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About theatre


History of the theatre

The Estonian Drama Theatre grew out of a school. The first Estonian drama school – Paul Sepp’s private studio – was founded in 1920. In 1924 the first graduates of the Drama Studio, which developed on the basis of that, founded the Drama Studio Theatre, which was renamed in 1937 as the Estonian Drama Theatre. Over the years the theatre has also had other names. For example, during the Soviet times it was known as the Tallinn National Drama Theatre, with various titles being added to this name (including an academic name that denoted top quality). Around the time when Estonia regained its independence the theatre also got its name back and once again became the Estonia Drama Theatre (1989).

Since the very beginning the theatre has operated in a beautiful Art-Nouveau style German theatre house, which is the oldest theatre house in Estonia (completed in 1910; many older theatre houses were destroyed during the World War II). In addition to the Big hall (up to 436 seats), a small hall (up to 170 seats) was built in the 1960s and the Paintshop hall (Maalisaal) (70 seats) was opened in 2004. Stage technology was updated and modernized in 2004 in the course of repair works and in 2009 the whole backstage area was also completely renovated.

The Estonian Drama Theatre is the biggest verbal theatre in Estonia; at the moment the permanent troupe consists of 37 actors and actresses and there are 5 permanent directors. Around 10 plays premier every season and more than 20 plays are constantly in the repertoire. During one year almost 500 performances are given and more than 100,000 people come to see the plays.

The Estonian Drama Theatre has been in the role of a national theatre for a long time, despite the fact that the name of the theatre doesn’t directly suggest it. Since the very beginning and all the way up until today the theatre has brought to the stage a lot of world classics as well as new modern dramas from various countries.

The theatre has also consistently cooperated with modern Estonian writers. This is precisely the place from where the national boom of dramaturgy began in the 1920s after the staging of a popular village comedy – people began to write more plays and theatres began to stage the works of contemporary prose writers more and more often, which became very popular with the audience. Of the Estonian authors, the plays of Raudsepp, Kitzberg, Vilde, Tammsaare and Luts made it to the stage. During the 1950s, many works of young contemporary authors of that time were brought to the stage (Smuul, Rannet, Liives). In 1955 Voldemar Panso began to work as a director in the Estonian Drama Theatre. Having studied in the Russian University of Theatre Arts in Moscow to become a stage director, Panso later went on to become one of the most legendary people in the history of Estonian theatre. He is the founder of a drama school and a youth theatre and acted as the chief director of the Drama Theatre from 1970 to 1976. In addition to his original productions, Panso also brought many Estonian writers and interpretations of classics back to the spotlight; the works of Traat, Vetemaa, Saluri and Kross were all staged at the theatre.

The 1980s were a decisive time both in the Estonian history as well as in the Estonian theatre – it was the beginning of a national fight for freedom, which was predicted and supported by several stage productions, most prominently by the historical plays of Jaan Kruusvall and Rein Saluri. Director Mikk Mikiver staged several plays where the destinies of a nation and an individual intertwined together with historical choices. Topics that had been forbidden so far were now finally dealt with on the stage, such as the Estonians’ escape from the hands of the nearing Red Army to the West, repressions of the Soviet times, deportation, compulsory creation of collective farms, forest brothers, etc.

Two of the most important authors of the period of regained independence are Madis Kõiv, a physicist and a philosopher who is known for his complicated plays about memory and remembering, and Andrus Kivirähk, a writer with an extraordinary sense of humor whose extremely popular plays look into the national mentality and criticize its weak spots.

New original dramas are introduced to the public and the people of theatre during public readings of new plays that take place every month; in addition, original plays that are staged for the first time in the Estonian Drama Theatre are also published as a book.

One of key factors in the success of the Estonian Drama Theatre is its versatility. In addition to a more traditional state of mind, there has always been room for experiments. It is the mission of the Drama Theatre to be a national theatre but also to be a theatre for the people in the best possible sense of that phrase. Many different target groups can find something from here that meets their interests and complements their previous experiences with art. One new children’s play is also brought to the stage every season. Some of the most prominent stage directors from the last few decades include Mikk Mikiver, Juhan Viiding, Evald Hermaküla, Mati Unt, Hendrik Toompere, Merle Karusoo. Priit Pedajas has been the chief director of the Estonian Drama Theatre since 1999 and Rein Oja has been the manager of the theatre since 2006.

Very many well-known and beloved Estonian actors have worked in the Estonian Drama Theatre. As it was already mentioned, this theatre was born out of a school. Professionalism and top quality have always been highly esteemed in the theatre. New young actors and actresses with higher education have joined the troupe over the years and the numerous Estonian theatre awards are a true testament to the high quality of the troupe.