Gym of Makabi Association and History of the Puppet Theatre Žilina

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An annex was built to the Jewish folk school near the Žilina Neologic Synagogue as premises for a gym and club rooms for Makabi. Makabi was an association of Jewish physical education and sport clubs during the first Czechoslovak Republic. Its task was to strengthen the physical fitness of its members, to build athletic fields and gyms, to organise competitions, etc. In Žilina, the association operated from 1931 to December 1938. It was managed by JUDr. Alexander Márton.

Makabi had three sections:
1) Gymnastic section, the members of which were exercising according to Tyrš’s set of exercises on the yard of the Jewish folk school and in the gym of a real school at Hurbanova Street that was sport and gymnastic equipment purchased and donated by Jewish businessmen. From 1937 they were exercising in their own gym in the Makabi building.
2) Sport section that consisted of light athletics, winter, hiking, swimming and table tennis teams. This section also had their space in the club rooms in the Makabi building after completed in 1937.
3) Cultural section
.

“Third meeting of Czechoslovak Makabi” was the biggest event organised by the Žilina association held in Žilina on 4 to 6 July 1937. Two thousand gymnasts participated in a ceremonial parade across the town and then in exercising. The patrons of the event were the town of Žilina, its mayor Andrej Hvizdák and the district authority managed by Tibor Jesenský.

The newly constructed building with an iron-concrete skeleton filled with firebricks, iron-concrete ceilings and a plain cardboard and gravel roof was 44.3 metres long, 14.4 metres wide and 8 metres high. It was built in 1936 - 1937 by the building company of Ing. Vojtech Fridner from Žilina according to design by Ing. arch. Július Stein. The gym was 22 metres long, 11 metres wide and 6 metres high. It was entered from a vestibule. In the gym there was a stage 10 metres long, 7.1 metres wide, and 5 metres high and there was a place for orchestra in the basement in front of the stage. The design supposed that the gym was about to be used as a theatre and lecture hall as well. Later, movies were shown there too. The gym had two dressing rooms and the stage had two dressing rooms also. Gallery, office, foyer and corridor connecting the gym with the school were on the second floor.

Makabi was using the gym until the end of 1938, when all the Jewish associations and organisations were cancelled by law, and thus the sporting activities in this building were cancelled as well. From 1942 to 1945 the building was rented by the Local Headquarters of Hlinka’s Youth in Žilina. Amateurs from Puppet Theatre Radosť were playing on the gym stage in 1950. Originally, performances were held on Sunday only, later, after 1953, the performances of the professional Puppet Scene of the Regional Theatre in Žilina were played more often. In 1959 the Makabi building underwent a general repair and was transformed into the most modern “stone” puppet theatre in Slovakia. In 1961 the Puppet Theatre Žilina was established. In 2012 to 2014 the building underwent another large reconstruction.

 

History of the Puppet Theatre Žilina

The Puppet Theatre Žilina is a cultural and artistic establishment, a professional repertoire theatre with a stable ensemble. Its main scope of activities is to prepare conditions for the creation and spreading of puppet (alternative) production for children, youth and adults. The Theatre was founded by the Žilina self-governing region. Since being established, the Puppet Theatre Žilina (PTŽ) introduced 230 premieres of plays for children, youth and for adults; it was performing in 35 countries on 4 continents, played over 13,000 performances that were seen by over 2,500,000 people.
A great amount of enthusiasm and naïve courage to start something unknown has lead a group of amateurs around experienced puppeteer Teodor Zvara from Žilina to the shaky existence of emerging professional puppetry in Slovakia. The amateurs from Žilina were the first to take such a step on 1 September 1950. Dramatic Regional Theatre of the Workforce had taken the amateurs from the puppet theatre Radosť in Žilina under its wings and changed their name to the Puppet Scene of Regional Theatre of the Workforce. However, such fusion was causing many serious issues even after years of cooperation. The biggest problems were that the finance was allocated according to the proverb that “charity begins at home”. Based on a general discontent and pressure of professional puppeteers, the ensemble separated again and established the Puppet Theatre in Žilina on 1 April 1961. The name was preserved until the present.

During the first years of the existence of the Puppet Scene of Regional Theatre, the amateur experience was mixing with the professional system of work. Thus the dramaturgy was simple, direction was descriptive and the creative expression was naïve. In the 60’s the theatre started to cooperate with external directors and designers. At the same time the attitude of the puppet theatre was changing with the aim to address older children and adults by new dramatic forms. In the first half of the 60’s, the ensemble from Žilina had a unique and a priority position within the search for new synthetic expression possibilities in a puppet theatre among other professional ensembles in then Czechoslovakia.

The theatre started a new phase with the new director Milan Tomášek. Tomášek inclined to buffoonery and revue. The commercial gaps preventing the theatre from travelling abroad were filled in by a presentation of a play Revue Ferri and Tonny (1972) by Ivan Pilný that had been representing the theatre in near and attractive “distant” countries of the world. In the 80’s the writer Ján Papp became the puppet theatre manager. He stayed there for ten years that were marked by a search for artistic personalities for the main posts, who would be able to move the theatre expression to a higher artistic level. Much was expected from the creative coupledirector Karol Brožek and dramatist Jozef Mokoš. During the 90’s an incredibly high number of directors and designers from the Czech Republic and from Slovakia changed on the main posts in the Puppet Theatre Žilina. Qualitative transformations of the theatre that moved it forward were always connected with the personality of a director and his creative team. In 2003 this challenge was faced by the manager Peter Tabaček, director Tomáš Hudcovič, head of artistic ensemble Jana Eliášová and, in the following season, also by dramaturge Eduard Kudláč. Dramaturgy in the theatre had three genre levels in those seasons. It included adaptations of classical folk fairytales, dramatizations of author fairytales and also original author plays. Even though the director Hudcovič left the theatre after a rather short period and the dramaturge Kudláč after few seasons, the theatre management did its best to prevent the ensemble from falling into a creative apathy. The theatre managed to hire Peter Palik with his conceptual thinking, and the number of puppeteers was increased after representatives of the young puppeteer generation were hired to accompany the oldest and most experienced members of the ensemble.

The theatre management was seeking cooperation with renowned theatre personalities. Milan Sládek, a Slovak mime known throughout the world, accepted the offer to cooperate with PTŽ in an opera project - Sergej Prokofiev: Láska k trom pomarančom (Love for three oranges) (2009), with stage settings by Jan Kocman. The theatre ensemble faced an extraordinary challenge when trying to meet all the Sládek’s demanding directorial requirements connected with expressions of an actor in mask, however, the ensemble proved that it was able to give all the talents for the sake of the final success of the presentation. The presentation was nominated for DIVADELNÉ DOSKY 2009 award in category of the best costume (Jan Kocman) and the category of the best new actor of the season (Michal Németh for his role of the Prince). The PTŽ was the first Slovak puppet theatre with two nominations for the prestige awards ever.
The theatre attracted more attention by organising a demanding festival of Slovak professional puppet theatres – Puppet Žilina. During several seasons the actors also had opportunities to show their talents and their will to shift the presentations in Žilina to a higher artistic level. Presentation of EPOS (2011) was one of the most successful projects of the Puppet Theatre Žilina. A director tandem consisting of musician Andrej Kalinka and puppeteer Ivan Martinka, together with designer Juraj Poliak, were invited to realize a demanding theatrical collage. The performance prepared in the Puppet Theatre Žilina had very good feedback from Slovak theatre circles. Immediately after the premiere it was nominated for the DIVADELNÉ DOSKY 2011 award in category of best stage music (Andrej Kalinka) and one year later it was the “Bratislava Viewer’s Award” at festival NOVÁ DRÁMA 2012.
However, the ensemble of the Puppet Theatre Žilina did not stick to theatre stage forms only. For several years they have been preparing successful street performances for the wider public of any age in cooperation with the director Jakub Nvota (Othello alebo Škrtič benátsky (Othello or the Venetian Strangler); Božská komédia (Divine Comedy). The last play of this type was the “local farce” called Kata dcéra kata (Kata, Executor’s Daughter) (2012).
The repertoire of the theatre also includes various so-called kindergarten plays – chamber theatre presentations for the youngest viewers. The most distinct one called Ryba Rohatá alebo Toto nie je ryba (A horned Fish or This is not a Fish) (2013), by Zoja Zupková, the author and the director, attracted the youngest viewers by its stage design in particular. The above examples of the Puppet Theatre works show the direction of dramaturgy that appeals to children, young people and adults, and the poetry applied by the presentation makers. The plays include puppets and masks in various artistic modifications and alternatives, in both metaphorical and symbolical meanings.

Source: Peter Štanský and Milan Novák

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