Culture / theatre

Gavella Theatre

The new theatre

Young actors and directors from the Croatian National Theatre founded the City Drama Theatre Gavella (Croatian: Gradsko dramsko kazalište Gavella) in Zagreb in rebellious response to the traditional approach to this art form. They wanted to show the possibilities of different theatre, with modern repertoire and style. The new theatre was founded in 1953 as the Zagreb Drama Theatre (Croatian: Zagrebačko dramsko kazalište). The current name has been in use since 1992. 

The founding was initiated by a group of younger actors and directors from the Croatian National Theatre, including Nela Eržišnik, Pero Kvrgić, Sven Lasta, Josip Marotti, Mia Oremović, Kosta Spaić, to name a few. Branko Gavella was the spiritual father of the whole movement, which involved writers and artists such as Petar Šegedin, Edo Murtić and Božidar Rašica. The first director was Pero Budak. 

The building dedicated to this new repertoire is located just a few minutes walk from the Croatian National Theatre in Frankopanska Street. Previously, there was the regional stage of the Croatian National Theatre which was adapted to suit the new needs by the designs of Božidar Rašica.

Golgota by Miroslav Krleza

Branko Gavella

Branko Gavella was born on 29 July 1885, and was a Croatian theatre director, pedagogue, theatrologist, theatre critic and translator. He started as a theatre critic in 1910 and just four years later started directing at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Later he became the director of drama in the same theatre and drama in the National Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia. 

During his career, he directed over 270 plays and operas. Besides actively shaping modern Croatian theatre, he wrote several studies and essays about Croatian playwrights and poets and books about the aesthetics of theatre and acting, The Actor and the theatre (Croatian: Glumac i kazalište, 1967) and Croatian Acting (Croatian: Hrvatsko glumište, 1953). 

He was interested in world classics, especially Shakespeare, promoting Croatian drama, and interpretation of heritage and best European plays. The repertoire he was interested in is still the core of the Gavella theatre today.

The first play in the new theatre was Golgotha by Miroslav Krleža, performed in 1954. The repertoire was built of modern and traditional dramas, which has remained the same ever since. 

Svoga tela gospodar by Slavko Kolar

The repertoire & ensemble

The Gavella approach means that each director applies their own individual style to the work, cutting the national theatre’s traditional formal style and creating a distinct performance each time. 

They combine national and international classics with contemporary. Classics are usually filtered through the director’s idea to make them more accessible to the audience. Some plays are even adapted to put the actor in the audience, including them in the story. 

Some plays were performed hundreds of times, which says a lot about production and audience satisfaction. For instance, in the ’60s, Badger in Court (Croatian: Jazavac pred sudom), directed by Vanča Kljaković, had been played more than 300 times. In 1970, Dino Radojevic directed Krleža’s Kraljevo, which played over 170 times until 1982.

Gavella Fair 2015, promo

Croatian authors presented at the Gavella stage were Miroslav Krleža, Ranko Marinković and Tituš Brezovački. The audiences have enjoyed dozens of plays made by Croatian authors’ books like Dundo Maroje, Breza and Leda. 

The world-renowned plays adapted for Gavella were Moliere’s Tartuffe, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ibsen’s Peer Gynt just to name a few.

Gavella is, and was, home of some of the most prominent Croatian actors. The first, the ones who helped establish the theatre, were Nela Eržišnik, Pero Kvrgić, Sven Lasta, Mia Oremović, to name a few. Today, one can enjoy the performances of Filip Šovagović, Ozren Grabarić, Ksenija Pajić and Anja Šovagović Despot, as well as younger actors like Filip Križan, Ana Kvrgić, Ivana Roščić and many more. 

Visnjik by Chekov, played in the park of the Academy of Arts, Zagreb 2020

Gavella Evenings

Gavella evenings (Croatian: Gavelline večeri), held since 1973 in honour of Branko Gavella, are a yearly overview of the best plays of the season. They are held throughout June and close the theatre season in Zagreb. From 2014, international guests have joined Gavella evenings. 

Gavella evenings are the general public’s opportunity to see the best productions at a great price, since the tickets usually cost about a quarter of the price. 

For the ensemble, it is the opportunity to review their yearly work as the season comes to a close. The last play of the season is usually followed by an awards ceremony in which the best female and male role, the best direction and the best overall play are recognised. 

Stories from Vienna Forest by Odon von Horvath, 2017, Photo Jasenko Rasol
Actor Nela Kocsis in Komet by Justine del Corte, Photo Nina Đurđević

Gavella today 

Since Zagreb’s earthquake in March 2020, the theatre building has been closed due to damage. The closed theatre didn’t stop the actors and other members of the Gavella from preparing and performing in front of audiences. 

Since the temporary closure, which could take a bit of time since the damage is significant, they have been performing across Croatia. They even made special material about the situation they found themselves in and made Zagreb 2020, a play that they first performed in Lauba in November 2020. 

Currently, they are showing three plays; Kiklop, a play made after a classic of Croatian literature written by Ranko Marinković, Obavezan smjer by troupe member Enes Vejzović, a site-specific play that takes place in Grič Tunnel and Hotel Zagorje, made after a book by Ivana Bodrožić. 

Besides Obavezan smjer, all plays can be seen in the Cultural Centre Travno that has conceded its space to the troupe, currently, without a home stage.

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