San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

'Black Light' troupe plays National Theater

When you think “black light” you probably think of a college dorm room: In a dark space, surrounded by concert posters and tie-dye sheets, the long-wave illumination of an ultraviolet lamp turns ordinary objects into neon spectacles. 

In 1959, Czech thespian Jiri Srnec wondered what would happen if he shed UV light on a voided stage. By using black backgrounds, black costumes, and cleverly colored puppets and props, Srnec singlehandedly invented “black light theater,” debuting his creation in Vienna at the end of the year and reprising in Edinburgh in 1962. In the half-century since, the style has gradually expanded and solidified. His company, Srnec Theatre, arrives in San José this weekend for a two-night performance at the National Theater.

Billed in Spanish as Teatro Negro de Praga, this “best of” collection compiles four different works, including “The Suitcases,” “The Laundress,” “The Photographer,” and “The Violin Player.”

Since the genre’s inception, Prague has become the capital of black light productions, hosting no fewer than 10 different “černé divadlo” companies, as they are known in the Czech Republic. Srnec’s performance style incorporates dance, mime, puppetry and music, and the tone is generally playful and even absurd. If kindergartners drew their rendition of Cirque du Soleil in crayon on black paper, it might look a lot like Teatro Negro.

While Srnec Theatre regularly plays packed houses in Prague, the company is also prolifically mobile, having visited 68 countries and entertained more than 5 million spectators (the company boasts of performing an average of 200 times per year). Srnec’s troupe has already toured extensively in Central America, including three past engagements in Costa Rica.

Monolinguals can rejoice: Srnec Theatre is mostly movement based, so no knowledge of Slavic languages is required. If you’ve ever spent too much time watching a lava lamp, Teatro Negro will likely be a pleasurable destination.

Teatro Negro takes place at the National Theater in San José’s Plaza de la Cultura from Sept. 13-14. Show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets cost 16,500-35,000 ($33-70). For more info, visit


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