A Short History of a Tiny Theatre that Grew Big
OKO illustration for Poster for “Croatians tales of long ago” play.
Trešnja Municipal Theatre has come a long way, starting from its amateur days to being one of the best and most prominent professional children’s theatres in Croatia. It started off as an association called Naša djeca (Our Children), whose theatre-inclined members founded a children’s theatre ensemble, and on 8 May 1954 premiered their first full-length play, Vladimir Nazor’s Little Red Riding Hood, directed by Neda Kubinek. Following the success of the production, the ensemble becomes Pionirsko amatersko kazalište (Pioneer Amateur Theatre) based at the Maksim Gorki Cultural Centre at Mošćenička Street 1, in the exact spot where the Trešnja Municipal Theatre we know today was built 30 years later. The Pioneer Amateur Theatre had been extremely successful from the get-go, and at the first Children’s Festival in Šibenik in 1958, Timpetili, grad bez roditelja received an award for the best play. The first full-lenght children’s ballet, Pinocchio, with the music commisioned from Bruno Bjelinski and choreographed by Silvija Hercigonja, who went on to raise generations of young dancers at the Trešnja Theatre. Apart from drama, the theatre housed dance and music groups, and educational aspect has remained an essential part of the Theatre’s activities to this day.
During the ten following years, what started as an ensemble continued to grow beyond the initial amateur framework, so in the 1969/70 season Malo kazalište Trešnjevka (Tiny Trešnjevka Theatre), a professional children’s theatre, was founded. The theatre opened with the premiere of a three-act grotesque, Doktor Jojboli među životinjama, directed by the Czech Jiri Jaroš. In the 70s Ivan Šebelić, the Theatre Director, worked extensively with various Czech directors, who brought “black cabinet technique” to Zagreb, a simple but effective theatre trick achieved by the movement of fluorescent elements on the black background. The Theatre kept growing and soon the building became too small for numerous shows, events and groups using the space; it was inadequate for the professional level that Tiny Trešnjevka Theatre had reached. It was about time for a permanent ensemble, which was realized in 1978 during the directorial mandate of Zlatko Madunić. During that time, Večernja scena (The Evening Theatre) was started as well, becoming a successful part of the Theatre’s programme. All of this made the need for a suitable building and stage ever more pressing. As the writer Hrvoje Hitrec became the Director in 1985, the project of the new theatre house finally commenced, bringing in the architect Andrija Mutnjaković. The 80s were generally one of the Trešnjevka theatre’s most fruitful eras. Texts were commisioned from Croatian writers, and the evening theatre peaked with the repertory based on the crime genre. In 1986 the theatre finally gets the name it carries to this day … Generations of children grew up with Trešnja Theatre’s hit shows, such as Eko-Eko, Cinderella, Dedek Kajbumščak, Bijeli jelen, Gulliver’s Travels, Alan Ford, Little Red Riding Hood, Tomislav i Adriana, Grički top, and many others. The theatre house was finally finished in 1999, and the Theatre enters the new millenium in the new space, worthy of the significance and popularity of the Trešnja Municipal Theatre.
Trešnja Municipal Theatre has continued to grow, nurturing and raising generations upon generations of children. Vlatka Vrhovšek, Roman Šušković, and Saša Anočić work as Directors. During her mandate, the current Director, Višnja Babić, has brought new young actors to the theatre and successfully restored the spirit of youthful playfulness that has been a part of the Trešnjevka theatre magic from the very beginning. For more than half a century, the theatre in Mošćenička Street has been the indispensable spot in Zagreb’s cultural scene, a place where generations of children became acquainted with the art of theatre for the very first time. The history of Trešnja has thus been infused with the joy of creation and the memorable mosaic-tiled building echoes with children’s laughter.