The Oldest Theatre Building in Lithuania in the Wetlands of Danė.
The exact inception date of Klaipėda Drama Theatre is still unknown. In the 18th century city plans there is a square-planned building near the trenches of castle and Danė marked as “The House of Comedy“ which was used for military purposes in the past. It was located on the state ground, taxes for which were paid by the city, which indicates that that the first Klaipėda Drama Theatre was owned by magistracy. According to some sources the theatre at “The House of Comedy” operated back in 1777; some time later the Berlin Theatre troupe supposedly performed there. The faith of “The House of Comedy” is unknown. In the area of the Theatre Square stretched the wetlands of Danė estuaries. In the late 18th century – beginning of the 19th century an old warehouse was located near Danė. It was built for the riflemen battalion and used for training. In 1803 trader Wachsen who built a new building for soldiers equipped the theatre in an old one. After his death in 1814 the theatre building was sold and turned into a residential building.
The new beginning of the theatre came in 1818 with the arrival of a German man named Ulbrich. A forest trade company allowed him to use one wooden temporary building where he equipped a hall with 200 seats and opened a theatre. A shareholders company established with initiative of tradesmen Rupelis and Voitkovičius purchased the land, and in 1818 a new masonry building was built in the place where Klaipėda Drama Theatre is situated now. It was a two-storey classical building with an attic. In 1854 the theatre was destroyed in a fire. Tradesman Masonas purchased the ruins and from his own funds built a new building in 1857. At least three facades remain until this day. The theatre was closed with the beginning of the First World War.
Source: “The Oldest Theatre Building in Lithuania in the Wetlands of Danė” by Gerda Prancūzevičienė. Almanachas “Teatras”, 2000, No. 2.
Lithuanian Theatre in Pre-war Klaipėda
1935 marked the beginning of Klaipėda Drama Theatre when the closed Šiauliai Theatre was moved to Klaipėda. Titled State Klaipėda Theatre it operated until spring of 1939 when Klaipėda was annexed. Juozas Staniulis led the first Lithuanian actor troupe, an acting studio also operated there. The troupe was joined by a part of the closed Kaunas Youth Theatre. Borisas Dauguvietis (“Home” (“Tėviškė“) by H. Zudermanas , ”Broken Oath” (“Sulaužyta priesaika”) by P.Vaičiūnas ), Antanas Sutkus (“Vincas Kudirka” by K. Inčiūra, “Storm” (“Vėtra”) by Vydūnas, etc.), Vladas Sipaitis (“Golden Letter” (”Aukso gromata”) by P.Vaičiūnas , etc.), Ipolitas Tvirbutas (“Vilkatė” (orig. “Libahunt”) by A. Kitzberg, “Man Under the Bridge” (“Žmogus po tiltu“ by O. Indig) and Juozas Stanulis (“Resurection” (“Prisikėlimas“) and „The Song of Bells“ (“Varpų giesmė“) by P.Vaičiūnas, “Atžalynas“ by K. Binkis, etc.) worked at the theatre.
After director Romualdas Juknevičius produced “The Good Hope” (“Viltis”) by H. Heijermans, the theatre started to be considered unique and more progressive than Kaunas State Theatre. The pre-war troupe included Elena Bindokaitė, Potencija Pinkauskaitė, Valerijonas Derkintis, Stepas Jukna, Gražina Jakavičiūtė, Alfonsas Radzevičius, Galina Jackevičiūtė, Juozas Rudzinskas, Petronėlė Vosyliūtė, Henrikas Kačinskas and other remarkable actors. Artist Vytautas Palaima created scenography for almost all pre-war plays. After the war an entirely new theatre had to be created.
On the 1st of October , 1945 Klaipėda Musical Comedy Theatre was founded. Offical opening took place on July 27, 1946 with a premiere of musical play of K. Jurašūnas “Eglė the Queen of Serpents“ (“Eglė žalčių karalienė“) (dir. J. Gustaitis).
In the first several years drama and musical troupe operated in the theatre, repertoire included drama and opera plays, the most noteworthy of which is “The Barber of Seville“ (“Sevilijos kirpėjas“) directed by J. Gustaitis. Throughout 1946-1949 a Russian troupe acted in the theatre. In 1949 the theatre was renamed as Klaipėda Musical Drama Theatre, and since 1951 it has been known as Klaipėda Drama Theatre. Between 1946 and 1949 Juozas Gustaitis was the first Head Director. His most significant works are “Memorable Meetings” (“Atmintini susitikimai”) by A. Utevskij, “Platon Krecet” (“Platonas Krečetas“) by O. Korneiciuk, “Late Love” (“Vėlyvoji meilė“) by A. Ostrovsky, etc.
Other Head Directors:1949-1952 – Romualdas Juknevičius (“Guilty Without Fault” (“Be kaltės kalti“) by A. Ostrovsky, “Marriage” (“Vedybos”) by N. Gogol, “Fracture” (“Lūžis”) by B. Lavreniovas); 1953-1956 – Vladas Limantas ( “The Booted Cat” (“Batuotas katinas”) by P.Maliarevsky, “The Bet” (“Lažybos”) by K. Saja, “Romeo and Juliet” (“Romeo ir Džiulieta”) by W. Shakespeare, etc.). 1952 and 1956-1963 – Vytautas Jasinskas (“Seven Goats” (“Spetynios ožkenos”) by K. Saja, “Uneasy Hearts” (“Neramios širdys”) by J.Chlivickas, “Othello” (“Otelas”) by W. Shakespeare, etc. Kazimieras Juršys, Napoleonas Bernotas, Romualdas Grincevičius, Aleksandras Žadeikis and Stasys Čaikauskas and other actors and directors staged many remarkable plays.
In 1963 the troupe was joined by several actors from the closed Marijampolė Theatre (former Kapsukas). The second phase of theatre development is associated with long-time Head Artistic Director (1963-1996), Theatre Manager (1998-2001) and from 2001, Theatre Artistic Director Povilas Gaidys. Among his most remarkable stage plays are “Mindaugas”, “Mažvydas” ,“The Cathedral” (“Katedra”) by Justinas Marcinkevičius, “Polyglot. Abstinent” (“Poliglotas. Abstinentas”) by K. Saja, “Under the Libra Sign” (“Po svarstyklių ženklu”) by J. Glinskis, “The Bathhouse” (“Pirtis”) by V. Mayakovsky, “Mother Courage” (“Motušė Kuraž”), by B. Brecht, “The Lower Depths” (“Dugne”) by M. Gorky, “The Elephant” (“Dramblys”) by A Kopkov, “The Broken Jug” (“Sukultas ąsotis”) by H. von Kleist and many more. The direction of P. Gaidys stands out for its conceptuality, a fusion of comedy and drama, theatrical expression and improvisation, parody and wit as well as the genres of satire, grotesque, comedy and tragicomedy. Actors Bronius Gražys, Kęstutis Macijauskas and many guest directors have also created many remarkable plays. In 1980 and 1996 two generations of actors prepared by P.Gaidys became a part of the troupe. P. Gaidys nurtured many talented individuals – a group of true stage masters. Many memorable roles were created by Emilija Platušaitė, Eduardas Čepulis, Mykolas Petkevičius, Romualdas Grincevičius, Laima Kerniūtė, Janina Budrikaitė, Juozas Paplauskas, Algirdas Kubilius, Henrikas Andriukonis, Gintautas Pečiūra, Vytautas Kancleris, Balys Barauskas, Algirdas Venskūnas Elena Gaigalaitė, Valentina Leonavičiūtė and other late actors. Vytautas Paukštė, Marija Černiauskaitė, Bronius Gražys, Povilas Stankus, Nijolė Narijauskaitė, Jūratė Jankauskaitė, Nijolė Sabulytė, Regina Šaltenytė, Vytautas Anužis, Nelė Savičenko, Darius Meškauskas, Eglė Barauskaitė and other actors of younger and older generation have also created many colourful and memorable roles.