who had their friends smuggle them in Madness records before 1989 – are ideal for an early afternoon jig. May 28 at 2:45
Tam-Tam Orchestra If the sun’s shining, you’ll want to soak it up along with Tam-Tam Orchestra’s fusion of African, Brazilian and Cuban rhythms, May 28 at 7
Gipsy.cz Banga’s boys play tracks from their new album, Desperado. Expect beats, attitude and the occasional fiddle solo. May 29 at 1:30
BraAgas First stop for all your medieval music needs. Among BraAgas’ instrumental canon are bagpipes, shawms, chalumeaux and goblet drums. May 29 at 2
The Plastic People of the Universe Freak out to the groovy psychedelia of Prague’s original underground legends. Zappa beards and hairdos optional. May 29 at 6:30