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Na Slupi Theatre

Josef Barek

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Important events

(detail)1925 | opening

The structure was built by the Educational Body of Vyšehrad on its own expenses and especially for its own use The design of the theatre was elaborated by Josef Barek; the detailed designs according to him were worked out and the construction works were carried out by František Hodek. The theatre was opened in 1925, probably before the commencement of a new theatre season.


(detail)1964 | closure

The theatre operation was terminated in 1964 for its dilapidated state and it was closed.


(detail)1975 | demolition

The parcel of the demolished theatre is still vacant today.


People

(detail)Josef Barek |main architect

He became a professor of town planning in the Czech Techical School . He designed the Na Slupi Theatre in 1925.

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History

The defunct theatre Na Slupi in Prauge 2 was existing precisely half a century: its existence is framed by years 1925–1975. The theatre was erected on the plot of a former municipal poorhouse ( a part of N. 427/II at that time), opposite to Apolinářská Street, on the border of the New Town and Vyšehrad. The plot is still neighbouring buildings of the Ministry of Justice in Vyšehradská Street.

The structure was built by the Educational Body of Vyšehrad on its own expenses and especially for its own utilization, which had established an amateur actor company among other activities. The body was granted a permit for construction of „meeting and lecture wooden hallon 8th  February of 1924. Theatre productions were intended here from the beginning that became the main, if not the only usage of the structure in the course of time. The design of the theatre was elaborated by professor of the Prague Polytechnic Institute Josef Barek (1882–?); the detailed designs according to him were worked out and the construction works were carried out by Vyšehrad architect and builder František Hodek (1870–1952). No records of the course and completion of the construction have been preserved. The theatre was opened in 1925, probably before the commencement of a new theatre season. The construction costs – without furnishing- reached to approx. 300 thousand Crowns.  

Tens of other amateur and professional ensembles without permanent base were fluctuating in the Na Slupi Theatre apart of the Vyšehrad amateur actors. Besides the great importance for amateur theatre, this building became an important centre of the Prague avant-garde of the second half of the 1920s. Already in February of 1926, the theatre was the first stage of the Liberated Theatre that was founded only few months before and performed here until the spring of 1927. We know little about building modifications of the rather provisional structure. There is a record about falling plaster that endangered passers-by already from 1931. It follows from the brief „ regular inspections of the construction“ that the building was gradually attached by several small and temporal extensions – perhaps wooden outhouses and store rooms. The theatre was closed after one of such inspections for a short time in 1937, because it did not fulfil the required conditions for safe operation.

The theatre was temporarily under national management of the Art of the People in 1949. The Educational Body terminated its activity before the middle of the 1950s, its amateur troupe was probably performing for some time under patronage of other organizations. Latest in the middle of the 1950s, the theatre Na Slupi became a part of the State Theatre Studio (SDS), an organization that contained several other ensembles and administered other venues  in Prague district apart of the Na Slupi Theatre.

The theatre left a significant mark in theatre history in 1962, when the Prague premier of the play Jonáš and Tingltangl was staged here on 18th  July and  author duo Jiří Suchý – Jiří Šlitr made their first performance here. The Semafor Theatre, a part of SDS at that time, performed in the Na Slupi Theatre even after compulsory withdrawal from the Prague centre; this stage was still used by other ensembles as well and therefore the Semafor operated in other locations at the same time as well ( it performed in 13 halls all over Prague in the season of 1961–1962).

The theatre was in a dilapidated state in this period. It seems that the necessary reconstruction was a convenient pretext for the Communist authorities to impede the activity of the burdensome and still more popular Semafor ( Semafor was dislodged from the Ve Smečkách Theatre – the present Drama Club- already in 1961 under a pretext of reconstruction and alleged reconstruction later terminated for instance the activity of the Chamber Theatre in Hybernská Street). 

However, SDS seriously pursued the idea of theatre reconstruction in 1962 at latest. The first design with estimated expenses of 400 thousand Crowns was not recommended by the division of the main architect of the main city of Prague. An investment of over  400 thousand Crowns would have been inadequate regarding the state of the theatre; according to it, even if the theatre could have been reconstructed with lower costs, it was more convenient to consider the displacement of the theatre. The same division formulated it more clearly in a letter from 20th  November of 1962: the considered reconstruction is „ inappropriate appreciation of a temporal state“. The division added a recommendation to relocate the Semafor theatre into the one of Prague cinemas (for instance the Kotva cinema at the Republic Square) that was a bit beyond its scope of authority. 

Nevertheless SDS continued on the preparation of the reconstruction. A study of a possible reconstruction and extension of the theatre was probably worked out by the Regional Design Institute in Prague  in 1963. The project was already calculated with lowered costs of 492 thousand Crowns. Apart of an necessary reconstruction of the existing building, the project planned that new extensions would be built, the first on the left from the front facade containing  a new entrance hall with cloak rooms and the second of the right in the yard containing a oblong annexe of a smoking room.

Correspondence of the SDS with the division of the District National Committee (ONV) in Prague 2 about variants and possibilities of the reconstruction took another year. It follows from the later notions that the SDS requested not only a permit for reconstruction or general overhaul, but later demolition of the theatre and construction of a new building in its location – however, both unsuccessfully.

The theatre operation was terminated in 1964 for its dilapidated state and it was closed. A survey of the committee for security of theatres from January of 1965 confirmed that the building did not meet security nor anti fire regulation.

The last chapter in the history of the theatre commenced on 25th November of 1971 with announcement of a collapse of a part of the extension wall onto the adjacent plot of the Ministry of Justice. A record of following survey from 21st December of 1971 describes high humidity and collapsed ceiling on several places above the basement and damaged ceiling in the hall and advanced rot; according to the record, the theatre, which served as a store room since the closure in 1964, would not be certainly possible to repair.

Negotiation resulted in an order to demolish the theatre, against which SDS appealed already on 7th January of 1972. Since set pieces and props for 3 theatres and 12 ensembles were stored in the theatre, for which the SDS had no other place available, the demolition of the building would have meant a menace for the existence of all the ensembles. So SDS demanded a prolongation of the demolition term to 12 months and allotment of a convenient building in Prague 2 – or a possibility to build at least a light prefabricated sheds in the existing plot.

The demolition was probably pursued as well by the Ministry of Justice, which emphasized that the critical condition of the theatre left a bad impression on foreign delegations that visited the ministry. The building division issued a ban on all works in the theatre building on 1st  July of the same year so it was not possible to use the structure officially from the same day. Even this was apparently not sufficient and a ban was imposed on entry to the building on 1st  November. The SDS again appealed against this, because this ban precluded manipulation with stored items.

Intensive correspondence between ONV and  SDS continued further on, but the destiny of the building was decided. The building division issued a demolition order on 10th  May of 1973: according to them, the building was in so critical state that its collapse was imminent and it put security and health of persons in vicinity in jeopardy.

A few months passed by from the decision to the actual demolition. A new demolition order was issued on 25th October 1974 (with a deadline of  31st of December). According to it, the ONV would have welcomed if the demolition would have been executed by the National Enterprise Industrial Constructions Brno, which employees were improving Prague in that time. A further delay was caused by a lack of capacity and organizational changes in progress in this company.

The demolition was postponed by the Building Division in May of 1975: after another  reminder, among other because of continuous complications with security guards of the neighbouring Ministry, it declined to issue a new demolition order  due to regards to 30 anniversary of liberation and the Spartakiad that could have interfered with occupation of the communication and transportation routes. All should have been carried out after the termination of the Spartakiad. SDS committed itself to execute the demolition in the 3rd quarter and indeed the Na Slupi Theatre was torn down before the end of the 1975.  

The Ministry of Justice subsequently determine once more property boundaries and reconstructed the wall neighbouring the former theatre in 1977. The further use of the plot was probably not clearly decided. The Educational Committee of ONV in Prague 2 expressed their interest in this parcel in 1977; but the Building Division replied evasively that civic amenities would be provided on the parcel. The plot was used by SDS for several years. A shed with tubular construction containing remnants of theatre props, stood by the wall of the Ministry in 1979. The Building Division called on SDS to remove the shed; the location together with the adjacent area was considered to be used for construction of a sports hall and canteen for children. The records of the theatre terminate with a reminder from May of 1980.

The parcel of the demolished theatre is still vacant today. Its owner is the Main City of Prague through Municipal District of Prague 2.  Possible reconstruction of the destroyed theatre was being considered still in 2004 by Tomáš Töpfer, who reinstated the na Fidlovačce Theatre that was in a dilapidated state before. However, it seems that in contrast with that theatre, the history of the Na Slupi Theatre is definitely concluded.

Description

The building of the Na Slupi Theatre could be considered as a last example of wooden theatres, the so called arena theatres that were popular especially in the 19th century. Mainly the financial reasons led to wood usage for construction in the 1920s. Similarly the Tyl’s Theatre in Nusle ( later the Theatre na Fidlovačce) was partially built from timber in 1921 as well.

The appearance of the theatre could be reconstructed only from literature and several photographs and designs. The building was roughly rectangular ( in relation to the shape of the parcel, with one beveled corner). The entrance elevation interrupted a low wall that separated the adjacent vacant plots from the street up to the present days on both the sides. A simple volume of the building was gradually elevated from a transversely laid vestibule over the auditorium part to the highest volume above the stage. Gates to narrow yards on the sides of the building were inserted on the both sides of the street frontage with two entrances. Above the bricked foundation wall, only the primary walls and pillars were walled, the rest was wooden and plastered.

In the design from 1924, the front wing (vestibule) is only in the ground floor and the front wall of the auditorium part above it is articulated by vertical strips. On the preserved photographs and logo of the theatre from 1928, there is a storey with windows and a  low triangular gable above the vestibule (this extension was opened on the sides and in the middle in a sort of a balcony on the older photograph, whilst the opened flats were glassed with large windows on the more recent one); offices were located in the first floor and were accessible through an outer staircase from the left yard.

Two entrances into the sides of the auditorium led from the vestibule with cloak rooms in a size of 15,7 × 3 m, another ones to standing rooms in the middle of the rear part. The sloping stalls was of 11,4 × 15,8 m dimension. There were 317 seats in the ground floor in 1949 ( the standing rooms, depicted in the oldest designs, were already abolished at that time). A proscenium arch of 5 × 9 m dimension was adjacent to a partially recessed  orchestra pit. The stage without any backstage was 14,5 × 6,25 m in size (with an acting area of perhaps 8 × 6 m) and one trap room. The modest backstage for actors was located in the basement under the stage. The austere language of the building designs is complemented by records of the eyewitnesses. Theatre critic Alena Urbanová recalls the theatre in these words: “ I remember only vaguely, how actually the Theatre na Slupi looked like. It used to stand in the Na Slupi Street, a bit askew against the church. It was a ground floor wooden – one can hardly say a shed, but it was not a building neither, therefore something between them. It was arranged with Spartan austerity, but it was sufficient. Through a little portal, proudly being  a parody of Cubistic architecture, one entered into a vestibule, therefore a transverse corridor, where were cloak rooms, and from here into the auditorium through sides and the centre. How many seats it had I just do not know – I would estimate it to be perhaps 150, maybe more. The seats were wooden, joyfully painted with bright orange, could be folded with cracking and  squeaking. The dressing rooms were under the stage, in the basement – a blow of basement mustiness combined with a scent of cosmetics […]. Critic A. M. Píša, who came here to see the Avant-garde in the 1920s  […] was always complaining about the inconvenient small stage and inhospitableness of the theatre […] I was used to the stage from very early so it seemed to me as sufficient : there was  always everybody that had to be there and a piece of space remained so they could be in motion. When I was going through miscellaneous variations of cellars, where the postmodern Avant-garde was being born and sometimes strangled, several decades later, I remembered the beautiful and airy space was provided for amateur actors from Vyšehrad. “

Sources and literature:

–  Úřad městské části Praha 2, spisovna odboru výstavby, spis domu čp. 2052

–  Alfred Javorin, Divadla a divadelní sály v českých zemích: I. Divadla, Praha 1949, s. 229–231

–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 107

–  Alena Urbanová, Vzpomínání bez záruky, Amatérská scéna 47, 2001, č. 1, s. 18

–  Töpfer vzkřísí další divadlo? Český Rozhlas Regina 6. 9. 2004, on-line: http://zpravy.rozhlas.cz/regina/denik/_zprava/topfer-vzkrisi-dalsi-divadlo--131681

 

 

Tags: detached building, extinct theatre, Interwar period

 

Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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