Halfway through the second act, amid the browbeating and emotional turmoil that comes with this kind of existential crisis, my gaze shifted to the ceiling. Hidden high above the stage lights, far from the absurdist nihilism playing out down below, were the soaring vaults and arches of the neo-Gothic cathedral.
These simultaneously timeless and timeworn vaults have hosted everything from the New North Free Church 19th-century congregation to the newest plays of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, the oldest student-run theater in Britain. Yet watching a play about the existential struggle of a writer attempting to write a play (now that’s theatrical inception for you) in a refurbished church didn’t seem sacrilegious in the least. Instead, it captured the unlikely harmony of religion, art, history and everyday life in 21st-century Europe.
Five days before this church-set existentialism, I rode the airport bus into Prague with not one but two Russian bands. When I asked Cloud Maze, the experimental pop-rock group sitting closest to me, if they were performing in Prague, the guitarist shook his head and said that they weren’t big enough for the capital. He explained in broken English that they were playing in a town spelled C-H-E-B but he didn’t know how to pronounce the name.
Research has since taught me that Cheb is an ancient town in western Czech Republic populated by a fair share of spires and churches. It’s marked by Romanesque and Gothic architecture and tourist hotspots of historical buildings dating all the way from the 13th century. That this turned out to be the detsination of the punky group was thus rather a surprise. After all, this is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of radical pop-rock groups. But what do absurdist theater, Prague, Cloud Maze and the tiny town of Cheb have to do with modern aestheticism? Everything.
Prague was a Baroque fairy tale set to the tunes of the troubadours wandering the streets. Creativity — seen in everything from the soaring architecture of the buildings to the activist graffiti on the subway and the Czech figurines sold on the sidewalks — is so interwoven into the fabric of the city that it’s easy to take it for granted.
After touring around for hours, we stopped in a corner restaurant for some authentic Czech goulash. Only halfway through my meal did I start to notice the photographs lining the walls: close-ups of nude women curiously watched us polish of our plates.
Like much of the modern art throughout the city, including the metal sculpture of a pregnant woman off of Old Town Square, no one seemed bothered by the presence of these women and, in truth, they didn’t seem very obscene. Instead, these black-and-white snapshots lining the red walls only added to the quirky character of the place and the greater Czech idea that art, however strange, is an integral part of life.
Listening to the quiet hum of nightlife from the comfort of my sleeping bag, I couldn’t help but think about how Prague’s past is never fully history: It’s alive in the present and playing a dynamic role in the shaping the future. Perhaps this harmony was more noticeable because I was somewhere entirely unfamiliar and enveloped in the interplay of art, history and everyday life.
Little experiences like taking an ad-covered street tram up to the ancient castle or sitting next to two Russian bands revealed that art was all around me. Having spent even such as short time as I did in Prague, I was immediately made aware of the city’s creative culture. Sitting in an Edinburgh church-turned-playhouse, in the midst of the protagonist’s existential crisis, I realized that this spirit of arts and aestheticism was not so invisible after all.
Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. Life on the Fringe appears every other Friday.