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ABC Theatre

Osvald Polívka

alias Satire Theatre (1956-1959), Theatre by Nováks, Liberated Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1904 | Opening of the new building

Store house  U Nováků was built in  1901-1904 according the design by significant Czech architect Osvald Polívka and enlarged in 1927-29.

(detail)1929 | Liberated theatre

Liberated theatre of Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich was operative since 1929 to termination of its operation in 1938 in the new theatre hall.



ABC there is situated in the basement of the department store U Nováků built between 1901 and 1904. It was designed by a prominent Czech architect Osvald Polívka (1859-1931) and further expanded in the period from 1927 to 1929. From 1885 till 1890, Osvald Polívka worked as an assistant of prof. Josef Zítko at the German technical university in Prague. He was registered as an independent architect from 1890. Due to his outstanding talent he was in high demand among some of the wealthiest investors of his time. He designed a considerable number of ostentatious buildings, such as commercial and saving banks or insurance companies, mainly in Prague city centre. His knowledge of history, creative visual imagination, his aspiration to achieve rich dynamic expression, as well as his continuous collaboration with the best Czech artists contributed significantly to his creative work from Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque (e.g. Municipal Insurance Company on Staroměstské nám.) to Art Nouveau projects (e.g. Municipal House Prague). He inclined to Neo-Classicist Modernity later in his life (e.g. Czech Bank at Wenceslas Square). The annex building of the department store U Nováků falls within this period. The project was implemented by the building contractor František Antonín Troníček and the result was a luxurious multifunctional house with shops, offices, and a café on the ground floor, and entertainment space in the basement.

The first theatre group that performed in the newly established theatre hall from 1929/30 season until they had to stop their activities in 1938 was the Liberated Theatre of Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich – with the exception of 1935/36 season, when the theatre group played under the name “Manacled Theatre” in Rokoko hall. Towards the end of 1938, the theatre was bought by the comedian Jára Kohout and renamed “Divadlo u Nováků”. After the Second World War, Werich a Voskovec tried to revive the Liberated Theatre. However, the theatre ceased existing due to their disputes and the fact that Jiří Voskovec emigrated in 1948. In 1951, Prague Variety Shows were organized there by the Czechoslovak Circuses, Variety Shows, and Fun-Fairs. Since 1955, the Theatre of Satire performed here under the management of Jan Werich. They attempted to continue the tradition of the Liberated Theatre. For administrative and political reasons, this stage was renamed to ABC Theatre in 1958. When Werich stopped cooperating with the theatre in 1960, the stage was managed shortly by Miroslav Horníček. The ABC Theatre ceased existing as an independent stage at the end of 1961/62 season and was absorbed - including the actors - by the Municipal Prague Theatres.

The house is situated on the building parcel facing the streets V Jámě and Vodičkova. The multifunctional complex of the concrete-steel building is composed of one main wing and six five-storey wings with a two-level attic grouped around three inner courtyards. On the ground-floor level, the wings are interconnected by a network of arcades and parlours. The whole building has two levels of basement. The theatre can be accessed through two identical hallways and staircases with marble pavement; the walls are covered with travertine socle and the ceilings are divided by stucco profiles. The theatre takes up the space of two basements of the building; the stage is located in the western part of the rectangular hall. There is a cloakroom with a bar on the circle level (first-level basement) and on the ground floor eastwards from the staircase; and there is a circular hallway westwards from the staircase. In the eastern part of the building there used to be an access to the theatre restaurant from the space behind the cloakrooms and toilets.

The floor of the auditorium is slightly slanted; the stage is located on the west side. The full breastwork of the balcony follows a ground-floor curve in the middle; two side arms are lowered twice. The ceiling is supported by transverse corbels with teeth which come out of side walls. The circle and the auditorium can be entered through hallways with gates between the quadrilateral pillars. Originally, the architect designed five boxes on each side (two big boxes divided by a partition wall). Technical facilities of the theatre, dressing rooms etc. are located behind the stage and by its south-west part. This part can be accessed through a separate side entrance – from the archway through the staircase into the basement pass the elevator shaft. There used to be a ballet hall in the basement (now a theatre club). Also, there used to be cloakrooms; a storage room for props and technical facilities in the second basement behind the stage.

There is a variety hall with a similar design – with an oval dance floor and a restaurant - in the basement next to the theatre. In 1957, reconstruction work was carried out on the Theatre of Satire implemented by the architect Štěpán Kopecký. The work was carried out mainly in the auditorium – the circle was extended by three additional rows; the seating capacity in the stalls was expanded, and a new bridge for lighting was installed. More adaptation work was carried out in two phases in the period from 1998 to 1999. In the first phase, reconstruction work was carried out in the backstage, dressing rooms; technical facilities were modernized, and a theatre club replaced the former ballet hall. In the second phase, the auditorium was adapted – five rows were abolished and the stage was extended by 4 metres in order to build a trap and an orchestra pit. The size of the boxes in the stalls was reduced so that the auditorium could be separated from the foyer and isolated from the noise which would potentially disturb the audience. After the reconstruction, the capacity of the auditorium was reduced from 620 seats to 504. Also, there was a new sound and lighting control system and a great improvement of the overall acoustics.

The project basically preserved the original concept designed by Osvald Polívka in terms of the space solution.

Sources and literature:

- Stavební archiv úřadu městské části  Praha 1

- Archiv Divadla ABC

- Baťková, Růžena a kol.: Umělecké památky Prahy – Nové Město a Vyšehrad, Praha 1998, s. 409-410.



Tags: Neoclassicism, Interwar period, terraced house, theatre hall


Author: Markéta Svobodová

Translator: Zdislava Kratěnová

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