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Theatre in Kalisz, 1835-1858

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1835 | construction

(detail)1858 | fire of the building


(detail)Jakub Lubiejewski |Commissioned by
The owner of the theater redeemed in 1835 by the City and allocated to the municipal theater.

(detail)Wojciech Bogusławski |director, theatre director
Considered the "father" of the national stage, actor, stage director, theatre manager and playwright.More theatres


It was by a lucky chance that Kalisz might and has every right associate the history of its theatre with a dignified name of the "father of the Polish stage". Therefore, Kalisz will preserve this chance forever in its grateful memory and the time will come to make a record of this.

Kazimierz Stefański, a historian and chronicler of Kalisz stage, in his publication, wrote

these words almost seventy years ago. Its impression coincided with opening the theatre

building after many years of financial and material efforts by the entire community of the town. In 1936 the theatre, associated with Wojciech Bogusławski, was finally erected in the same location as the two-previous ones. The place was almost ideal, best, on the viewpoint axis of a representative avenue, on the riverbank and on the edge of a picturesque and scenery park. Kalisz has preserved this 200-year-old lucky chance in its grateful memory. Like hardly any town it cherishes this theatre tradition by making references hereupon so that it could spread with new artistic events, names, premieres and so that a new theatre poster could appear several times a year to announce a new performance. This tradition is preserved owing to hundreds of publications, books, programs, brochures, granite plaques and new stages. All of this is meant for those who play and those who love watching the performers. Indestructible tradition. Let us have a look at it.


Whoever knew Kalisz in those times-as Bogusławski wrote in his memoir in 1800 - which remained empty for most of the day, must have comprehended that only severa' people would be willing to attend performances. Much was he astounded when about six in the evening he saw many a carriage with nearby citizens and their families hurrying to the theatre.

In summer 1800 a select company of Warsaw actors arrived in Kalisz to open, on August 2, a cycle of several performances with a comedy by Colman-Ziegier, Ton wielkiego świata i dobre serce (Tone of a Big World and Good Heart). The first plays were performed in a "shabby shed" as Bogusławski called it, situated within the premises of the municipal hospital in Warszawskie Przedmieście just behind Prosna canal.

The condition of the first hall was so appalling that Bogusławski could not be satisfied with such a "lousy building" and immediately, in less than a year's time, he erected, at his own expense, a new building of wood and brick nogged timber wall. As he wrote, it was sufficient "to house a thousand people [in fact five hundred - from the editor] and to stage many, even big plays and adorned with pained decorations by Antoni Smuglewicz". The building was put up in the same place as the previous one and served the theatre until 1815. Two years later, due to a bad technical condition, it was pulled down and performances were moved to the Polish Hotel, which offered the most spacious hall at that time.

Bogusławski tooksuch a liking to the town on the Prosna that, tired and fed up with the struggle for existence and permanent intrigues in Warsaw, he intended to settle in Wielkopolska for good, "where I will maintain, as long as I can, the national stage and Kalisz may support me in this challenge"…

Trips to the country during summer holidays brought significant income for the National Theatre, which Bogusławski used as the director to make up for the constant deficit in the treasury. Apart from this prosaic reason for coming to Kalisz, there must have been another idea, which accompanied the travel of the author of Krakowiacy i Górale (Krakovians and Highlanders). This was a desire to reach every corner of the Polish Republic with a good patriotic play in order to support a live spirit of national community among Polish people torn by annexation cordons.

The National Theatre visited Kalisz 12 times, coming here regularly until 1824 (Bogusław­ski himself was here in 1823 for the last time) for two or three-week long performances, usually falling on the so-called midsummer transactions, that is the end of June. Altogether during 235 evenings about 310 plays were staged, copying Warsaw repertoire with certain modifications. This repertoire included a wide range of genres. They brought here mainly entertaining plays, that is comedies, and very popular then comic operas, a sort of vaudeville, generously filled with dances and songs treating popular subjects: Besides them, there were moralising dramas, historic sights and operas with Cud mniemany [The Pretended Miracle) on top, inwhich Kalisz citizens, could admire the director in the role-of the student Bardos. Bogusławski tried to introduce to Kalisz stage the most outstanding examples of the worldwide and Polish drama: adaptations of tragedies by Shakespeare, Corneille, Racine, Wolter; comedies by Molier, Goldoni, and Zabłocki. In other words these were plays that dealt with big human problems and, by means of allusions, recalled the political status of the nation. In this way Bogusławski theatre evoked ferment and stirred up fever thus becoming a political rostrum of campaigning. The impact of his activityon the audience could be particularly observed inpre-uprising period. Supposedly, the youth from the Prosna were so brave that in 1824,despite the activity of Russian eavesdroppers and censorship, they presented in their theatre a revolution against the monarchs, recruiting even a police superintendent. Undoubtedly, it was already at the times of Bogusławski that this typically Polish theatre emerged: theatre of allusions. Kalisz citizens were able to admire most eminent actors of that age: Józefa Ledóchowska - the greatest Polish tragedy actor, Agnieszka Truskolaska, Maria Każyńska, Alojzy Żół­kowski – a great comedian, excellent joker, author of letters from Kalisz, which included a few unrefined epithets about the town and its citizens, Ludwik Adam Dmuszewski, the au­thor of the first press reports from Kalisz stage, Ignacy Werowski or superb Bonawentura Kudlicz from nearby Pleszew making his debut in Kalisz. Last but not least, they could also see Bogusławski himself, who supervised the debut of his 15-year-old daughfer, Rozalia Bogusławska, in 1802. The visits of Warsaw National Theatre originated a most important tradition of the Polish theatre art in the history of Kalisz. The representations of the first national stage became a school of civil and cultural education, not only spreading attachment to the national language and customs hut also teaching good taste and offering pleasant entertainment as well. The theatre gained a complete approval of the local audience, which was reliably confirmed by eavesdropper Marcott in his information, where he clearly indicated, "actors were simply adored in this town".


The companies that would strive for friendliness of Kalisz citizens throughout 19th centu­ry represented an incomparably lower artistic class than Bogusławski’s company. As a matter of fact among them there are companies with efficient actors, various and sometimes ambitious repertoire. However, the lack of material security did not let them survive for too long. Moreover, they depended entirely on, not always choosy, taste of the theatre audience expecting most of all entertainment, particularly in the period of patriotic silence. In the first half of the century the strongest exporter of theatre art was Cracow. Still in the period of friendly performances of the National Theatre, smaller companies occasionally visited Ka­lisz; Karol Baur's among them (already in 1811). Besides Baur, Kalisz hosted the company of Jan Milewski for as many as five months in 1819. Such a long period of time required the entrepreneur not only to show invention while selecting the repertoire, filled abundantly with terror and mystery but also to hire tightrope acrobats and strongmen. A well-known Warsaw strongman, Rappo, was even employed by a very good Cracow theatre of Kazi­mierz Skibiński, which stayed here several times in the pre-uprising period. Kalisz always welcomed Cracow artists enthusiastically and local amateur musicians many a time supported the theatre orchestra. His merits are supplemented by the construction of another theatre building. On his request, a janitor of the local tribunal erected a wooden summer theatre with 19 rows of benches and 10 boxes - situated, where the present building is located, by the river and park, at the end of Josephine Avenue. "It was a worthless stuff - so wrote a province constructor - because after a year the Province Committee had the owner build a ceiling in order to prevent the audience from getting wet”. Since there was no other hall in Kalisz at that time (Bogusławski theatre was pulled down in 1817 and the ceiling in the Polish Hotel fell down), it was used for another 6 years.


In 1835 in Kalisz a meeting of monarchs was held: Prussian king, Frederic William III and Russian tsar, Nicholas I. In order to make the monarchs' stay in the town on the Prosna enjoyable, Lubiejewski theatre was quickly rebuilt. Although the repair was made hurriedly, due to the urgent deadline, the building looked quite presentable. According to the report by a historian Adam Chodyński, "actresses and actors had their spacious rooms behind the stage, downstairs and upstairs and also a spacious dressing-room. The proscenium, wings and theatre itself were lit by a sufficient number of oil lamps and wall lights. A big chandelier was placed in the middle of an oval ceiling and lowered through its opening. The area of the very stage was quite reasonable to allow for bigger dramas, operas and ballets". The building was opened in August and already in November Wincenty Raszewski turned to the local

authorities. He settled down here with a small company and just as poor repertoire (still evoking joy in the audience with such plays as Gałganduch, czyli Hultajska Trójka [Pomperwinkel - the Raskal Trio]), being performed till the half of 1836.

However, the real feast was given to Kalisz theatre lovers by two Cracow entrepreneurs, Tomasz Andrzej Chełchowski and Juliusz Pfeiffer. They kept coming here in 1830's and 1840's with experienced companies staging current drama and opera repertoire, showing rich decorations and wardrobe. It must be mentioned that in those times Kalisz hosted such actors as Teresa Palczewska, Jan Królikowski, Bogumił Dawison, Jan Panczykowski or Zygmunt Anczyc. Adventurous and thrilling plays like Rinaldo Rinaldini enjoyed great popularity. However, they did not neglect bigger format plays, often staging compositions by Fredro (it was Cheł­chowski who first showed Zemsta (Yengeance) in Kalisz), Korzeniowski and foreign repertoire by Victor Hugo among others. On stage romantic aesthetics triumphed. Especially, Pfeiffer was its advocate. Pursuing stage effects, he introduced to the stage crowds of performers, dragons belching fire, bloody phantoms, scare dummies, ghosts or Bengal fires.

Following 1844 when the district was abolished by a tsar order, Kalisz gradually began to fall into decline becoming a through and through provincial town. The theatre deeply felt those changes losing a significant part of its audience made up of office intellectuals. The poorly finished theatre building became a ruin at terrific rate. The town found it hard to allocate at least a few roubles for its repair. Even though Pfeiffer intended to settle down on the Prosna by offering in 1855 to reconstruct the declining theatre, Russian authorities saw no reason for supporting Polish art.


On April 19, 1858 the theatre burnt down. As reported by witnesses of this event, "the police in vain called for help; everybody observed the beautiful sight of burning columns and green zinc flames with crossed arms because they knew it was well insured in the "Fire Com­pany". This inactivity of Kalisz citizens resulted from naive belief that the amount of compensation will allow for immediate reconstruction of the building. However, despite numerous private and council initiatives, they had to wait over 40 years to make the dream come true. For the needs of shows by wandering artists, a merchant, Neuman Goliński adapted a riding stable in 1865 and a few years later he erected a wooden winter theatre, partly roofed for 300 spectators. Anastazy Trapszo, grandfather of Mieczysława Ćwiklińska, regularly acted in both theatres for almost 20 years. As the first in Kalisz, he introduced a garden theatre repertoire but did not forget about more ambitious literature. Imperfections of Trapszo's theatre (critics and spectators were generous with complaints) were made up for by performances of great actors. Among them were Józef Teksel and Karol Doroszyński, who soon took the new role of entrepreneurs or Adolfina Zimajer and Helena Marcello who their first steps in Kalisz. The company of Józef Teksel stood out among numerous theatre companies visiting Kalisz during the last decades of 19,h century. At his disposal were a few dozen of operas, operettas, dramas, own several-man orchestra and such great actors as Julia Leichnitzówna, Czapska sisters, Aleksander Ignacy Kaliciński. At that time Kalisz citizens were so much in love with operetta, applauding cheerfully Piękna Helena (La Belle Helene) or Życie paryskie (La Vie Parisienne). In the atmosphere dominated by a short-skirt muse, there appeared quire frequently plays from a serious drama repertoire, even the most outstanding ones.

Joanna Chojka Wojciech Bogusławski Theatre, Wydawnictwo Sztuka i Rynek



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28. www.teatr.kalisz.pl



Author: Joanna Chojka

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