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Ta Fantastika (Black Light Theatre)

alias Permanent Theatre in Unitaria, Theatre by the Charles Bridge, Theatre in Unitaria
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)18. century | construction
Ta Fantastika Theatre has its seat nearby the Charles Bridge, in the rear wing of the house N. 186 between Karlova and Anenská streets. The front part of the building is composed of the Baroque Pötting Palace built before 1726.
(detail)1929 | alteration
The theatre is located in the rear wing by Anenská Street. This part of the building was radically reconstructed between 1929–1931 according to the design by František Kavalír. In the location of older houses and with utilization of theirs perimeter walls, a new rear wing was erected having a facade oriented to the Anenská Street. Connection with the front part of the house in Karlova Street was provided through a glass hall in the location of the hitherto yard. By tearing down the old layout, a grand hall had come into existence in the rear part, spread over two storeys.
(detail)5.7.1932 | opening
The reconstructed Unitaria Palace was ceremonially opened on 5th July of 1932. Initially, the hall mainly served as a lecture and concert hall. First attempts to play theatre performance took place already 1932.
(detail)1938 | alteration
Works on the real theatrical stage commenced not before 1938 according to the design by Theodor Hainz. Concurrently with construction of the stage that was carried out by joiner František Kříž, minor spatial modifications were made in the surroundings of the hall and insertion of cloak rooms and cash desk interrupted the airy space of the vestibule.
(detail)1993 | alteration
After the palace had been returned to the Uniatarians and before the opening of the Ta Fantastika theatre, a general overhauling was carried out between May and August of 1993 for the total costs of circa 8 million Crowns.
(detail)2002 | alteration
Another repairs were necessary after the floods in 2002.

People

Karel Caivas |architect
Jan Hyan |architect

History

The Ta Fantastika Theatre has its seat nearby the Charles Bridge, in the rear wing of the house N. 186 between Karlova and Anenská streets.

The building belongs to the Unitarian Religious Society. Its Czechoslovakian branch that was founded in 1923 as the Society of Free Brotherhood was transformed into the Religious Society of Czechoslovakian Unitarians, which was acknowledged by the state. The house in Karlova Street was established as an organizational and spiritual centre of the society named the House of Free Brotherhood UNITARIA.

The front part of the building is composed of the Baroque Pötting Palace built before 1726. The theatre is located in the rear wing by Anenská Street. This part of the building was radically reconstructed between 1929–1931 according to the design by František  Kavalír  (1878–1932). (A frequent assertion about the participation of his brother Václav is incorrect not only in this case – the business associate passed away in 1991 and the business carried the name of both brothers). Jan Hyan cooperated on technical issues in the project. The designs from March of 1929 were approved in June and the construction begun shortly thereafter. In the location of older houses and with utilization of theirs perimeter walls, a new rear wing was erected having a facade oriented to the Anenská Street. Connection with the front part of the house in Karlova Street was provided through a glass hall in the location of the hitherto yard. By tearing down the old layout, a grand hall had come into existence in the rear part, spread over two storeys that was accessed from the ground floor directly from the glass hall and from a suspended gallery in the first floor. According to the Art Monuments of Prague, the hall was reconstructed already in 1932 by Karel Caivas (1897–1976).

The reconstructed Unitaria Palace was ceremonially opened on 5th  July of 1932. Initially, the hall mainly served as a lecture and concert hall. It was named after an important member of Unitarian Society, the wife of president T. G. Masaryk, the Hall of Charlotta Masaryková.

The general spatial layout of the hall with a balcony had a completely theatrical character. A low and shallow stage was closed by a large window in the rear wall oriented to Anenská Street. An organ was a component of the equipment. The minor hall with a musical stage was located in the basement under the auditorium of the grand hall, meeting rooms were located mainly in the front wing.

First attempts to play theatre performance took place already 1932. The tradition was initiated by the Avant-garde Theatre and in the following years, several other companies alternated in the theatre, known as the Theatre in Unitaria. In the season of 1938–1939, it was the People’s Theatre of Antonín Kurš (the later founder of the Theatre of the 5th May) or Workers Theatre of Roman Tůma. A name the Theatre by the Charles Bridge appeared in 1939 as well. The company of Břetislav Diviš produced dramas and operettas from 1939 until the end of the Second World War under the name the Permanent Theatre in Unitaria. The more frequent use of the hall for theatre brought about successive building modifications. Works on the real theatrical stage – therefore on a wooden structure of a proscenium arch in the first place and a perhaps simple device for scenery suspension –  commenced not before 1938 according to the design by Theodor Hainz. The modification of the stage was approved in the following year for “production of occasional theatre plays”. Concurrently with construction of the stage that was carried out by joiner František Kříž, minor spatial modifications were made in the surroundings of the hall and insertion of cloak rooms and cash desk interrupted the airy space of the vestibule. A projection booth was inserted into the middle of the balcony, probably in a reduced form against the design. It was probably not used, because it was still not equipped in 1949 according to Javorin.

A mild raising of the auditorium floor followed in 1941, certainly for  improvement of the visibility - a low wooden elevation ( it only ascends by 46 cm for circa 16 m of length) was inserted into the originally flat hall by master carpenter Václav Kral.

The Unitaria Theatre became a student’s stage of the Theatre Faculty AMU after the war. Certainly hundreds of students and graduates of dramatic art and other fields played here for almost a half a century starting from the premier of Nasreddin by Mahen on 9th  September of 1945 in the DISK  (abbreviation for the Theatre of State Academy) Theatre.

The theatre company of academy students performed from 1942 (without its later name at that time) in its seat in the former chemistry institute in Trojanova Street, where a rehearsal stage was designed by František Tröstr for them. Apart of that, the students performed on the stage in the  Na Slupi Theatre two days a week in 1943. When the Unitaria Theatre was allocated to the academy after the war by a decree of the Ministry of Education, a considerable part of equipment from Trojanova Street was moved here. The Drama Division of the Academy moved gradually to DAMU and from 1949, when the last actors from the academy graduated here, the DISK served only to the theatre faculty. It was necessary to adjust the background and the theatre itself for the DISK as well. A joinery workshop was built in the side yard in 1949. Probably the stage was enlarged according to the design that was worked out already in 1943 by B. Černý and Bohdan Hainz (the same person, who under name Theodor was enlarging the stage in 1938? ). The dates and authorship of the design is uncertain: the year 1943 is only manually added on one of them, a stamp of the building division even from the year 1956 is on the another. It is possible that the enlargement of the stage – for sure executed for DISK – was drawn into the existing older designs. A significantly larger stage was built by construction of a new, more massive proscenium arch that was closer to the auditorium by circa 2 meters being spread up to the edges of the side wings of the balcony.

A lightning booth from sheet metal should have been inserted by the stage in December of 1959. A permit was issued in December of 1961 for inserting new doors from the gallery into the hitherto unused projection booth on the balcony, converted into sound engineer workshop. In 1972, a design was elaborated for reconstruction of wiring and lightning that was completed in March of the following year. A building permit was issued in July of 1977 for reconstruction of the stage  that was unfortunately not specified in details, and was granted the final approval already in November of the same year.

The DISK had to abandon the building after the palace with the theatre had been returned to property of Unitarians in 1993. (It returned back to Karlova Street after five years – this time into a new theatre, that was built in the yard of the theatre faculty according to the design by Karel  Hubáček.)

The Unitarian community let the hall to the theatre Ta Fantastika of Petr  Kratochvíl that has been having its seat here up to the present days. A black theatre ensemble came into existence in 1981 in New York. It introduced musical plays and dramas apart of visual productions. It only concentrates to multimedia productions since the end of 2010.

After the palace had been returned to the Uniatarians and before the opening of the Ta Fantastika theatre, a general overhauling was carried out between May and August of 1993 for the total costs of circa 8 million Crowns. These works did not change the appearance of the theatre considerably apart of seats exchange and general modernization of spectator’s area and actor’s background. Another repairs were necessary after the floods in 2002.  

Present state

The theatre is entered from Karlova Street, through a portal in the baroque facade of the front wing. One enters into a covered vestibule through a passage. Octagonal space spread over two storeys is arched by a glass construction from reinforced concrete frames. A cash desk is located on the left side of the vestibule that serves as a theatre foyer as well; originally a staircase led from here to the balcony in the first floor. A cloak room is on the right and behind it, a corridor along the right side of the hall, from where the background and lift to higher floors of the house is accessible.

The front wall of the vestibule contains wide doors that were originally threefold, from which only the central part has remained functional after reconstruction. A suspended gallery that was originally opened was removed in unknown time.

The axis of the theatre hall is dislocated and curved in the rear part of the layout in comparison with the front part of the building and vestibule, therefore the doors from the vestibule does not lead into the centre, but into the left part of the auditorium. The hall is circled by a corridor with entrances to a washroom and to a staircase, behind which the theatre background is located. 

Doors from the right side of the corridor leads into the auditorium apart of the main entrance from the vestibule. The auditorium of U letter shape is 16 × 14 m size and has a capacity of circa 370 seats (292 seats in 16 rows in the stalls and 76 seats in five rows in the balcony; the seats on the side arms of the balcony are not used). The walls and ceiling is articulated by a reinforced concrete construction. The auditorium is circled on three sides by a balcony with diverging arms and rounded corners. Originally, there was one field opened between the reinforced concrete pillars in front of the balcony arms. The proscenium arch is only adjacent to the balcony since the after war reconstruction.

The balcony in the first floor was originally accessed from the gallery through a pair of doors on the sides of the technician booth that was built up later. After the removal of the gallery, the main entrance to the balcony leads from the right side of the booth, from the corridor running around the hall. The balcony is gradually raised towards the rear, the seats in the front are oriented towards the stage, perpendicularly to it on the side arms.

The lighting of the auditorium is secured by large glass panels between frames on the ceiling in the first place. The entire hall was originally white, in the present days the white colour on the walls in the stalls contrasts with black upper part and orange seats.

The proscenium arch without decoration just simply frames the stage opening. The oblong stage with standard equipment has the size of circa 10 × 14 m.

The technical and actors' background is located partially in the basement, partially on the right from the stage behind the corridor and along it.

Because the Anenská Street is lower than the entrance in the Karlova Street, the rear entrance to the theatre is located in the basement in relation to the front wing. The simple facade to Anenská Street is only articulated by oblong windows and especially a large window in the rear wall of the hall.

 

Sources and literature:

–  Úřad městské části Praha 1, archiv Odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 186/I

–  Historické fotografie z archivu Unitarie, přístupné on-line: www.unitaria.cz/prameny/historicke_fotografie.htm

–  Alfred Javorin, Divadla a divadelní sály v českých krajích I, Praha 1949, s. 202–203

–  JiM [Jiřina Muková], heslo čp. 186/I, in Pavel Vlček a kol., Umělecké památky Prahy: Staré Město a Josefov, Praha 1996, s. 196–197

–  Ondřej Novotný, Stručná historie Divadla Pražské konzervatoře a co bylo před ním, on-line: host.divadlo.cz/art/clanek.asp?id=22780

–  Divadlo DISK: Historie, on-line: www.divadlodisk.cz/o_disku-historie.php

 

Tags: Baroque, Interwar period

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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