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Rozmaitości Theatre in the building of Charity Association

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1829 | opening

(detail)1887 | closure

(detail)1944 | fire



The inscription “Res sacra miser” still decorates the façade of a rather small, light, seven-window-axis building with two higher projections on the sides. It is located opposite a little park with a statue of the Virgin Mary from Passawa. This inconspicuous house was the headquarters of one of the oldest public theatres in the capital.

On 7 August 1819, “Gazeta Warszawska” published an announcement that, “on 30 and 31 July, the Charity Association moved its headquarters from the Franciscan monastery to the former Carmelite monastery on Krakowskie Przedmieście, “which had been rearranged for this purpose.”  The former monastery was converted to a design by the outstanding architect, Antonio Corazzi. On the first floor he designed a room 28 by 8 by 6 metres. This room seems to have quickly attracted the attention of all organisers of shows who had not managed to hire rooms in the building of the National Theatre. Thus, already in 1820, a Mr Molduano gave a show of “mechanical, physical and magnetic arts” in the new room of the Association. Theatrical life was to flourish there nine years later.

In April 1829, a group of actors directed by Józef Milewski moved in here. The theatre was called “Polski” or “small”, to differentiate it from the large one on Krasiński square. It was in operation only until September. Although it was not a top class theatre, it filled a gap, as it performed light, funny plays that could not be watched on the respectable national stage, often called “a temple of boredom”. Thus, under the pressure of public opinion, Ludwik Osiński, the managing director of the theatre on Krasiński Square, decided to set up a new theatre in the little room of the Charity Association. It was called the Rozmaitości Theatre (“Varieties” – a translation of French “Variété”) and inaugurated on 11 September 1829 with the comedies Maritime Law by Kotzebue and Servant of Two Masters by Goldoni. On the following day, “Kurier Warszawski” reported: “Yesterday was the first show by the newly opened association of young Polish actors under the Government Management. Using the name the Rozmaitości Theatre, it is to give appropriate stage shows in the building of the Charity Association at a price lower than in the National Theatre.” In a preserved bill from October of that year we can read: “Usual price of tickets. To avoid mistakes while taking seats, every ticker purchaser will be given a separate smaller ticket that they will keep to produce and prove they are sitting in the appropriate seat, if necessary.” The press lists 156 seats and 80 standing places in the stalls, 70 seats in the dress circle, the gods for 100 people and two boxes.  The number of spectators sometimes mentioned shows that the theatre could hold over 400 people (the highest number mentioned was 420).

The house was full throughout 1829, the first year of the theatre’s existence. In the press of that period you would often read: “All places were taken” or “the theatre was crowded.” The press also pointed out another consequence of the new theatre’s foundation: “The newly established Rozmaitości Theatre has significantly prompted authors to write dramas” – Kurier Warszawski says in text signed G – “Let the gusto go on, let us have our Scribes, as we found a new Molière in the author of Geldhab.”

In a report from 4 August 1829, spy Mackrott informed Duke Constantine that the youth often provoked turmoil in the new, little Rozmaitości Theatre, in the edifice of the Charity Association on Krakowskie Przedmieście. “The day before yesterday, the audience wildly applauded and cheered the performance of the comedy Asmodeuszek. When the words Are there any spies in hell as well? were heard on the stage, the young people made the actors repeat the scene. The same play is on tonight.”

The atmosphere in the house was usually casual and the audience noisily expressed their approval or disapproval. For instance, at the second performance of the comic drama Werter, the numerous audience enjoyed the show and “frequently applauded the exquisite performance of actors who that time played their roles even better in view of the fact that the opponents partially did not arrive, and partially they decided not to interrupt the audience’s  fun.” The comedy Search until you find was disapproved of by several spectators, whereas another comedy, Unseparated, was applauded; however, after some songs there was little opposition.”  It is worth adding that the theatre was often frequented by Juliusz Słowacki.

On 29 November 1830, an uprising broke out and it is a well-known fact that the Rozmaitości Theatre was commemorated in The November Night by Wyspiański. It is confirmed in Diary by Henryk Gołejewski, a participant of the uprising. It does not mention Chłopicki, who is believed to have been in the auditorium, but it states that several cadets “rushed into the stalls like bombs,” calling for people in shrill voices to hurry up to the seized Arsenal to pick up weapons. We also read in the memoirs that there was a buffet in the theatre where ice cream was served during intervals.

During the uprising the theatre was open and, like in the National Theatre, patriotic and up-to-date plays were staged, such as Koś­ciuszko, Miss Colonel, Insurgent with a Scythe, Ode to a Military Cross, Old Commanding Officer, 29 November and others. The theatre was also a venue for shows, the profits from which were contributed “to support the children of soldiers.” A simple fact shows to what degree the authorities were scared of the atmosphere dominating in the auditorium: before the outbreak of “the revolution”, spy Zawadzki, collaborating with Mackrott, “was obliged to attend the performances in the Rozmaitości Theatre in order to spy.”

After the collapse of the uprising, both theatres were closed and, before their reopening on 1 January 1832, the Municipal Office of Warsaw introduced the following rules of order concerning both the Rozmaitości and National Theatre: “Nobody is allowed to exchange vehicles, either on the way to the theatre or on the way back. All arrivals are asked to deposit their walking sticks and umbrellas at the entrance. Arrivals are obliged to take hats and caps off their heads and remain bareheaded throughout the show. Apart from the theatre staff, nobody is allowed to venture behind the wings.” All this proves that the audience of the capital’s theatres played an important role in the life of the city and in the process of shaping public opinion. 

            Meanwhile, the new building of the National Theatre – nowadays the Grand Theatre – was completed. As suggested by Ludwik Domaszewski, it was decided to move the Rozmaitości Theatre from a cramped room in Krakowskie Przedmieście to a new room prepared for this purpose in the “Sale Redutowe” [“Masked Ball Rooms”], which happened on 13 September 1833. Although initially the theatre was very cheap, over fifty years it changed into a posh one, accessible only for the richest. The emptied room in Krakowskie Przedmieście was taken back by the Charity Association and served as an amateur theatre, a lecture room, as well as a venue of various events.

            At that time the press mentioned two rooms in the Charity Association: the lower room, with the yard leading out of it, where rehearsals were held while the other one (the upper one, i.e. upstairs) was occupied. It must be emphasised that “the General Administration of the Association” and its protectors gathered in the theatre room, which also held lectures by outstanding representatives of cultural and scientific life and so forth. However, most often the theatre room was used for theatre events or other shows. In January 1870, Muhamed Ismael, “a magician of the Persian shah”, gave performances of “Persian magic” here. While advertising his shows, he announced that his performance would end with “a rapid and inconceivable change of a man into a lady” or “decapitation”. The room was often the venue of performances of “mechanical”, “optic” and marionette theatres, and prize lotteries were also held there. However, the quite small stage was still used for amateur performances, played for charity. The actors were mostly members of Warsaw society of aristocratic origin or coming from financial and industrial circles. The shows were directed by actors or even directors of Warsaw theatres, who obviously worked for free, Helena Modrzejewska and Bolesław Leszczyński among them. In spite of their noble endeavours, the level of the performances was often unsatisfying. As for the technical equipment of the stage in the little theatre, in 1875 Henryk Sienkiewicz described it in “Gazeta Polska” as follows: “The sets were pitiful. For God’s sake!  Why even bother? I do not know whether there are theatres in Pacanów, where goats are shoed, in Kiernozia, where the middle of Earth is, or in Łysobyki,[1] famous for its goose fairs. But if there were, they would certainly have better sets. Ladies could not go out through the door. In the first play, the poplars surrounding the house were lower than the top hat of lover Zdzisław; Orgon’s house looked like a sentry box; and finally the curtain, while it was being raised before the second play, stopped an ell above stage and that was it. All the audience could see were four pairs of legs moving anxiously and a piece of floor. The audience started to laugh. Only through the joint efforts of servants and maybe also of the members of the Charity Association, the old curtain eventually creaked, groaned and gave up to show to the eyes of the audience not only the shoes, but also the heads of the actors.”

The audience of the little theatre was highly varied. “Magicians” and “mechanical shows” attracted representatives of all social layers of the city. However, the beau monde of the capital turned up at amateur performances. According to Henryk Sienkiewicz’s description, also from 1875, the audience looked as follows: “Dear readers, whoever did not go to the little theatre of the Charity Association yesterday, I wish you had seen the selected, polished, done-up society in tail-coats, ties and gloves gather from the stalls to the dress circle to watch the performance. In the theatre we only speak French, or even better English. Our English is so beautiful that when a Galician count, who is dubious as a count, since he is from Galicia, greeted one of the most remarkable English statesman in his language, the latter stood up, holding a goblet in his hand, to offer a speech of thanks and above all expressed his regret that he had not been able to understand the count’s words due to his ignorance of Polish.”

In 1875, the theatre had stalls, boxes and a balcony at its disposal.  In the boxes there were four or six seats, the first row in the stalls was the most expensive, the next six rows were cheaper and the last rows – the cheapest. The standing places in the stalls were at the same price, and the balcony was the cheapest. The prices of charity shows were different. There was a separate cloakroom for audience with season tickets for boxes. In 1877, the theatre was rebuilt under the guidance of Stanisław Grzywiński, who graduated from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, “to take a totally different shape.” The old stage, the floor and the existing boxes were pulled down. After the conversion there were stalls, four boxes on each side of the stage and a balcony supported on little cast iron columns.

It is worth recalling that Maria Wisnowska, Józef Sliwicki and – in 1880 - Gabriela Zapol­ska made their debut on the stage of this little theatre. Zapolska debuted both as an amateur actress and a playwright in a one-act play “Wild Strawberries” (the work has been lost). 

Although the fashion for amateur performances and “magicians” was slowly passing, in April 1883 “unusual, illusionistic and magician performances” were still given. In that year the little theatre of the Charity Association was to be hired out as a shop, but the project was not accomplished. Shows, though more rarely, still took place there.

            In May 1887, it was announced in the press that the theatre room was to be “turned into” a shelter for old people and disabled for summer months (from May to September).  The days of the amateur theatre were also numbered. However, still at the beginning of 20th century a theatre of “stage lovers” was active there.

            The building of the Charity Association burnt down during the uprising in 1944 – it was 60% destroyed. However, it was rebuilt and nowadays it houses, as it used to, a chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in the right projection) and the rest of the building is occupied by the Catholic Association Caritas.

An excerpt from: Barbara Król-Kaczorowska Teatry Warszawy, edited by PIW, Warszawa 1986, pp. 73–78.

[1] Pacanów, Kiernozia, Łysobyki – names of villages, known from legends or bed-time stories [translator’s footnote].




***, [in:] „Gazeta Warszawska, 7.08.1819, No. 63.

***, [in:] „Kurier Warszawski” 12.09.1829, No. 243.

Wyspiański S., Noc listopadowa [in:] Dramaty, vol. 2, , Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1970.

***, [in:] „Gazeta Warszawska. Dodatek”, 10.08.1819, No. 64.

Król-Kaczorowska B., Teatry Warszawy. Budynki i sale w latach 1748–1975, PIW, Warszawa 1986.



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