The idea to organise a showcase of top Czech and international theatre productions was born in the editorial office of the Svět a divadlo (World and Theatre) magazine, whose editor-in-chief, Karel Král, also acted as the first festival Director and, until 2001, as its Chief Dramaturge. Pilsen was selected as the venue, being – as the programme brochure of the first edition put it – ‘a city with a long-standing theatre tradition, yet “small” enough to allow for encounters closer than would be possible in a city as “large” as Prague’.
In co-operation with the World and Theatre magazine, the festival was presented by the J. K. Tyl Theatre, Alfa Theatre, the City of Pilsen, and the Theatre Community, with financial support of the Czech Ministry of Culture. In 1994, Stanislav Doubrava replaced Karel Král as the festival’s Managing Director. He held this office also in 1996–1998. In 1995 and 1999, the festival was headed by Jitka Sloupová and Lukáš Matásek, respectively. In 2000, Jan Burian, the then managing director of J. K. Tyl Theatre, took over the festival’s management and he has been the festival’s head since then. Over the years, the office of the Executive Producer was held first by Stanislav Doubrava, then by Tomáš Froyda and now by Zdeněk Pánek. The office of the Production Manager is currently held by Tomáš Kilbergr.
Until 2001, the following editors and authors of the World and Theatre magazine contributed, to varying degrees, to the festival’s programme selection: Hana Bobková, Ondřej Černý, Zdeněk Hořínek, Ivan Hronec, Géza Hyzsnyan, Darina Kárová, Jan Kerbr, Lucia Kolláriková, Pawel Konic, Karel Král, Martina Krénová (Ulmanová), Blanka Křivánková, Monika Loderová, Milan Lukeš, Jana Machalická, Lubomír Mareček, Barbara Mazáčová (Topolová), Jana Patočková, Marek Pivovar, Martin Porubjak, Vladimír Procházka, Marie Reslová, Barbora Schnelle, Jitka Sloupová, Vlasta Smoláková, Soňa Šimková, Jakub Škorpil, Jana Šmatláková (Wild), Karola Štěpánová, Zdeněk A. Tichý, Nina Vangeli and Jiří Voráč. Since 2002, the Programme Board of the festival has consisted of Kamila Černá (Chief Dramaturge of the festival in 2006–2014), Jan Kerbr and Jitka Sloupová, who have been later joined by Dora Štědroňová (née Viceníková; Chief Dramaturge of the festival since 2015), Michal Zahálka and Roman Černík (the last of said members being responsible for the JOHAN PRESENTS section). For a short period of time, the Programme Board also included Vlasta Smoláková, Marie Reslová, Michal Čunderle, Radmila Hrdinová and Zuzana Sílová.
Since its first, rather modest edition in 1993, the festival has grown to its current form in which, in addition to Czech productions and regular guests from the countries of the Visegrad Group, audiences can meet, for example,companies from the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Italy, the US, Iceland and Israel, to name just a few countries.
Over the past thirty years, the festival has brought to Pilsen a number of prominent figures of the world and Czech theatre and culture. Václav Havel not only accepted patronage of the festival, he also ranked among its regular visitors (e.g. as a panellist with three other world-renowned playwrights: Ronald Harwood, Arthur Miller and Tom Stoppard). The Festival Honorary Board included, inter alia, Frank Castorf, Tankred Dorst, Ronald Harwood, Václav Havel, Martin Huba, Krystian Lupa, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard.
The festival was one of the essential impulses for the construction of the New Theatre, whose state-of-the-art technologies enable us nowadays to present much more spectacular productions than previously. The impressive industrial site DEPO2015 has also proved to be a great addition to the festival. The Divadlo festival has become the flagship of the Pilsen cultural life and has contributed significantly to the title ‘European Capital of Culture’ which was conferred on Pilsen for 2015.
The Divadlo International Theatre Festival continues to be an extraordinary, ambitious event, providing an international context and guaranteeing Pilsen’s fix position on the cultural map of Europe. In 2008, the festival won the International Visegrad Prize for the best cultural project of the year, and in 2022, it accepted the Pilsen City Award.