Sonntag, 01. August 2021

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Theatrical Landscape of Croatia

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Theatrical Landscape of Croatia
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Not homeless

by Gordana Vnuk

The structure of the theatre landscape in Croatia goes back to the beginning of the 19th century when it developed under strong German influence (Split and other Adriatic towns were under Italian influence). Not only were the first theatre performances in Zagreb given by German touring companies but the theatre house with a permanent company that still today is the basis of the Croatian theatre system is modelled on German theatre.

Although there had been a permanent stage in Zagreb since the end of the 18th century it was performed on by German actors playing German texts. This was because the most important requirement to found a Croatian theatre did not exist: there were no native Croatian actors. In 1840 there were at least 4 announcements advertising for actors, but not a single person came forward. On the other hand in Novi Sad in Serbia there was a good theatre company the so-called "Flying Dilettante Theatre" ("Leteće diletantsko pozorište") and it was invited to Zagreb to play in the native language. This company became the first professional ensemble resident in the theatre. In other words one could say that Croatian acting was established by Serbians – a fact that Croatians are reluctant to remember.

With many ups and downs Croatian actors gradually stole the stage so that finally at the end of the 19th century a yellow coloured theatre building was inaugurated in Zagreb as a culmination of these endeavours. It was designed by the Viennese architects Helmer and Fellner who built more than 50 theatres from Hamburg to Sofia. It has remained until today the centre of national theatre identity: the Croatian National Theatre with drama, opera and ballet.

The actor as an employee
Why this small historical discourse? This piece of history is important: the Croatians had no theatre until a house was built for it – the Croatian theatre may not be thought of without a roof over its head, without the status and comfort of a citizen. Branko Gavella (1825 – 1962), director, theorist and Croatia's most important theatre personality once wrote: "Our actors have become civil servants before they've realised what it means to be an actor." A non-institutionalised bohemian era of Croatian theatre never existed (unlike in Serbia). Due to this unfortunate institutionalisation many problems arose which still exist today.

Modern Croatia has 4.5 million inhabitants and is served by four national theatres with drama, opera and ballet. Their salaried employees are a big financial burden and therefore there is hardly any economic support for other types of theatre organisation. Then there are also the numerous municipal theatres with the permanent ensemble of actors and a huge administrative staff. So it was in communist times and is today still the case. Although a new law has been passed which now allows time contracts to be given, in reality no-one dares to make use of them and so actors are given permanent positions regardless if they are actively working at the theatre or not.