Vilnius state small theatre


Gedimino pr. 22

number of theatre staff




theatre building opened

2005 m.


Kostas Biliūnas, Artūras Savko


The Winter Garden

The hall of the Vilnius State Small Theatre above the entrance arch on Gediminas Avenue is not a separate building, but part of one of the former largest hotel complexes in the city. Built in 1899-1903, the great 4-floor “Bristol Hotel” was designed by the city’s architect at the time Konstantin Korojedov. The shape of the building in the plan resembles the letter Ω. In its centre, tucked in between two parts of the building, there is an entrance to the inner courtyard. Initially, a three-arched gate with an open decorative gallery at the top leading to the inner courtyard was built on this site. The gallery did not have a specific function and was not designed to be accessed from the hotel premises. Looking at the current façade of the Small Theatre, we can see the structure of the former gate – the side archs (one of them leads to the box office lobby) initially were open and intended to pass into the courtyard. There was no wall in the upper part of the gate – only Corinthian columns holding an entablature, sculptures and four not surviving decorative vases at the very top of the former gate.

Before the construction of the hotel was completed, the non-functional space above the entrance gate was reconstructed and expanded, and a hall-orangery was installed in its place. Architect Anton Filipovič-Dubovnik connected the new hall with the hotel premises, and the hall itself was covered with a vault of glass blocks. Designed by Dubovnik, the space is a work of new Art Nouveau architecture that combines everything that contrasts with the ornate, pompous body of the historicist-style “Bristol” Hotel: clear and simple shape, undisguised and, on the contrary, exhibited structure of glass blocks letting in the daylight. Just a few years later than the hotel, the hall-orangery is already marking the beginning of a radically new architectural era.

In later years, the glass roof of the hall was covered, but its volume in the structure of the former hotel remained a contrasting and original element, combining different architectural concepts: the historicism of the entrance gate, the Art Nouveau and contemporary winter garden solutions, adapting this unique space to the needs of the theatre.


The Big Theatre

A historical coincidence is that the State Small Theatre of Vilnius was located in the building where the Big Theatre operated from the very beginning. At the turn of the century, the functions of an entertainment theatre and a hotel were often grouped together, so Korojedov’s original project was a theatre concert hall with a hotel. The hall itself was not in the centre of the building, but on the left side of the complex, and it existed for a very short time – a fire in 1904 damaged it significantly. It was decided not to restore it. The entire burnt left wing of the hotel was rebuilt and apartments were installed in the hall’s place. Today, no one remembers the architecture of the former theatre.

The Big Theatre, which operated for only a few years, was a continuation of the rich and eclectic decoration of the hotel façade. The entrance from the avenue was marked by a wide portico supported by light metal columns. Inside, a spacious lobby was entered through the entrance hall. From it, two symmetrical staircases led to an analogous first-floor lobby with columns and sculptures, and from there one would enter directly into the hall. Both the layout of the premises and the hall itself were similar to another building designed by Korojedov at the same time – the Civic Hall (now the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society) or the Jewish Theatre (now the Vilnius Gaon Museum of Jewish History). Only the decoration of the Big Theatre hall was more abundant, the impression of luxury was greater. The balconies have been divided into paired columns (such doubled columns are repeated in the composition of the entrance gate), following the neo-baroque image of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, probably the most copied theatre in  architectural history. Reminiscent of the baroque spaces of the palace of the nobility, the theatre’s designers have been pursuing it for decades.

The stage room of the burnt Big Theatre in the then St. George Avenue was deep enough. It was designed with a bar system and a sufficiently high ceiling to provide the minimum required elevation height for the stage decorations, so it was apt for theatrical activities, but without the extra space for decorations at the back of the stage. Immediately behind the stage there used to be a corridor with the actors’ premises.


The Lobby

The audience premises on the ground and first floors of the State Small Theatre of Vilnius have survived since the time of the “Bristol” Hotel, but acquired their current appearance when the hall-orangery was separated from the hotel and rented out. There was a separate entrance from the outside, as well as an ornate staircase leading from the ground floor to the hall. The first tenant of these premises before the start of the First World War was the Lithuanian Cultural Society “Rūta”, the aim of which was to unite and culturally educate Lithuanians in Vilnius and its surroundings. On the occasion of the Society’s establishment in the new premises, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis painted a symbolic curtain dedicated to the theatrical activities of the hall. When adapting the 21st century premises to the Small Theatre, a copy of the curtain was painted on the staircase wall.

The hall was used not only by the “Rūta” Society, but also by various other cultural institutions – until 1935 the hall and the lobby leading to it were rented to a total of six cinemas. In the Soviet years, until the passing of these premises to the Small Theater in 1990, there was a canteen “Šešupė” on the ground floor, with a main hall with 100 seats and a closed hall with 30 seats for the nomenclature. There was a milk bar in the room with direct access from the current Gediminas Avenue, and most of the other rooms of the former “Bristol” Hotel were used for their original purpose – the “Vilnius” Hotel.

From the first tenants in the first decade of the 20th century to the late Soviet era, the premises on the ground and first floors were constantly remodelled, divided by partitions, their interiors and the division of spaces changed. The needs of different users – societies, cinemas, catering establishments, radio – also dictated the transformations of these premises. In the renovated premises in 2005, after the dismantling of the former divisions, the aim was to restore the original image of the interior reminiscent of the “Rūta” Society, but at the same time adapting the spaces to the specific needs of the theatre. The most striking space in the entire interior – the open historicist staircase has suffered the most from this inevitable compromise. It was supposed to be a connecting luxury reminiscent of traditional theatre architecture, however after the reconstruction it was blocked by an elevator installed in the centre.



Staff Premises

The establishment of the State Small Theatre of Vilnius began in 1990, when the premises on Gediminas Avenue were handed over to the newly established theatre. The exact layout of the premises with their owner “Vilnius” Hotel has been negotiated for a long time. Various variants of the rooms that complement the hall were considered, which would be suitable for the function of the theatre. In 2000, the final layout and reconstruction project of the premises was approved after a decade of adjustments and planning and in 2005 the theatre was ceremoniously opened to the public.

All the rooms serving the stage and staff rooms, meaning all the working rooms, which are usually arranged in a semicircle in the stand-alone theatre buildings around the most important theatre room – the stage, are located along an authentic element of the former hotel structure – a long and wide corridor. The distinctive architectural feature of the Small Theatre is the incorporation of a specific theatre function into a structure planned for a completely different purpose. The invisible part of the theatre is located in about twenty rooms around the corridor, and since 1903 there have been 10 rooms of the “Bristol” Hotel of various sizes. The corridor, after restoring some elements of wall and ceiling decoration, looks authentic – high ceilings, rows of high profiled doors, red carpet. This image is still intuitively recognized as the interior of a luxury hotel.

The former hotel rooms house the theatre administration, actors’ make-up rooms, cloakrooms, laundry facilities, sanitary facilities, a rehearsal room, and a storage room for decorations and hardware. Although the exterior of the building is constructed of expressive, even pompous neo-baroque forms and repeating decorative elements, the interior of the former hotel rooms are the opposite – reserved, delicate and individual. The most striking and well-preserved examples are the stoves, the white tiles of which are complemented by graphic plant patterns of the early Art Nouveau style, with an original design for each room.



The Auditorium

The main hall of the theatre has undergone various transformations that can be divided into several stages. It is difficult to describe exactly what the hall-orangery based on Filipovič-Dubovnik’s project, introduced to the entrance to the hotel courtyard in 1902, looked like. It seems that the façade part (facing the avenue) was an open, passing gallery-loggia, and the wall with the glass block archs now visible in the façade, was deeper and away from it. Thus, the winter garden was covered with a vault of glass blocks, over which there was no additional roof, and at both ends the hall was framed by walls with triple arches of glass blocks. The room, lit from three sides, could actually be used as a lounge for hotel guests, decorated with exotic plants. Four stoves were placed between the arches to heat the hall with the extremely conductive glass roof.

However, the decision of the orangery probably did not live up to expectations, as even before the First World War the room was rented out as an event hall and had never been used for its original purpose. Sometime before 1935, perhaps in several stages, the former winter garden was reconstructed into an enclosed hall and eventually lost the properties of a translucent, transparent space. The universal hall, which was mainly used to show cinema, was subject to completely different requirements than the greenhouse for exotic plants. During the renovation, the area of the hall was increased by reducing the open gallery-loggia – the wall with glass block arches was „moved” closer to the avenue, meaning re-put between the Corinthian columns of the façade, and a stage was installed in the newly created space. There was also a small stage when the Polonia cinema was operating here, and after the premises were adapted for Polish radio activities, the proscenium arch was removed and the hall was reduced again.

In 2005, the stage was set up on the opposite side than it was then, in the early twentieth century. In the old part of the stage there are now technical rooms for lighting and sound operators.


The stage

To this day, two arch reminiscent of the Filipovič-Dubovnik winter garden have survived on the front and rear walls of the main hall. The semi-circular arches visible in the ceiling are only the upper parts of the former high covered in glass blocks arches we see today on the main façade of the theatre.

In 2000-2005, the team of the Institute of Design and Restoration, led by architect Nijolė Ščiogolevienė, made the best use of the former structure when installing the theatre in this hall, as well as introducing several new elements. Most of the changes took place in the area of the current theatre scene, which is located on the site of the former cinema’s hardware. The stage has been moved to the opposite side of the room from where it was at the beginning of the 20th century. In this way, the auditorium’s premises are rationally connected to the auditorium, and the theatre staff and the premises serving the stage are connected to the stage. Instead of the former cinematographic annex, a small arrière-scene was formed, which is completed by a curved wall. Between the two columns, which separated the arches of the glass blocks of the winter garden, a stage decoration lift is built in the centre. From the theatre warehouse on Labdarių st. brought decorations, which can be lifted directly onto the stage with a lift from the entrance area below the hall.

According to the initial vision of Rimas Tuminas, the director of the State Small Theatre of Vilnius, it was planned to leave the auditorium democratically open, without a stationary amphitheatre and freely adaptable to various scenarios, similar to the black box halls that became popular in the middle of the 20th century. However, the pilot performances revealed the need for better visibility, which led to the design of a gently rising amphitheatre and a spectator balcony on the deep end of the parterre. However, this decision did not work either. Finally, it was decided to install the current traditionally rising amphitheatre, providing the necessary stage visibility. 


The glass vault

Although it has not been used according to its original purpose for a long time, the vault of glass blocks forming the ceiling of the theatre hall is still the brightest and most distinctive architectural feature of the entire State Small Theatre of Vilnius. The aesthetic and expressive roof entablature, which combines a weight-bearing construction, the function of natural lighting and the aesthetics of the details (hexagonal blocks), reflects the innovations of the Art Nouveau era. And most importantly, a changing approach to architecture that no longer has to be just ornate and reminiscent of the past. Architecture is beginning to discover the beauty of structures, the natural surfaces that make up space, and new possibilities for a variety of materials, in this case – glass.

For many decades, the glass vault was covered with a curved ceiling from the bottom (in Soviet times this was made with plywood sheets), and sealed and finished with a rolled roof. During the reconstruction of the theatre, glass blocks were uncovered on both sides. After dismantling part of the glass vault above the stage, its blocks were used to replace the shattered parts of the rest of the vault. Due to the required thermal insulation, a second gable roof was installed above the glass vault. In the shelter under it, a large ventilation duct was laid out. The air handling units are also masked by a dome rising above the main façade. This dome, which rises above all the buildings of the refurbished former hotel, is an allusion to the original Korojedov project, in which, following the fashionable example of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, the domes were designed to decorate the Big Theatre and the hotel.

The architecture of the State Small Theatre of Vilnius is eclectic and full of references to the functions of the premises that are no longer relevant today, but preserving the memory of the cultural life of Vilnius at the beginning of the 20th century and the progressive approach to architecture at that time. Among the ornate exteriors and interiors of the historic “Bristol” Hotel, the Filipovič-Dubovnik glass block vault is a simple but impressive element of streamlined architecture. The spectators who come to the theatre nowadays still turn their heads up for a short time before the performance.



Izaoko Smaženevičiaus lėšomis pastatytas viešbutis tuometiniame Šv. Jurgio prospekte (arch. Konstantinas Korojedovas). Pastato kairėje pusėje įrengta teatro salė, vadinta Didžiuoju teatru (talpino daugiau kaip 1 000 žiūrovų), didžiąją patalpų dalį užėmė viešbutis „Bristol“. Pastovios trupės Didysis teatras neturėjo, čia vaidindavo gastroliuojantys teatrai.



Virš įvažiavimo arkos vidurinėje pastato dalyje įrengta salė-žiemos sodas (arch. Antonas Filipovičius-Dubovnikas). Salė buvo pasiekiama iš vakarinio ir rytinio korpusų.



Rytinėje pastato dalyje kilęs gaisras suniokojo Didžiojo teatro salę. ~ 1904 Pastato rekonstrukcijos po gaisro projektas (inžinierius Marti). Didžiojo teatro vietoje suprojektuoti butai, rekonstruotas sudegęs stogas.


~ 1909

Vietoje žiemos sodo įrengta 388 vietų salė, nuomota lietuvių kultūros draugijai „Rūta“.

~ 1909


Buvusio žiemos sodo salėje veikė kino teatrai: 1910 m. – „Oaza I“, 1911 m. – „Olimp“, 1915 m. – „Artystyczny“, 1920–1929 m. – „Polonia“, 1929–1934 m. –„Hollywood“, 1934–1935 m. – „Roxy“. Pirmame aukšte buvo įsikūrusi „Bristolio“ restorano teatro ir koncertų salė. Pastate taip pat veikė miniatiūrų teatras „Maska“.



š kiemo pusės pastatytas siauras 3 aukštų priestatas, kuriame įrengta kino aparatinė.


~ 1933

Atlikti remonto darbai.

~ 1933


Salėje įsikūrė Lenkijos radijas, persikėlęs iš pastato Žvėryne, kur veikė nuo 1928 metų.



Salėje įsikūrė Lietuvos radiofono Vilniaus padalinys. Spalio 29 d. pirmoji programa pradėta žodžiais: „Kalba Vilnius. Dabar yra 18 valandų. Pradedame pirmąją transliaciją iš Vilniaus radiofono studijos Lietuvos sostinėje Vilniuje.“



Dalis patalpų su sale priklausė Lietuvos radijui iki 1990 m. Salėje vykdavo koncertai, kuriems dirigavo Balys Dvarionas, dainavo Beatričė Grincevičiūtė. Salė naudota vaikų chorų, Lietuvos radijo ir televizijos orkestrų repeticijoms, veikė įrašų studija. Pirmame aukšte veikė valgykla „Šešupė“.



Vilniaus miesto liaudies deputatų tarybos vykdomojo komiteto sprendimu buvo įsteigtas Vilniaus mažasis teatras.



Salė ir dalis viešbučio patalpų perduotos Nacionalinio dramos teatro Mažojoje salėje (iš čia kilo teatro pavadinimas) spektaklius rodančiam Mažajam teatrui.



Patalpų rekonstrukcija (projekto aut. A. Šarauskas). Iš naujo įrengta dalis rūsio skliauto, pastatytos papildomos kolonos. Buvusios medinės pirmo aukšto perdangos pakeistos į gelžbetonines, atlikti kiti konstrukcijų tvirtinimo darbai.



Patalpų pritaikymo teatrui projektas (Projektavimo ir restauravimo institutas).



Iškilmingas Valstybinio Vilniaus mažojo teatro atidarymas.



Lietuvos architektūros istorija, t. 3, Nuo XIX a. II-ojo dešimtmečio iki 1918 m., red. A. Jankevičienė et al., Vilnius, 2000.

Lukšionytė-Tolvaišienė, Nijolė, Istorizmas ir modernas Vilniaus architektūroje, 2000

Paminklų sąvadas, Vilnius, 1988. 


Tidworth, Simon, Theatres. And Architectural & Cultural History, New York, Washington, London, 1973.

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