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Revolving Auditorium in Český Krumlov

Joan Brehms

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Important events

(detail)9.6.1958 | Opening

Joan Brehms installed a revolving auditorium in castle park on third year of South-Bohemia festival in Český Krumlov. Festival visitors watched for the first time a play Lofter or Lost face by G.Weisenborn on 9th June 1958. It was purely experimental act on improvised, manually operand construction for only 40-60 spectators.

(detail)1966 | reconstruction
A large reconstruction of the rotating base occurred in 1966, the auditorium was given a new system of drive ( bantam wheels), wooden seats were replaced by laminate ones and the capacity was increased up to 700 spectators.
(detail)1993 | New structure

The design of a new turntable, which stands in the garden up to the present day, emerged in 1988 with a great interest and support of period political representation. Vladimír Landa is its author, another specialists cooperated on the peculiar issues as well. Brehms, whom the authors of the new construction did not consult their designs with, disassociated himself from the turntable, with which layout he was not satisfied. After  longer preparation works, the ready construction was inserted into the location during 1993.


(detail)Vlastislav Hofman |architect

Czech designer, painter and architect. Leading figure of the 20th-century avant-garde. One of the founders of Czech Cubism - an intermationally unique movement that applied the ideas of Cubist painters to architecture and decorative arts. Stage designer of world renown.

In: Wikipedia

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The construction of the circle rotating auditorium stands in the middle of the Český Krumlov castle garden in the crossing of its main compositional axes in front of the Bellarie summerhouse.

The construction of the revolving theatre (“turntable”) was complicated and uncontrolled especially in the beginnings; first small wooden constructions were soon being replaced by larger and more complicated variants. Data about reconstructions and increasing capacity differs in different sources, some information is contradictory.

The basic construction scheme did not change in the course of the years: a platform with rows of seats ascends over the circle base (almost square with oblique corners in one version); the area below it, concealing revolving device, was coated in the older versions. The construction is topped by a lighting and technique cabin.

The beginnings of Český Krumlov revolving auditorium are connected with Jihočeský  divadelní  festival (South Bohemia Theatrical Festival) (SBTF), organised by the South Bohemia Theatre (SBT) inČeské Budějovice in summer months. First seasons of theatre productions in the Český Krumlov castle occurred under the  management of at that time director Karel Konstantin in 1947 and 1948 and several performances were introduced in front of the Bellarie summerhouse and cascade fountain in the castle garden as well. Joan Brehms, a stage designer of SBT in 1945–1979, (1907–1995, see   individual entry) was the author of the stage design at that time already.

Within the third year of SBTF, which took place in 1958 after a long interruption, invited spectators saw an experimental performance of the play the Lost face by Günther Weisenborn under direction of the director of SBT Otto Haas on 9th July. A small, manually rotated wooden turntable for perhaps 40 spectators was erected for this occasion in front of the Bellarie summerhouse.

Joan Brehms was the author of the idea, albeit director Haas had a significant share on its emergence as well. Undoubtedly the  innovative solution promised a lot of possibilities. A few years later it was summarized by Vladimír Semrád: “The purpose of the revolving theatre is completely serious: to disrupt, to destroy  deliberately and functionally the convention of a proscenium stage, to use inversely the principle and functions of the stage turntable, therefore to try kinetics in the theatre by the movement of the auditorium, to search for a new stage design […] modes and means, […] specific directional procedures and means of  actors expressions […].“

The question was how it would be successful to employ this potential; already from the beginnings of the revolving theatre was apparent that its seemingly ideal location in idyllic surroundings of castle garden similarly as the composition of spectators of summer festival brings a whole range of limitations, which would not allow to develop and fulfil the experimental character of Brehms’ solution fully.

New auditorium with the considerably higher capacity of 400 seats accommodated spectators already in the summer of 1959; its still manual rotation was procured by 40 soldiers. This version stemmed from roughly square base with oblique corners, it was constructed by V. Louženský according to the Brehms‘ design. Three anticipated subsequent shows of  Jirásek‘s Lantern grew into 23 performances due to an unexpectedly large interest. Therefore the appearance of the auditorium was alternated once again in the following years. The construction was set below the level of the terrain for the first time and its rotation was powered by an electric motor. The capacity increased to 550 seats, a larger director’s cabin was added onto elevated “rear” (an array of its appearance variants appeared in Brehms’ designs in the course of the years). The concept was certainly figured out by Brehms; there is a lack of any information about the eventual participation of other designers - similarly as in the other years.

It was possible to remove several front rows of seats for the purposes of newly introduced opera productions (the first opera in front of the revolving auditorium was almost symptomatically Rusalka by Dvořák); an orchestra sat in so emerged area.

A large interest in the revolving auditorium changed the initial concept of the festival and the productions in front of it (or actually around it) became the centre of the festival in the following years. “Instead of the creation of a particular theatre competition […] it is going to be rather about […] the further exploration and utilization of all the values, which are provided by the environment of the Český Krumlov castle for a theatrical impact […] and further searching for new ways of theatre expression on the stage with the  revolving auditorium.“

The commentary of  Milan Fridrich to the season 1962 describes realistically the period character of the festival: “ the festival outgrows the county borders and is becoming an honest people’s celebration "[…] Callous hands give a ticket to the billet lady, an old lady in the kerchief is finishing to eat cutlet between two breads. These are our spectators.”

Only some sources mention the further enlargement of the turntable before the season 1963. The capacity should have increased to 620 seats and perhaps the first extension above the director’s cabin came into existence in this year.

A large reconstruction of the rotating base occurred in 1966, the auditorium was given a new system of drive (bantam wheels), wooden seats were replaced by laminate ones and the capacity was increased up to 700 spectators.

Dressing rooms were adapted in the Bellarie basement in 1973. The performance of Peer Gynt by Ibsen unveiled more than any other one in this year the dramaturgic limits of turntable and its audience: “... the production was excellent, but our Czech spectator did not accept it in full”. Pictures from the Insects' Life was similarly perplexed in 1980 as well. At that time: ” we have realized that it is not possible to introduce everything in Krumlov.“

SBT attempted to play in the afternoon as well, spectators were disturbed by light, birds and the noise from the roads (another complication was the introduction of summer time in 1979).

Another version of the construction received the guests in 1977. It was more steep in comparison with the older one, technical extension above the directors booth was enlarged, staircase were added on the sides and hitherto laminate sheathing was replaced by wood, aesthetically and acoustically more fitting. The capacity of the auditorium was augmented up to 800 ( elsewhere is stated 850) spectators, who often stood even on the sides of the construction despite of it; up to 100 of such  extra seats overloaded  the electric motors when rotating.

The audience always differed from the “ common” visitors of theatres. “Who is actually our spectator and what he is like? […] mostly it is labourers from plants, members of United Agriculture Cooperative, of State Estates and people from other sectors of our national economy. Apart the minor exceptions, they are always entire collectives […] individual spectator has almost no chance of getting to us”.

It was apparent in the middle of the 1980s that the construction of the auditorium is in the  emergency condition. Its demolition was initiated in the autumn of 1986 and latest at this time, disputes about the admissibility of a new construction in its place have been holding since then.

The design of a new turntable, which stands in the garden up to the present day, emerged in 1988 with a great interest and support of period political representation. Vladimír Landa is its author, another specialists cooperated on the peculiar issues as well. Brehms, whom the authors of the new construction did not consult their designs with, disassociated himself from the turntable, with which layout he was not satisfied. For the stability of the new auditorium, weighting more than 140 tons, it was necessary to excavate 6m large concreted hollow in the terrain. The new layout, different in details from Brehms’ variants, brought decreasing of spectators’ capacity to 644 spectators. After  longer preparation works, the ready construction was inserted into the location during 1993.

The renovation of Bellarie summerhouse was occurring concurrently with the preparation of the new turntable; a background for actors was adapted again in its basement without any respect to the character of the valuable building.

Although it concerned the replacement of the old construction with a completely new one, because of the lack of capital means the building was carried out as a reconstruction. The building permit from 5th September 1988 was issued in the contradiction with the law of State preservation care, because the obligatory statement of the monument preservation office was not issued. Review of this fact led to ( after continuously shifting competences and  property rights in the relation with changes in the state service) request for a statement, addressed to Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic. Subsequent negative opinion of minister of culture to auditorium construction is the final decision of the highest authorized body in this matter since then.

Despite of it, the building office issued a building approval of the “reconstruction” in 1993, however, for a limited period of five years, and assigned its removal up to the end of April 2003 at the same time.

Legitimate request of the auditorium removal from the garden was supported by announcement of Český Krumlov castle as a culture monument in May 1989 and the inscription of castle complex together with the city centre in the list of world heritage UNESCO in December 1992(documents for the  inscription did not mentioned the preparation works for a new turntable, because in the time of their emergence the negative attitude of Ministry of Culture was already issued). Repeated investigations of UNESCO committee confirmed the previous statements of Czech authorities about the incompatibility of the existence of revolving auditorium with preservation of valued environment. The disagreement of location of the auditorium in the garden was not uttered only by preservationists, but repeatedly by Theatre Institute, international Association of stage designers or ICOMOS.

Even a brief description of complicated development after 1993 exceeds the orientation and extent of this text. Ministers of Culture have been  prolonging the temporariness of the revolving theatre in the course of the years under various pretences, political representation has been repeatedly violating the promises about the removal of the construction and definitive solution of the issue has been postponed. Since 2010, the construction has again a permit for operation until 2015, when it will be probably technically obsolete and it will be necessary to replace it again by a new one. The pressure of public and especially the local political representation grows stronger aiming to preserve the existing state; despite of long years of proclamation about the searching for the possibility of another location for the auditorium ( most of the time in the vicinity of castle garden), the representatives of local authorities from the city to the region refuse whichever solution than the contemporary one.

The owner of revolving auditorium is the city of České Budějovice, it is operated by SBT.  

The actual idea of revolving theatre, realized in the exterior actually in Český Krumlov for the first time, is not understandably the invention of Brehms. It was not successful to verify the information that Adolphe Appia was considering it, how it is repeatedly stated without any further details by promotional brochures of SBT. The main inspirational source for Brehms was unquestionably the founder of the Bauhaus, architect Walter Gropius. Brehms drew often from  his project of so called Total Theatre (Totaltheater, 1926 ) and was thinking through the revolving auditorium with relation to it.

Brehms returned several times to the idea of the folding and portable auditorium for 1200–1500  spectators in the course of the years. Gropius’ ideas were the source of so far unrealized project of so called polydimensional theatre device in the nature (See entry Brehms).

Revolving theatre in the interior, which Brehm was experimenting in the later years as well with, was realized in 1959 by Jacques Polieri in Paris.

We can register the first mention about the exterior revolving auditorium in Bohemia in relation with the Prague Baroque exhibition in 1938. Director Jiří Frejka intended to construct such an auditorium in the garden of Vallenstein palace at that time; it was called off for alleged  demandingness and Vlastislav Hofman created a more traditionally arranged auditorium for the production within the exhibition. Frejka’s idea did not apparently gain  greater publicity and Brehms was possibly not aware of it. Shortly after Brehms’ realization, the idea of revolving auditorium appeared in some unrealized designs of theatre buildings, always in the interior and mostly in succession with Gropius Total Theatre (Luboš Doutlík and Jindřich Krise, Hradec Králové 1960; the team of Vlastibor Klimeš and others at the same time in Pardubice, afterwards others again in Hradec in 1968; Bohumil Böhm was inspired by the revolving theatre in the design of the SBT building , 1959).

Almost concurrently with Český Krumlov auditorium, another one emerged in Finnish Tampere (1959). Amateur actors built the second revolving theatre in Bohemia in Týn nad Vltavou (1983, see individual entry).

Present state

The existing revolving auditorium stands, similarly as its previous versions, in the crossing of the main compositional axes of Český Krumlov castle garden, in the circular space in front of the Bellarie summerhouse.

It elevates above the circular base, hiding rotation gear and electric motors under the level of the surrounding terrain. The plate of the actual auditorium with rows of seats grows out of the platform trimmed with a narrow band of paving under the circa 30º angle. Rows of seats are divided by aisles into three sectors, a side staircase from the rear part leads to the middle of both the aisles.

The middle of the space under the auditorium is filled partially by glass polygon of a kiosk with refreshments with the mentioned side staircases on the sides; behind them two doors lead to technical background on both the sides. The rest of the available area under the auditorium is revived by plastic furniture with sunshades during the season.

There is a glass cabin of technique,  with side lighting arms and gallery, accessible from the rear through two short staircases, above the rear part of the auditorium. The entire auditorium is trimmed with metal banister. Independently standing lighting towers are the component of the auditorium.

The steel construction has a diameter of 28 m and reaches the height of 7 m, with a superstructure above the auditorium even 12 m.

The utilitarian character of the construction, which is only hardly to be labelled architecture, resembles at most a provincial sports complex and sharply contrasts with the cultivated surroundings of the castle garden. What is concealed by the dark during the productions and what their visitors do not have to see by artificial lighting, appears for the more in the daylight, when the auditorium overrides the basic compositional layout of the garden and negatively influences the enjoyment of their multiple numerous day visitors.

A heated discussion about the existence of the revolving theatre abandoned  the field of rational arguments a long ago. Despite of it, it is apparent that the largest part of the Český Krumlov revolving auditorium attractiveness does not lay in its actual originality, but in combination with the unique surroundings of castle garden in the first place; it is probably not possible to find any other explanation for a stubborn refusal of transferring the construction out of the garden that the worry about the lower attendance. The revolving theatre thus parasites confessedly on the historical surroundings, which cause harm to it and it did not add anything new to its for a centuries created qualities.

As long as the revolving theatre will be standing in the castle garden and it will not prove its lifespan even without added value of “hosting“ area, it is not even possible to evaluate objectively its art contribution – for that matter the fact that the surroundings of the garden confine the auditorium possibilities in many regards, is admitted even by its most obdurate sympathizers. Its prolonged existence by non-standard ways is  sad evidence of the incapability of our society to keep its own regulations; embarrassing evasions in the international level (UNESCO) are only the secondary result.


Literature (selection):

– Vladimír Semrád, Dvě představení VIII. jihočeského festivalu, Acta scaenographica 4, 1963–1964, č. 3, s. 58

– Milan Fridrich, 30 kapitol JDF, České Budějovice 1985

– Ladislav Lajcha, Priestorové opusy Joana Brehmsa, Slovenské divadlo 34, 1986, č. 1, s. 17–68

– Jan Dvořák, Joan Brehms, Praha 1987

Zprávy památkové péče LXVII, 2007, č. 4, s. 265–288 (zde texty – abecedně – Václava Girsy, Věry Kučové, Jiřího Olšana, Vlastislava Ourody, Pavla Slavka a Jiřího Šestáka) (accesible on-line: http://www.npu.cz/pp/zpp/obsahy/2007/2007-4/)

– Petr Hasal a kol., Otáčivé hlediště Český Krumlov: Padesát let jedinečného divadla, České Budějovice 2008 (neprodejná propagační publikace Jihočeského divadla)

– Matěj Krnínský a kol., Příběhy krumlovské točny, Krnín 2009



Tags: Avant-garde, Communist Czechoslovakia


Author: Jiří Bláha

Translator: Jan Purkert

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