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Comedy Theatre

Josef Karel Říha

alias Theatre of Jiří Wolker (1972–1979), K Theatre (1991 - 1994), Theatre of Vlasta Burian (1930–1945)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1930 | construction

The Komedie Theatre is located in the functionalist building that was designed by architect Josef Karel Říha and the construction was carried out by the building firm of Rudolf Stockar in 1928 – 1930. The work on the theatre construction was completed on 15th  December of 1930.


(detail)80. 's 20. century | reconstruction
Reconstruction was designed in June of 1987 by the Building Design Institute of the Main City of Prague – atelier of Karel Prager. The theatre was reopened in 1991.

People

(detail)Josef Karel Říha |main architect

He worked in Jan Kotěra atelier and under his influence, he designed housing (Dejvice) and public buildings (V. Burian Theatre in Hybernská Street).  The most famous is his own vila Na Paváku nad Santoškou (1930).

More theatres

Jiří Fára |architect
Otakar Balvín |architect
Libor Čížek |architect
(detail)Karel Prager |architect

The initial phase of his work was still influenced by the Socialist Realism. The interest in new world wide tendencies in building led him towards patterns of late Functionalism ( the so called International Style), especially to American realizations by the SOM and Miese van der Rohe. Prager was the first one, who used hanging glass walls on the facades in an aluminium grid as in the Institute of macromolecular chemistry ČSAV. He was also discovering and designing new building constructions and materials, often even untested before (the building of the Federal Assembly) for his other buildings. The architecture of his pieces is usually  innovative, but sometimes controversial as for instance the New Stage of the National Theatre).

Text: ing arch Kamil Dvořák, DrSc, in: Architekti v českých zemích (Prostor – AD)

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Rudolf Stockar |architect

History

The Komedie Theatre is located in the basement storeys of an office and commercial building that was constructed in 1928–1930 according to the design by Josef Karel  Říha (1893–1970) for the Mining and Metallurgic Company of that time. The present main user is the Ministry of  Finance. Originally this space was intended to be a cinema, but the purpose was changed in favour of a theatre hall before the completion of the construction. The new adjustment was again designed by J. K. Říha. The works on the theatre construction was completed on 15th  December of 1930. Articles in the Architekt SIA periodical testify that the palace had great publicity as it is stated there: „ that all the most recent, what was produced by building technology so far, was used on the construction of this palace in a concealed or apparent way. “ The use of the most updated technology was visible on the structure of the building – prefabricated steel construction, Stanislav Bechyně – and in details as well – windows from steel of English system Cristal, doorframes from pressed sheet metal, linoleum covering etc. The construction was carried out by the firm of Rudolf Stockar.

The building has altogether four underground and eight above ground storeys. There was a theatre in the two basement storeys, in which the Theatre of  Vlasta Burian played in 1930–1945, next to storage facilities, archives and club rooms.  

The theatre is located in the rectangular sector of the building on the southwest along the Lazarská Street, oriented towards Vladislavova Street. Its stalls are located in the second basement. The original capacity of the hall was 503 seats in 32 rows in the stalls and 32 seats in four boxes on the sides. The balcony in the level of the first basement had ten ascending and curved rows with 203 seats in the middle and nine boxes on the side arms reaching the proscenium arch. A projection booth stood behind the last balcony row. The hall served concurrently for afternoon movie projections - „the Cinema of the Burian’s Theatre“ presented here series of film periodicals and educational or documentary films. The safety curtain of the stage was used as a projection screen. The stage was 8 m deep and 9 m wide.

The entrance into the theatre was located (as it is today) in the arcade between Jungmannova and Vladislavova streets. A curved staircase leads from the vestibule into the foyer in the level of the balcony. The architect and builder paid great attention to the sober and elegant appearance of the interiors. They combined the stone facing of the walls on the staircase (natural marble of various, mostly brownish, shades from the quarry in  Tuhár by Lučenec in  Slovakia) with wooden panelling in the other rooms. The theatre was furnished with design ceiling lighting with embedded lights (the firm of Josef Inwald according to the design by  M. Prokop); bronze door fitting, seats with blue upholstery on the white bronze frames and floors with linoleum that was colourfully arranged.

A small reconstruction  was carried out in the theatre between 1940–1943. A 6 m diameter turntable was installed into the stage in the summer of 1955 and a wooden structure of a new proscenium arch with a forestage, projected by 175 cm, was installed in front of the original concrete proscenium arch.   

The Komedie Theatre, which performed in the former musical theatre in the Stýblo arcade at the Wenceslas Square for four seasons, moved into the former Theatre of Burian in 1954. Since a reorganization in 1954, the Komedie Theatre was one of the two venues of the Municipal Theatres of Prague, only later enlarged by the ABC and  Rokoko theatres. The Theatre of Jiří Wolker played here in 1972–1979. Afterwards the theatre was closed for several years and subsequently was  reconstructed.  

Reconstruction was designed in June of 1987 by the Building Design Institute of the Main City of Prague – atelier of Karel Prager. The outcome of this renovation, of which we lack any archive records, was a radical reduction of the auditorium capacity – the designer covered the side boxes and confined the number of rows in the stalls to twelve and in the balcony to four. The turntable was removed from the stage that  is equipped by three traps in the present days. The architect inserted a turnstile in a brass cylinder casing into the glass wall between the arcade and the foyer.

The theatre was reopened in 1991 as the K Theatre; it became the Komedie Theatre in 1994 with  the arrival of directors Michal Dočekal and Jan Nebeský. The original and today already historical name remained to the transformed theatre that cleaved from  the Municipal Theatres of Prague in August of 2002. The new venue operator was the Prague Chamber Theatre (PKD, emergence in 1998).  New director Dušan D. Pařízek succeeded in creating one of the most progressive venues in the Czech Republic out of the Komedie Theatre. The theatre was mainly concentrated on the present Czech, Austrian and German drama, on the forerunners  or resources of this work – therefore on the interwar Modernism in the first place – and on the works exceeding the limits of the classic  theatre. The PKD decided to apply the concept of an opened theatre, which operation and organization is secured only by a minimal number of art  production team,  for its operation in the Komedie Theatre. The PKD does not have actors nor a part of technical personal in the occupational relation that is contrary to the common practice; despite of that, it is possible to speak about a distinctive ensemble. The theatre has won recognition in the Czech Republic and foreign countries and   left a mark in the Central European context by its participation in festivals and performed at many important venues.

The PKD endeavoured to apply a new inner and outer aesthetic character to the theatre after its arrival here. The PKD commenced the reconstruction  of the theatre hall and area of the cafe and foyer with help of architects Tomáš Rusín and Ivan Wahla. The architects have restored the space very sensitively and hereby followed the interwar Modernism and the atmosphere of multicultural Prague of the first half of the 20th  century.

It is worth to mention the setting up  a buffet in the foyer (Libor Čížek, 1996), renovation of heating system (1998–1999) or insertion of acoustic ceilings in the auditorium (Ivan Řezáč, 2002) from the renovations of the following years apart of continual improvement of especially lightning technology. The forestage was enlarged in 2007 according to the design by Otakar Balvín  and Jiří Fára; the number of rows in the stalls was reduced to eleven and one rear row was removed in relation to enlargement of the technical booth. Tomáš Rusín and Ivan Wahla designed new light bridges and newly arranged the bar in the foyer.  

Even the unquestionable qualities of the ensemble of the Komedie Theatre did not succeeded in convincing the Prague Municipal Authority about the need to support this theatre sufficiently. Therefore the theatre was forced to announce the termination of its activity due to financial reasons in 2011. In the subsequent tender, the municipal authority selected a new operator, which is the association the Theatre Company.cz from 2012.

Sources and literature:

–  Úřad Městské části Praha 1, archiv odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 15/II

–  Architekt SIA 29, 1930, č. 12, s. 230–254

 

Tags: basement theatre, Functionalism, Interwar period, terraced house

 

Author: Markéta Svobodová

Translator: Jan Purkert

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