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Old Drapers‘ Theatre

alias Cloth Weaver's Theatre
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)15.10.1820 | opening

(detail)23.4.1879 | fire
The fire completely destroyed the building.

History

At the end of the 18th century, the town of Liberec was the venue where woollen cloth manufacture and weaving was rapidly developing in an early phase of proto-industrialization.  Textile manufactures were coming into existence in its surrounding at the beginning of the 19th century, of which production was boosted by the needs of the army in Napoleonic wars, but it was affected by a crisis after the war was over.  With the increasing output and with the development of a putting-out system and latter with manufactures, also the number of city inhabitants grew and their culture needs with it as well.  Already in the 18th century, theatre was staged by students in the master's house of cloth weavers and then in the hall of the Old Town Hall.

 

The local cloth weavers guild decided to build a theatre building on 19th December of 1819.  The construction could be financed by them for they had considerable yields from the ownership of their houses and fees from the new members.  The costs reached 25 151 Guldens and 24 kreuzers.  The construction started in March of 1820 and the theatre was ceremonially opened on 15th October of 1820 with a celebration, in which the mason's master handed a decorative key from the theatre over to the chairman of the cloth weaver guild and then a ceremonial parade followed where the guild members and journeymen walked through the city with their guild banner and chest. The celebration culminated with unveiling of the guild crest on the street elevation of the theatre.  A day later, the inaugural performance of the play „Armuth und Edelsinn“ by August von Kotzebue was staged with the cast composed mainly from the leading townsmen.

 

The Neo-Classicist theatre was located in the east corner of the north front of the present day Sokolovské Square in a sloping terrain.  Its 11,4 metres long street elevation was articulated by four smooth semicolumns  of high order with Ionic capitals, which volutes were connected by decorative chains. The elevation was articulated  by these semicolumns into three bays and there was an entrance in each one of them.  The central one was accented with a moulding above the lintel. Each bay was broken by an arched window in the first floor.  Lanterns were mounted on two outer semicolumns roughly in the third of their height.  The façade was topped by an attic with a frontal gable, which top point was located in the central axis of the façade and which base was wide as half of this façade. In its tympanum, there was a crest of the cloth weaver guild and a frieze beneath it with the date MDCCCXX. Along the right side of the building, the street Tovaryšský vrch (Knappenberg at that time) sloped down sharply, where the three storey elevation of the theatre being 32,95 metres long was oriented to.  It was broken by  rows of nine windows in the upper two floors.  A hostel for weavers journeymen was part of the building in its cellars below the level of the ground of the entrance elevation, at first accessible from one entrance in the main elevation and later from a separate entrance from the street Tovaryšský vrch.

 

The interior of the structure was mainly made of wood.  There were 114 seats in ten rows in the front stalls and other standing rooms behind them.  In the dress circle, there was a central box with 26 seats, delimited by wooden partitions, and two side boxes for 20 spectators were located close to the stage.  The left one of a count had an access from the neighbouring house and so the nobility could hold a social distance from the common craftsmen.  There were standing rooms on both sides of the dress circle that was suppoted by wooden Doric columns. The upper circle had other 280 seats with low ceiling and a bad view onto the stage, which forced many spectators to lean out of it.  That led to an alleged accident in 1875 when one young man fell out of the gallery.  The total capacity was about 760 spectators.  The theatre was furnished with an orchestra pit as well.  According to one of the commentators in one of the Liberec newspapers, the theatre should resemble the old Burgtheater in Vienna.  The auditorium was lit by a chandelier with four oil lamps suspended from the ceiling in  white, blue and golden colours.  A simple stage had dimensions of 7 metres in width and was 10,4 metres deep.  There were no dressing rooms there and so the actors changed their clothes behind the scenery flats or beneath the stage.  The theatre had fly facilities and a trap room, which also served as a library and rehearsal room for singers.

 

The theatre as an institution was owned by the weavers guild.  Some remodelling was probably carried out already sometime between 1822 and 1834 and the building was enlarged by 6,78 metres when two dressing room for men and women were added in the of the first floor at the stage level and dressing rooms for chorus singers and scenery and furniture store room.  A mention about the curtain has been preserved from the latter years that it depicted excavation either from Pompeii or Herculaneum and it was replaced in 1862 by a curtain painted by painter Burian with the motif of old Liberec.

 

The theatre wasn't heated at all and was used only for three or four months a year.  Heating was installed in 1852 and that enabled prolongation of the season from September to Easter.  Gas lighting was installed in 1860 for the costs of 400 Guldens.  In the course of time, the building ceased to suit the increased requirements for comfort of the audience and spatial requirements  of the actors and it wasn't convenient from the fire protection point of view as well.  As a fire safety measure, the theatre was provided with a large water barrel, several water tanks and a fire extinguisher. A theatre committee was set up in 1872, of which agenda was to address these issues and it tried to gather enough money with the help of voluntary collections.  In the unfavourable atmosphere of an economic crisis after the Vienna Stock Exchange Crash of 1873, the outcome was poor and the committee dissolved itself voluntarily after three years of existence and handed a fond with 4 561 Guldens over to the magistrate.

 

A fire broke out at the stage for an unknown cause in the night of 23rd April of 1879 that spread quickly because of the wooden interior of the building.  In the course of the fire, probably also the gas ignited and its main was closed only later.  From a certain point, the firemen could only try to contain the fire so it wouldn't spread onto neighbouring buildings.  Only scorched outer walls had remained from the building shortly thereafter.  The city used the part of the plot to enlarge the street Tovaryšský vrch and the rest was bought by merchant Franz Posselt who had a new house be built here.  The city built a new representative theatre building to the design by the firm Fellner and Helmer in another location that embellishes the city up to the present days.

 

 

 

Literature:

 

 

Almanach des Stadt-Theaters zu Reichenberg. Boržutzky, Anton Philipp, ed. a Schimbke, R., ed. Reichenberg: [s.n.], 1859-1860.

Lug, Viktor. Zum Jubeljahre des Reichenberger Stadttheater.  Reichenberger Zeitung. Reichenberg: Stiepel, 1860-1938. ISSN 1214-6587. 17.9. 1933, s. 20

HORÁKOVÁ, Libuše. Ze starého Liberce: 1352-1945. V Liberci: Městský národní výbor, 1970. 59 stran.

RON, Vojtěch a TOMSA, Jaroslav, ed. O starém divadle v Liberci. Liberec: Česká beseda, 1994. 15 s. Zprávy České besedy: Sborník krajanského sdružení rodáků a přátel Liberecka; Sv. 77.

Kniha o Liberci. 2., dopl. a rozš. vyd. Liberec: Dialog, 2004. 704 s. ISBN 80-86761-13-4.

JANÁČEK, Jiří. Čtení o německém divadle v Reichenbergu. Liberec: Roman Karpaš - RK, 2010. 127 s., [8] s. barev. obr. příl. ISBN 978-80-87100-12-7.

 

 

 

 

Author: Jan Purkert

Translator: Jan Purkert

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