Teatro g. 2
number of theatre staff
Didžioji, Mažoji ir Repeticijų
theatre building opened
When talking about the Klaipėda Drama Theatre, it is difficult to distinguish its most memorable elements in physical terms: the historical facade of 19th century theatre, or an annex created during the Soviet era or maybe even the complex modernization of the entire theatre in modern times, combining various historical layers. After the annexation of Klaipėda region to interwar Lithuania, significant changes were made in the interior of the theatre – many Klaipėda residents of the period would have not recognized the hall. Before spectators would sit in the U-shaped balcony, and the hall used to be decorated in Art Deco style with dark edging panels and intertwined lamps. However, these signs of change already remain hidden in the archives, and one will hardly find evidence of their existence in the building itself. After the modern reconstruction by “Archko” studio, the building became a comfortable, spectator-oriented spatial experience, but this did not make it easier to trace the stories hidden inside.
Returning to the most memorable elements of Klaipėda Drama Theatre, the winner should still be the Theatre Square. The space in front of the main façade is a continuation of the oldest theatre in Lithuania. The distinctive features of the square are an irregular triangular shape, one side of which has always faced the harbour area. However, in the late Soviet era, this fringe was closed following new and bold architectural ideas. Although it was isolated from the busy transport artery created during the Soviet era (Pilies Street), the theatre lost its visual connection with the harbour and ships.
There is probably no other Lithuanian theatre that is so strongly connected to the city’s public space, even giving it a name. The neoclassical, symmetrical façade of Klaipėda Drama Theatre with a recessed niche in the centre was created in 1857, after the former theatre burned down. The façade of the theatre and the square were decorated with a public fountain with a sculpture of the girl “Tarava Anikė” (sculptor Alfredas Kiunė). The theatre has constantly appeared in historical photographs, and cruise ship passengers arriving in Klaipėda choose to get postcards with the image of the theatre up to this day. The oldest room in the historic theatre – the balcony in the centre of the façade – has become a kind of icon of the city. Both in the past and now, important life moments of Klaipėda citizens are captured in front of the theater facade.
A significant part of the image of Klaipėda Drama Theatre is the annex completed in 1990. Its emergence is covered in stories of politicians of the communist regime being persuaded in the need to expand the theater. The winners of the architectural competition Saulius Manomaitis and Izidorius Žilinskas proposed to expand the common spaces of the theatre with an annex: to create a larger lobby, box office, cloakroom, cafe and other auxiliary premises. Everyone seems to favour the relation between the new and old theatre building. The modern annex of the 1980s, which interpreted and played with historical forms, was like a provocation to the old building. To mark the contextuality, the same height of the annex was adopted, but other decisions severely separated it from the historic building. If the old theatre has a symmetrically arranged balcony with a triangular pediment, then the Soviet-era annex combines asymmetry and smooth, blank surfaces. Before, the small windows on the ground floor led to the main entrance through the entire height of the annex. There are two columns connected by an arch with the inscription ‘Drama theatre’.
And deeper than in a completely open or closed space was a work of monumental art: a bas-relief of bronze and polished granite by Antanas Bosas. Planned installation of the artwork coincided with a time of political transformation, and after paying the artist, however, parts of the artwork remained in the garage of the theatre and were never displayed.
The exterior of the building reflected the architectural ideas of modernism at the time, but inside, visitors were greeted by relatively enclosed, dark spaces. In Soviet times, theatre was perceived as a place where one could try to speak a little „more”, hiding from external threats. It is not surprising, therefore, that in difficult times, the author suggested architecture to express the model of a closed theatre: the lobby was closed to the square’s life, it had windows only on the ground floor, and the interior plan was divided into many rooms.
Shortly after the construction of the building was completed, Lithuania regained its Independence. Unfortunately, typical for the period shortage of materials and savings during construction, eventually led to the physical defects of the building. The foundations sinking into the soft ground of Danė’s old furrow, the cracks on the walls – all this was due to the low quality of the work completed .
The first five years after the Soviet era were not easy for the theatre: the inaccurately chosen type of foundation led to the walls slipping into the former Danube riverbed. The safety of the building was questioned, and researchers from Vilnius Gediminas Technical University were invited to evaluate structural integrity of the reconstruction. The act of building defects was like a death sentence: the theatre was closed. It was only a decade later, with enough funding raised, that a new project was announced. It was prepared by the Klaipėda architects’ studio “Archko” (Kristina Jurkutė and Stanislovas Lukšas), also joined by the author of the Soviet-era reconstruction Saulius Manomaitis. The theatre seemed about to be reborn from the ashes like a phoenix, but reality came as a surprise.
When the real work started and the first arch was moved, the main trusses of the Soviet-era annex simply collapsed. This brought additional challenges: more had to be rebuilt than planned and the foundations re-installed. Reconstruction of the building became more expensive and took longer than planned. This was an unusual case: an architect had to reconstruct and remodel a building he had created himself. Technically, the collapsed building was destined to be reborn due to favourable circumstances.
From a positive side, the joining of the younger generation of architects provided an opportunity to update the functional solutions of the building’s architecture – new times had come, and Klaipėda port had opened. There was a desire for bright and spacious theatre premises, therefore, after the restoration of the modernist forms of the annex, more window openings were cut out, and the internal visibility of the building was increased too, reducing the number of service premises. The glass skylights, installed in a specifically ingenuous way – glass strips that made the annex roof seem like it is “floating”. The historic western façade of the theatre was also highlighted, illuminating it by daylight through glass strips installed above and on the side.
The latest reconstruction brought important functional changes and created a fundamentally new, aesthetic theatre space. In the lobby, the tension of the ancient theatre is relieved, but without losing a certain solemnity, efforts are made to attract younger visitors and maintain the confidence of regular visitors.
The facades of the original theatre building of the first half of the 19th century were originally facing the River Danė. It was not until after the great fire of the city, when the theatre was rebuilt on the former foundations in 1857, that he turned south, that is, to the present Theatre Square, technically “founding” it.
After the purchase of the theatre from a private constructor by the city of Klaipėda in 1893, the façade was reconstructed. It was then that the most characteristic details of the theatre façade were created, such as the balcony with a semi-circular arch and the triangular pediment with the city herb. Although at first glance it would seem that the symmetrical façade would be hiding the theatre hall oriented in the same direction, the façade of the old theatre building and the main hall are rotated 90 degrees relative to each other. Only a few blind windows, which no longer attract the attention of the townspeople today, reveal such a contrast between the function of the façade and the building. Another detail that reveals the unusually oriented scene is the round window in its depths, which opens in the facade of Žvejų Street.
Inside the historic building, in the western lobby in front of the first-floor balcony, bronze panneau were hung during the Soviet-era changes. At the initiative of the author Saulius Manomaitis himself and due to the ingenuity of the architects, these panels were preserved during the later reconstruction by installing modern ventilation. This was done without sacrificing functionality – a concealed ventilation grid was installed directly under the panneau.
The halls in question have the only functional windows in the historic building: many of the windows and doors in the historic façade visible in the theatre square are now more decorative, creating a symmetry, rather than being necessary for a purpose. After all, in the Great Hall, windows to the outside are not needed. In summary, the oldest and most valuable part of the historical theatre is the authentic three façades, one of which is in the interior. The remaining parts of the building, including the interiors, were demolished and rebuilt during the Soviet-era reconstruction.
Klaipėda Drama Theatre has a specific environment and equipment, therefore the performances staged here are adapted to this scene, and bringing performances from other theatres is limited by technical possibilities. For example, the backstage on the main stage is very narrow and there’s only a single wing on one side of the stage. The height of the stage is one of the lowest in Lithuania, and the double stage height wanted does not exist either. The height of the stage is only 11 meters, in the back – only 7 meters. On the other hand, 14 mobile stage platforms, along with the avant-scene, enable the construction of exceptional performances. Another thing – the stage curtain closes only every five plays. Due to the compact space of the hall, the curtain is usually not needed. This means that without the curtain, there is no longer a symbolic demarcation between spectators and actors. The closeness of the main hall and stage of Klaipėda Drama Theatre creates an impression of cosiness.
Another striking feature of Klaipėda Drama Theatre is invisible, as are the lost historical interiors of the theatre in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That’s the sound of the theatre hall. The facades of the building preserved today can look deceptive: inside there is a lot of technological progress to be found. Upon entering the Great Hall, you can barely see the abundance of microphones hanging on thin wires and the spots of speakers discreetly hidden in the walls and ceiling. The performances produced by the theatre use the installed “Meyer” sound system: over 150 “Meyer” Sound speakers, over 55 microphones. All hardware is controlled through the “Constellations” and “D-meter” sound system, hidden in a separate room with an independent ventilation system. Such a complex sound system is not there due to acoustic problems. Not only do none of the actors need microphones on stage anymore. It’s there because it can change the sense of space through sound. On the stage of Klaipėda Drama Theatre, the sound can be heard as if it was in open antique theatre, a train station or an intimate boudoir (so-called “sound mapping”). If the director of a newly staged performance looks at the technical possibilities in each theatre, then Klaipėda Drama Theatre may surprise him or her.
If today we can see Klaipėda Drama Theatre as a monolithic volume, perceived as one building, then earlier, in the first half of the 20th century, it was a composition of separate, historically developing buildings. Only with the long-term expansion of the theatre did all these separate volumes grow into one large building.
In addition to the annex created at the end of the Soviet era, other internal reforms carried out during the Soviet era were also important. Perhaps the most characteristic change is that after the demolition of several rooms in the centre of the building around 1984–1990, a staircase with a free spatial structure was enlarged and created, connecting all the floors of the building. The opening of a huge skylight allowed the creation of a poetic space: a staircase with rounded railings illuminated from above. Following this same principle, rounding out the transition from the floor to the railing, we can also see the balconies created in the Great Hall. In order to expand these spaces, the authors of the Soviet-era reconstruction S.Manomaitis and I.Žilinskas chose not only to get rid of the historical interior of the hall, but also the former main staircase in the western wing of the historical theater volume
Another important contribution is the creation of the Small Theatre Hall with a rotating spectator platform. The illuminated, freely designed staircase leads to the Small Hall. Although the Small Hall is not high, the 12.5-meter-wide scene is on par with the big stage, and the dynamic viewing experience is out of the ordinary frame of the scene.
Completing the latest reconstruction in 2013, the idea arose to immortalize the history of the theatre in its interior. This way, the long red carpet was woven with all the premieres of Klaipėda Drama Theatre from 1935 to modern times. The mentioned date is the first contracted theatre season, when the Šiauliai branch of the State Theatre was moved to Klaipėda. The year marked here and the premieres of each year’s performances become a pleasant starting point for conversation. Such conversations can then lead to the theatre museum, where you can see the stored models of the scenography of the most important performances and other important signs in the history of the theatre.
At first impression, only after entering, the Small Hall of Klaipėda Drama Theatre can appear to the visitor like many other secondary stage halls in Lithuanian theatres. Experienced theater-goers are hard to surprise with the rotating platforms on the main stages, the concentric circles on the floor. Here, however, a whole platform of one hundred and fifty seats with spectator chairs spins in a circle. This is a little-discussed innovation that is not found in other Lithuanian theatres. Yet, the possibilities of such equipment seem to be not fully exploited. A rare exception is the performance “Mother’s Courage” staged by Latvian director Elmars Senkovs in 2018, which received the Golden Stage Cross Award for directing and scenography. The performance goes as following: twelve segments of green curtain are installed in a circle, through which the actors enter the stage at different points of circle The spectator platform spins slowly, stops at 18 stops and creates an unprecedented experience. It is not for nothing that this performance is not recommended for people with seasickness. In fact, the possibilities of a rotating platformof spectators are diverse: it is possible to create spaces with sound and light, and in the Klaipėda Drama Theatre also by moving the spectators. Previously, this platform was rotated by one of the two handles, clockwise or counter-clockwise. Today, with the installation of motors, a stage worker can do this: remotely adjust its speed and the angle of the stops.
When it comes to aesthetic solutions, it is important to explain why some of the chairs in the Small Hall are dark purple and some are red and patterned. This has nothing to do with cost-effectiveness. In fact, the spectator who has chosen a red-upholstered chair, gets a chance to sit on one of the 50 surviving chairs of the main hall of Klaipėda Drama Theatre, installed in 1939 and restored during reconstruction. Gracefully curved backrests, hand-sewn fabrics, authentic padding for the chair: it makes you feel what people sitting in the theatre 80 years ago experienced.
The three auditoriums in Klaipėda Drama Theatre testify to the recurring theme of flexibility and universality. The one suitable for different scenarios and the least official is the rehearsal hall, which was built on the ground floor after the latest reconstruction. The rehearsal hall is a “black box” type hall with 80 seats for spectators or where all the chair platforms can be folded. This hall is located on the site of the former Napoleon Bar, which was accessed directly from Žvejų Street. Today, the rehearsal hall hosts events for younger audiences, featuring non-standard solutions such as nightly poetry readings or other theatre games.
The versatility of the theatre allows it to adapt to the needs of the performances being staged. The specific environment and equipment, such as the low stage, only 11.5 meters high, strong technological base, sound equipment, make it difficult to take the performances staged at the Klaipėda Drama Theatre to other theatres. The lack of a double stage height has to be compensated by moving stage platforms, avant-scene and even parterre spectator chairs. Within minutes, the theatre stage and parterre can turn into one large hall with a flat floor, without chairs. The stage has a very narrow backstage, and the stage wing is formed on one side only, as the historical facades do not allow further expansion. Such circumstances make it difficult to invite and adapt performances fromother theatres to Klaipėda Drama Theater.
Beneath the Great Hall lies the invisible side of the engineering realm. It is built on a solid concrete footpath through which the groundwater of the Danė River tries to push throug. Underneath the theatre are uninterrupted pumps to keep the theatre from flooding. So what started as a theatre on the banks of the Danė River, threatened by floods, still can’t relax today. The Danė River creates a constant creative tension – you need to monitor the water level and be prepared to react. This is the Klaipėda Drama Theatre.
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Interviu: Antanavičius, Ugnius kalbina Černiauską, Norbertą „80 metų po Klaipėdos ultimatumo: kodėl daug klaipėdiečių A.Hitlerį sutiko su džiaugsmu?“, 15min portalas. Prieiga per internetą 2021-09-06: https://www.15min.lt/ar-zinai/naujiena/idomi-lietuva/80-metu-po-klaipedos-ultimatumo-kodel-daug-klaipedieciu-hitleri-sutiko-su-dziaugsmu-1162-1 119830