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Arena theatres in Prague

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(detail)11.08.1849 | Arena Theatre in Pštroska
It came into existence due to the incentive of two actors of the Estate Theatre, Forst and Vilém Grau, as a business plan meant for a Czech theatre. The open arena theatre started its operation on 11th August of 1849 and it was played here up to 1861, when it was torn down as it was in a dilapidated state.
(detail)1859 | New Town Theatre

It came into existence in the location of the latter German Theatre (the State Opera) behind the ramparts due to the incentive of the director of the Estate Theatre František Thomé in 1859. Its design was elaborated by Czech architect Josef Niklas according to the Semper’s Neo-Renaissance example in Dresden (see individual entry).


(detail)1868 | Arena Theatre in Kravín

(detail)1869 | Švanda's arena theatre Pštroska

It was builtin 1869 in the location of a former structure for summer productions of the company of  Pavel  Švanda ze Semčic, a theatrical director in Pilsen. Its building design  was elaborated by architect Josef Niklas.


(detail)1869 | The Arena on the Ramparts

The Cooperative of the Czech Regional Theatre built it according to the design by Josef  Niklas. This very popular arena was transferred to another location during tearing down the fortification in 1876.


(detail)1871 | Arena Theatre By Eggenberk

(detail)1872 | Arena Theatre on Komotovka

(detail)1875 | Teatro salone italiano

(detail)1876 | National Arena Theatre

The Arena Na Hradbách was demounted and reassembled as the National Arena Theatre (removed 1881). The exterior appearance corresponded to the older arena, but a new form was given to the furnishings.


(detail)1876 | New Czech Theatre

The design of the theatre was elaborated by Antonín Baum. The New Czech Theatre was perceived as a new provisional theatre, a predecessor of the National Theatre that was being constructed at that time. The first performance was introduced in the arena theatre on 6th August of 1876. After the National Theatre had been opened in 1883, the Czech Regional Theatre did not need the summer arena anymore. The structure was torn down in 1885.  


(detail)1877 | Arena Tivoli Averino
In 1877, entrepreneur Eugenio Averino built a new arena in Štvanice island (the Grand Venezia), which served for summer productions and lasted here until 1882.
(detail)1882 | Summer Theatre in Royal Vinohrady

Jan Pištěk built the theatre that was carried out by master carpenter Antonín Kutina in the location of the Arena in Kravín. Pištěk  torn the arena down in February 1893 and he used a part of the material for construction of a new arena – the Pištěk’s Arena. It was later converted into a roofed and heated theatre, torn down not until 1932.


(detail)1891 | Arena in Smíchov
Heirs of Pavel  Švanda built the Arena in Smíchov (torn down in 1938, see individual entry) in 1891. This arena had become a roofed and heated theatre as well in course of gradual modifications.  
(detail)1893 | Pištěk’s Arena Theatre
(detail)1898 | Uranie Theatre
A building with a lecture hall should have been designed for Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering. After the programme had been modified, architect Osvald Polívka designed the Uranie Theatre, which auditorium was of a circular section plan with elevation that was very progressive. This Neo-Baroque wooden building with elements of Art-Nouveau was transferred and reassembled in 1902 into a garden of a brewery in Holešovice, where it served its purpose as the People's Theatre Uranie until1946, when it burnt down (see individual entry).

People

Antonín Makovec |architect
Antonín Baum |architect
(detail)Josef Niklas |architect

An architect of Czech revival architecture. He was a student of Karl Wiesenfeld at the Prague Polytechnic Institute, then he was  a trainee  by Heinrich J. Frenzel in Prague and Leopold Mayer in Vienna. He made a study tour through Germany, France and Italy. He became an assistant of Bernhard Grueber at the Prague Polytechnic Institute in 1849 and was appointed a teacher of drawing and building at K.K high school in Prague. He applied for habilitation (the qualification for teaching) of practical building teaching at the  Prague Polytechnic Institute and in 1864, he obtained  professorship at the department of civil engineering for Czech language. He took over a department  in the Czech part of Prague Polytechnic Institute that had been established shortly before where he remained until his death (he was a rector here between 1873–74). Together with F. X. Šanda, he published Joendl’s advice on building  (1862) and Architectural styles from the oldest times until present(1865). He is an author of many ecclesiastical Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance municipal buildings in Bohemia. Apart of participation in the reconstruction of the Estate Theatre, he realized the wooden New Town Theatre (1858) and Švanda’s Arena Theatre in Pštroska (1869), he participated in competition for a national theatre (1866) and he elaborated the project of the German Theatre in Pilsen.

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Josef Svoboda |builder
Jan Hoffmann |builder
(detail)Jan Václav Kautský |painter

Landscape painter and scenographer. He was renowned as a set pieces painter in Vienna.

In: DbČAD

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(detail)Josef Macourek |painter

He was cooperating with the Estate Theatre since the end of the 1850s, was a decoration painter in the Provisional Theatre in 1862-1874 and created sceneries for amateur actors in Karlín, Jaroměř, Nymburk, Mladá Boleslav and other locations.  

In:

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Eugenio Averino |contractor
Jaroslav Hof |contractor
Vilém Grau |contractor
Rudolf Wirsing |director
Jakob Beer |director

History

Construction of summer theatres – arenas- was related to several aspects. One of them was the gaslights and insufficient ventilation of the regular theatres in the first half of the 19th century, which caused a suffocating environment in summer months, and that led to decrease in attendance. For that, we can find theatre directors as for instance František  Thomé (the Estate Theatre) or Jan  Pištěk (the Town Theatre in Pilsen) among the promoters of summer arenas beside of theatrical entrepreneurs. Praguers preferred spending leisure time in the nearby nature that was available in the immediate vicinity behind the city ramparts in that time. If the theatre companies wanted to attract the audience into a theatre even in the summer, they had to adjust and select a different type of  structure. It was almost impossible to build anything in narrow streets, so the entrepreneurs took advantage of the popularity of trips to the countryside and started to construct open air stages behind the city walls. Timber served as the most convenient material, which left an impression of a provisional building (which most of them indeed was), but it enabled quick and flexible productions with low costs at the other hand. The arena theatres had their development, which had not led to any specific style; they were rather functional buildings with minimal aesthetic requirements. They resumed typologically on the ancient amphitheatres.

Mentions of the first wooden summer theatres in Prague are dated back to 1820–1840, when they were coming into existence in gardens of taverns. They developed in a natural way into the later wooden arenas. According to Alfred Javorin, there was no middle link in the Czech  territory – any transitional phase between theatres in taverns and arenas – because the first Arena Ve Pštrosce was constructed according to the foreign examples: the first promoter of the arena theatre here, actor Forst (Schall von Falkenforst), came to the Estate Theatre in Prague from a theatre in Budapest.

The structures of arenas had developed into two types: on the one hand to actual open-air arenas and on the other hand to roofed buildings resembling regular theatres (the New Town Theatre, the New Czech Theatre, Uranie). The first type developed fully naturally from ancient amphitheatre and its Middle Ages equivalent, theatre of religious orders. First of all, circular tiered auditoriums were derived from the function of the structure, which should serve to lower classes. The upper classes did not attend this type of theatre, therefore it was redundant to build an expensive system of boxes.

The development of arenas was terminated by electrification of  regular theatres. The arenas were then being reconstructed into theatres with year-round operation. The last two wooden theatres in Prague, the Na Fidlovačce Theatre in Nusle and the Na Slupi Theatre in Prague 2, had emerged in the 1920s from other, economical reasons.

Arena theatres in Prague

The first arena in Prague was the Arena Theatre in Pštroska– it came into existence due to the incentive of two actors of the Estate Theatre, Forst and Vilém Grau, as a business plan meant for a Czech theatre. Its promoter became Jan Hoffmann, a director of a regional theatre, its dramatic adviser Josef K. Tyl. Hoffmann erected the theatre behind the rampart in a garden, called Pštroska. The construction of the arena theatre  was carried out by master carpenter Rohan according to the advice and instructions of actor Frost. The open arena theatre  started its operation on 11th August of 1849 and it was played here up to 1861, when it was torn down as it was in a dilapidated state. The New Town Theatre, an enclosed wooden structure, came into existence in the location of the latter German Theatre (the State Opera) behind the ramparts due to the incentive of the director of the Estate Theatre František Thomé in 1859. Its design was elaborated by Czech architect Josef Niklas according to the Semper’s Neo-Renaissance example in Dresden (see individual entry).

Josef Emil Kramuele, a director of an theatrical association, built the Arena Theatre in Kravín in 1868 in Vinohrady. A tavern existed already in the farmstead in Kravín, where productions of amateur actors used to be played. Kramuele’s arena theatre  did not flourish much as numerous competitors emerged soon. One of the competing arenas was the Švanda’s Arena Theatre in Pštroska, built in 1869 in the location of a former structure for summer productions of the company of  Pavel  Švanda ze Semčic, a theatrical director in Pilsen. Its building designs were elaborated by architect Josef Niklas.

The Arena Theatre  on the Ramparts was erected in the same year of 1869 in the area of the Chotek public orchards, in the location of the citadel N. 26 above the Horse Gate due to the effort of the Cooperative of the Czech Regional Theatre. The design was again elaborated by Josef Niklas. The wooden arena on a brick foundation wall of  was large and roofless. It constituted a distinct landmark of the Horse Market at that time with its four towers. The architect inserted a horseshoe-shaped auditorium into a rectangular structure with 218 seats in the stalls, 120 seats in 24 boxes, 129 seats in the dress circle and 127 in the upper circle, therefore there were altogether 594 seats and several hundreds of standing rooms as well. It could accommodate about 1200 spectators. The curtain and decoration was created by painter Macourek. This very popular arena was transferred to another location during tearing down the fortification in 1876.

Pavel Švanda started to build another arena at the beginning of 1871 in the vicinity of the known inn By Eggenberk in Smíchov. The wooden and unroofed Arena Theatre  By Eggenberk was much more simpler than the Švanda’s first arena theatre. Švanda received an order from the owner of the plot to tear down the structure in 1885 and military quarters were erected in its location.

Director of a theatre company Jaroslav Hof together with Josef  Mikuláš-Boleslavský built the Arena Theatre on Komotovka in 1872 on the premises of renowned Jewish businessman Alois Stuchlík. Antonín Kutina   constructed  the building on an elevated plot in the vicinity of a tavern. The arena theatre  consisted of a semicircular auditorium that was unroofed only with a covered stage.   

Another arena came into existence in 1875 in Vinohrady:  Teatro Salone Italiano that was founded by Eugenio Averino, an Italian  impresario and  director of a pantomime and ballet company. The arena was built by building developer Jindřich Bräuer and builder Vaněček. Financier Jakob Beer became the first business manager of the theatre. Building material from the Arena on Komotovka, torn down in 1874, was partially used for the construction. According to the memoirs of contemporaries, the theatre looked like “a large wooden shack resembling a huge barn or granary“. The owners covered the wooden structure by bricks to allow its use in the winter. The theatre was removed in 1880 at the request of the Vinohrady municipality.

The Cooperative of the Czech Regional Theatre  that belonged to the Old Czech Party applied to the Vinohrady municipality for a permit to transfer the Arena Theatre  Na Hradbách to a leased plot in Vinohrady, close to Černokostelecká road in 1876. They attached the design by Josef Niklas to the application and informed that the construction would be carried out by Josef Svoboda and  Antonín Kutina. The construction was authorized, the Arena Na Hradbách was demounted and reassembled as the National Arena Theatre  (removed 1881). The exterior appearance corresponded to the older arena, but a new form was given to the furnishings, a new deeper and wider parterre came into existence and the interior was freshly decorated. The arena was hired by the company of P. Švanda.

After the New Czech Theatre that was built by the new Cooperative of Young Czech Party had been openedon 6th August of 1876, the National Arena Theatre  ceased to thrive, because it could not compete with The Regional Theatre Company. Such persons belonged among the members of the Young Czech Cooperative, which was officially labelled the Consortium of the Royal Czech Regional Theatre, as were politician Eduard Grégr, Karel Hartig, the founder of Žižkov, Josef Kutina, a Žižkov councillor and builder, Josef Barák, Adolf Klek and others. The regional council commissioned this consortium with the administration of the Czech Regional Theatre  in 1875. They hired Rudolf Wirsing (1814–1878), the former director of the German Regional Theatre, as a theatre director, who accepted the offer under the condition that a new summer stage would be built in addition. The Cooperative rented a plot in Vinohrady in the vicinity of Žitná Gate that was being torn down in this exact moment. The design of the theatre was elaborated by architect, archaeologist and conservator Antonín Baum (1830–1886), an absolvent of the Prague Polytechnic Institute and technical director of the Building Bank for Prague Peripheries since 1873. Builder František Heberle (1823–1900) was responsible for the brickwork, the responsible for carpentry work was architect Jan Zeyer (1847–1903), a disciple of  Josef Niklas and Josef  Zítek and  employee of the County Bank since 1872. It was a wooden structure on a foundation wall of a rectangular plan with two towers in the front facade and with galleries on iron girders. The theatre had a sliding roof from iron glass construction. The first curtain was created by painter of the Court Opera Kautský, the second one by Viennese decorative painter Brioschi. The New Czech Theatre for three thousand spectators was perceived as a new provisional theatre, a predecessor of the National Theatre that was being constructed at that time. In spite of protracted delays on the part of the Old Czechs, the first performance was introduced in the arena on 6th August of 1876. After the National Theatre had been opened in 1883, the Czech Regional Theatre did not need the summer arena anymore. The structure was torn down in 1885.  

In 1877, entrepreneur Eugenio Averino built a new arena in Štvanice island (the Grand Venezia), which became a popular walking spot of Praguers. The Arena Tivoli Averino  served for summer productions and lasted here until 1882.

Jan Pištěk built the Summer Theatre in Royal Vinohrady that was carried out by master carpenter Antonín Kutina in the location of the Arena in Kravín. It was an unroofed summer arena again, only the stage and a part of a semicircular auditorium were roofed. Pištěk  torn the arena down in February 1893 and he used a part of the material for construction of a new arena – the Pištěk’s Arena Theatre . It was later converted into a roofed and heated theatre, torn down not until 1932.

Heirs of Pavel  Švanda built the Arena Theatre in Smíchov (torn down in 1938, see individual entry) in 1891. This arena theatre  had become a roofed and heated theatre as well in course of gradual modifications.  

Architect Antonín Makovec (1860–1920), an absolvent of the Viennese Academy under Theofil Hansen, built an arena theatre  for the Ethnographic Exhibition in 1895. The building was erected at the expenses of the executive committee of the exhibition and J. Kolář from the National House in Vinohrady. The wooden structure was built on a brick foundation wall and in the Neo-Renaissance style; the curtain, bought later for the theatre in Náchod , was created by Mikoláš Aleš. The amphitheatre was of an octagonal plan, terraces with seats and boxes could accommodate up to eight thousand spectators. Because the auditorium was equipped for restaurant purposes as well, the authorities did not permit playing theatre here. Jaroslav Hof wanted to transfer the arena to  Žižkov in 1896, however, meanwhile the structure was torn down. Another action was taking place in the Prague Exhibition Grounds and that was the Exhibition of Architecture and Engineering, which was organized by the Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA). A building with a lecture hall should have been designed for this exhibition. After the programme had been modified, architect Osvald Polívka designed the Uranie Theatre, which auditorium was of a circular section plan with elevation that was very progressive. This Neo-Baroque wooden building with elements of Art-Nouveau was transferred and reassembled in 1902 into a garden of a brewery in Holešovice, where it served its purpose as the People's Theatre Uranie until1946, when it burnt down ( see individual entry).

Literature:

–  Alfred Javorin, Pražské arény: Lidová divadla pražská v minulém století, Praha 1958

–  Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, zejm. s. 30–31 a 53–55

 

 

Author: Markéta Svobodová

Translator: Jan Purkert

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