- Title: CZECH REPUBLIC: Underground rock group reunite for Tom Stoppard play in Prague
- Date: 19th November 2009
- Summary: THEATRE AUDIENCE LISTENING PLASTIC PEOPLE PLAYING
- Embargoed: 4th December 2009 12:00
- Location: Czech Republic
- Country: Czech Republic
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA9RJX6BYNWXYUHJESMBLPD7U4J
- Story Text: Underground rock group Plastic People of the Universe reflect on the post-communist Czech experience, as they perform at Prague's National Theatre.
Legendary Czech underground rock group Plastic People of the Universe, founded during the communist regime in 1968, have been reunited to perform as part of a Tom Stoppard play.
Stoppard's Rock n Roll looks at the so called Prague Spring of 1968, and Plastic People become an important measure of societal normality for the main character, a young music fan.
Plastic People of the Universe were inspired by the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa (whose song Plastic People was the inspiration for their name). They became hugely popular in Czechoslovakia and beyond.
The band itself was nonconformist and refused to compromise, which brought them into conflict with the communist regime.
During the Communist party's so called 'normalisation' strategy in 1973, the 'Plastics' lost their official artists' licence which put a stop to their public performances.
In 1976 several band members were arrested and put on trial by the government, to make an example of them. They were convicted of "organised disturbance of the peace" and sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 18 months.
This led to the birth of a resistance movement, led by playwright and leading dissident Vaclav Havel, which campaigned for their release.
In January 1977 the movement produced 'Charter 77' a document that directly opposed the normalisation policies. This brought the anti-communist opposition together under an umbrella organisation.
Plastic People went on to co-produce with Havel, and the group made illegal recordings at Havel's summer house at Hradecek.
Today, the band says performing in Tom Stoppard's play "Rock n Roll" is a high point in its career. The 'Plastics' play the audience into their seats and they are raised onto the stage for the grand finale of the play.
The National Theatre is a poignant venue for the band, as Bass Guitar player, Eva Turnova explained.
''Playing in the National Theatre is a great achievement for the boys, because it was here that people were signing the 'Anticharta' in the seventies. Just now I have seen footage of hundreds of artist at the time signing the document, that was sad,'' said Turnova.
Despite their clashes with the government, the musicians never considered themselves activists and always claimed that they wanted only to play their music.
''The 'Plastics' were nothing illegal. Underground is not a style or a philosophy. It was simply a group of people who wanted to express their feelings freely,'' Turnova said.
The band was big on the underground circuit and played clubs in Prague and in the smaller towns and villages.
Some band members expressed disappointment with the progress the Czech Republic has made since the so called 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989.
''We are now stuck with dreadful post-communists, KGB's, STB's and mafiosos who are dominating us. So maybe we are worse off than before,'' saxophone player Vratislav Brabenec said, referring to former members of the secret police.
''At that time the bolsheviks were clear and 'readable'. They were criminals and thugs, simply stated. Now there are mafiosos here, taking our money, preying on people and lying. And something should be done about it,'' he added.
Violin player Jiri Kabes agrees.
''People should not dwell on what happened in November 1989. 1990 would have been a good starting point, if we had gone in another direction.'' The band has changed members over the years and they broke up entirely in 1988. Some former members went on to form 'Pulnoc' (Midnight).
In 1997 at the request of then president Havel they reformed to play on the anniversary of Charter 77.
Despite the death of 'Plastics' front man Milan Hlavsa in 2001 they still perform regularly to this day.
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