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Town Theatre

alias Jesuit Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1613 | opening

(detail)18. century | opening

(detail)27.3.1971 | closure


The beginnings of the theatrical use of the house N. 153 in Horní ulice (Upper Street) are related to neighbouring Jesuit College, built in the location of older houses in 1586-1590. Reports about the construction development, dimension and appearance of Jesuit’s  and later city theatre are, however, only fragmentary up to the end of the 19th century and its interpretation is hindered by frequent repetition of some erroneous or conflicting assertions as well. Incorrect is the assertion, frequently handed down, that building of the later theatre was built in the location of abolished synagogue. According to Jiří  Záloha, the term synagogue, which indeed appears in reports about the house since the middle of the 17th century, is necessary to understand only as a defamatory label for a house, in which non-Catholics lived, which  did not need to have anything in common with Jewishness. We know nothing certain about the existence and location of Krumlov synagogue at that time. Although for instance the authors of historical building survey of the theatre conceded that the location by city fortifications would have been convenient for it, more probable is opposite Záloha’s opinion that it would not have been possible at the beginning of the 17th century that Jewish chapel would have been standing in exposed Horní ulici (Upper Street), furthermore in the close vicinity of the Catholic church.

Hypothesis about the synagogue was definitely ruled out by the new detection of house owners since beginning of the 16th century, when it was possessed by three generations of butchers; it is commemorated today by a newly unveiled crest of butcher’s guild on the facade. The Jesuits were given the entire area between presbytery, Upper gate and fortification walls above the river from Vilém of Rožmberk at College foundation; therefore the city bought out eight private houses and several gardens including the house of butcher Tancl, who was given 450 three scores of Meissner Groschen  for it. Therefore erroneous is the report of older authors that College purchased the house from Abraham Albin of  Schwalbenhof in 1603.

The older literature often states as well that the building of the future theatre was already adapted in 1613 for theatre purposes.  This year is, however, related only to the construction of a wooden theatre “a movable stage” (therefore with a mechanism for moving scenery) in the yard of the College. Not before the half of the 17th century, the theatre was relocated into a hall adapted for this purpose “in the old house neighbouring with the town gate”, used before probably only as a storeroom (it seems that the Jesuits abandoned the original plan of adaptation of  College chapel here). College chancellor P. Jan Dasselmann was writing about the plan of assembly hall or auditorium establishment for ceremonial gatherings, dialogue production and theatre plays in 1653 shortly  after the construction of Jesuit seminary ( N. 152, presently museum) had been finished. He commenced to realize it probably in the following year and already in 1655, disciples produced play Protasius, Arimae regulus in this hall. A part of endowment of Admond abbot Urban for College was dedicated for theatre equipment two years later. Mentions of alleged repairs or theatre stage enlargement in 1635 and 1639 are then perhaps still related to a wooden stage in the yard of College. (Javorin’s assertion that the theatre came into existence concurrently with the College is apparently erroneous interpretation of the fact that students enacted the first theatre performance in College already in 1591.)

If it did not come into existence already in 1613, old Český Krumlov theatre was then not 

“the oldest theatre building in the Central Europe” as it has been often stated. It is not possible to even speak about a theatre building for a long time: all classes of high school were moved here from College in 1663 and similarly as in other colleges, the theatre hall in Český Krumlov was in fact only the biggest of high school classrooms. Even after the high school had been abolished, classrooms occupied the ground floor and a part of the first floor of the house and the theatre acquired the entire house not before the beginning of the 20th century. Despite of it, Krumlov Jesuits’ theatre was important in comparison with theatres of another colleges and certainly well technically equipped as the reports of produced performances evidence. The largest one occurred in 1687 and lasted for three days and one did not save the effects requiring rich decorating and complicated machinery. Jesuit theatre, following especially propagandistic purposes apart pedagogic regards, was produced also elsewhere apart the theatre hall, often in the college garden,  church, at square, in streets or in Krumlov chateau.

We do not know the exact age of the house N. 153: portal with a pointed arch in the street frontage originates from the time around the middle of the 15th century. According to the dimension, mentioned in 1653, only the older, west part of the house with a portal was standing still in the middle of the 17th century. The east part is more recent as well as the first floor, added to it at the same time or even later. It is not possible to say with certainty, whether the house spread out in the course of adaptations, mentioned in relation with relocation of the high school in 1663 (at least barrel vaults with lunettes in the ground floor originate precisely from the 17th century) or not until around 1760, when cracks appeared on the house walls and it was necessary to carry out extensive repairs (preserved layout of the facades came into existence in this phase).

Storey layout of the enlarged house probably corresponded originally to the ground floor ( central corridor behind the staircase, transverse double aisle on the sides) and this layout has remained only in rear (south) part of the house only after the theatre hall had been adapted to its final extent.

The theatre hall was not in a good state already at the end of the 18th century. It underwent a reconstruction between 1808 – 1812, about which we are better informed than about the older ones. Apparently only minor adaptations or repairs had been carried out before the end of 1808, because the theatre  was operational already in January of 1809. The majority of construction works was concentrated to summer months of 1810; 1 981 Guldens and 51 Crowns were spent on building from the total budget of  2 242 Guldens 21¼ Crowns between July to September. A large part of disbursements was allegedly covered by profit from productions. According to a contemporary report, citizens spoke highly how a nice theatre was given to them after the reconstruction.

We can only speculate about the changes, which were brought by this reconstruction as well as about the previous ones. The sources mention only one specific adaptation, a formation of a second entrance into the theatre on the outside staircase to the first floor, added to the east facade. Latest by this reconstruction, the theatre was enlarged or at least adapted into the appearance, known still from photographs from the 1960s, which depict hall “from the era of the late Classicism” in simple forms with cast-iron columns of galleries. However, we can not exclude nor the possibility that the hall occupied the entire front part of the first floor under Jesuits: according to some authors, theatre area occupied almost the whole first floor already after adaptations in 1663, according to an unspecified Jesuit chronicle, there were two classrooms (against four in the ground floor) in the first floor and the hall occupied the rest of the storey.

Upper gate, so far adjacent to the northeast corner of the building, was torn down in 1839. The theatre was still the property of the city, from which troupes of travelling actors and enterprisers were hiring it. Local amateur theatrical society was playing there  since the middle of the 19th century. Revenue from performances had to cover the costs for required repairs of the decaying building; the theatre was not even suitable for operation in some years due to the bad state. A part of existing classrooms was released for increasing needs of the theatre in 1871.

An unclear reference is connected to the year 1906, that the theatre hall came into existence by one of the reconstructions of four rooms in the ground and first floor in hotel Růže ( the Rose) (in former college).

The school changed its seat after the First World War and only now the theatre commenced to utilize the entire house. Permanent theatre company was based here since 1919. With the name Südböhmische Schaubühne and under direction of playwright Hans Sassmann, it was performed for six month and the theatre was setting out on tours throughout entire Bohemian Forest apart from productions in the home stage. The troupe had over twenty actors, musicians and technical personnel around 1930.

The needed large repair was constantly postponed.  Bartušek and other authors assert that the theatre was rebuilt in 1925 “according to the design by architect Paykert”; no one has been successful in finding any evidence for whichever repair, let alone for a large reconstruction in this year (albeit City Theatre archive collection is inaccessible, the larger repair should have been surely recorded in city documents). Mention of the fact that there had not been done anything on the stage for nine years and all, including sceneries, is in a bad condition, rather indicates that no such a repair has occurred. No larger gap for adaptations is even in the list of repertoire from 1920-1932 ( although these could have been carried out in the time of summer holidays). There was a talk about the necessity of repairs in 1923, but the only works supported with evidence are just adaptations (whitewashing) in 1921 and then in 1931 and 1932. The city dedicated more attention to surveillance over operation and repertoire than to the state of the building.

After the end of the Send World War, there appeared again complaints about the bad state of  the theatre and its equipment in documents (janitor demanded procurement of at least basic furniture and properties from the city among other). Theatre director František Koprolín was asking for the theatre rental already in July 1945 and for the possibility of establishing a permanent scene here (later he proposed – already as a director of Central Bohemia Theatre- at least an assistance by organization). It was, however, apparent that the operation of a permanent theatre scene is above the city potential. After an overhaul in 1947, Městský národní výbor (MNV) (Municipal National Committee) rented the theatre with entire  equipment for 4 000 Crowns a year to amateur theatrical society Český Krumlov Scene.

The largest part of indispensable theatre reconstruction, permitted by Zemský národní výbor (Regional National Council) already in October 1946, occurred in 1947. Building department of MNV registered the work for 282 624 Crowns at that year, Český Krumlov Scene disbursed another 34 276 Crowns. Apart of  underground services exchange,  for instance a new floor was laid in the auditorium, the theatre was given a new curtain and drop. It was not successful to install a planned iron curtain apparently for financial issues. If Ministerstvo školství a osvěty (Ministry of  education and enlightenment) paid at least a part of the costs as it was asked by MNV on 17th November 1947,  is not clear from preserved reports.

Renewed theatre welcomed visitors for the first time at production of Jirásek’s Gero on 28th October 1947. The ground plan of the theatre hall formed irregular quadrangle occupying roughly the half of both upper storeys of the building along the entire street frontage. It was accessible by a staircase in the rear part of the middle corridor, on which sides there were two cloakrooms on the right and cash desk on the left in the ground floor, office with minor staircase into dressing rooms and sceneries painting shop with lift up to stage. There were toilets in the yard extension, inbuilt between the building and former city fortification. The foyer, accessible from east side even through outdoor staircase, was adjacent to the auditorium in the first floor and dressing rooms to the stage. The hall was entered through two entrances from foyer, another door led from the staircase into the front auditorium part and (before the last reconstruction) into orchestra pit as well. A staircase led from foyer onto first gallery; period label “box” is inaccurate, rows of seats along circumference were interrupted only by gallery columns. The second gallery was entered from foyer in the second floor, where a theatre equipment storeroom was located above the cloakrooms.

Gallery, on the plan of three rectangle sides with rounded angles, was supported by five columns along the side and two in the front; whereas cylinder columns in  the ground floor had simple capitals, columns in the first floor were of square plan. White auditorium without any embellishment was lit by evenly distributed spotlights and lightings in galleries as well. Rectangular proscenium arch was framed only by a double stucco moulding. It seems from the photos from the 1960s that the orchestra pit, drew in the designs for after war reconstruction, ceased to exist during these repairs.

The auditorium with oblique floor was of a size, with the orchestra pit included, of circa 13 × 8,2 m, the stage of 8,4 × 8–6,9 m. According to Javorin, the theatre had 268 seats, from which 166 in the ground floor, 40 in the “boxes” on the fist gallery and 26  and 26 standing rooms on the second gallery. (The design from time before reconstruction shows the same total amount of seats in a little bit different distribution: 160 in the ground floor, 50 on the first gallery, 58 on the second.)

Despite the executed repairs, technical state of the building was being permanently deteriorating since 1940 (post war reconstruction was passed as  only three year provisional measure), even a statics problems appeared and general building adaptation – within redevelopment of the majority of historical buildings in the centre - seemed to be soon unavoidable.

Last performance in the old city theatre took place on 27th March 1971. The building was being closed up with the vision of a reconstruction. Already before the closure, a design of its reconstruction into motion-picture theatre came into existence; the old city cinema in Nová hospoda (the New Inn) was at least in the same poor condition as the theatre. Mentions of adaptation of the theatre into cinema appeared still in 1972, however, soon they disappeared and one commenced to discuss other utilization. According to the design by Státního ústav pro rekonstrukci památkových měst a objektů (SÚRPMO) (State institute for reconstruction of memorial cities and building), dated back to 1977, the theatre building transformation commenced a  year later to be an accommodation part of Růže hotel, which had its seat in former Jesuits college since the end of the 19th century. The theatre was deprived of all inner constructions (only the perimeter wall remained standing above the ground floor vaults after the demolition) and all the traces of theatrical use of the building definitely disappeared.

The city started to lack the grand hall for culture purposes at latest in this moment, and it was obtained not until the new city theatre was opened in 1993. Amateur actors and not local troupes were playing meanwhile in provisional conditions of other spaces, for instance in Vyšehrad hotel and among other in the location of the present city theatre, in the hall of Nová hospoda (the New Inn) above Horní brána (the Upper Gate).



Author: Jiří Bláha

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