Ever since it was established, the Zagreb Youth Theatre (Zagrebačko kazalište mladih, ZKM) has been developing programmes questioning and pursuing new theatre practices, educating and working with children and the adults, and growing audience engagement. In the seventy-five years of its existence, ZKM has positioned itself as one of the most agile theatres in the country and the region, with a programme that cherishes innovative performative thinking and expands its interests from a narrowly theatrical to a wider social and artistic context through activities and new performative models that expand its views of other, complementary forms of art and establish a space of long-standing cooperation with other theatres and festivals in the region and Europe.
Since then, ZKM has found its firm footing on the map of Europe by sticking to its programmatic foundations, ranging from plays/shows for children and adolescents to those for adults, with the intention to expand the performative experience with contemporary interpretations of the world’s classics and modern European plays and by cherishing contemporary Croatian drama and its authors at the same time.
Pioneer Theatre – Zagreb Pioneer Theatre – Zagreb Youth Theatre
The Zagreb Youth Theatre was established on 29 March 1948 as the Pioneer Theatre. In over seven decades, it has seen numerous artistic, production, and organisational transformations. It started as a theatre studio counting over a hundred students (run by Božena Begović with a group of dedicated colleagues), which then grew to become the Zagreb Pioneer Theatre only two years later and then Zagreb Youth Theatre (ZKM) in 1967, when it moved to a new building (whose first renovation stage took until 1982 to be completed) and continued to struggle with the lack of performing and working space until 1987, when it finally got the Youth Culture Centre with two fully equipped theatre halls (Istra and Janje). However, we would not have been able to speak about ZKM, had it not been for the contribution of a large number of exceptional theater educators, directors, dramaturges, actors, writers, choreographers, stage designers, costume designers, and all those who have built their skills, creativity, love, and commitment into the rich history of this theatre.
The establishment of the theatre company
We also would not have been able to speak about its future, had it not been for its company of actors, its cherry-picked repertory, and carefully designed programme. From the beginning, ZKM had been rooted in the “collective” as the common denominator of “theatre productions and work in the theatre”, steered by its first head, Božena Begović, and her colleagues toward achieving educational and aesthetic excellence. Since the first staging of Pioniri na ljetovanju (Pioneers on Summer Holidays) based on the script by Božena Begović (on 30 June 1948), the Pioneer Theatre surpassed the intentions and the expectations of its founders. From the beginning, educational work with children involved professional actors and staff from other theatre houses, including some of the great names of Croatian theatre history, such as Fabijan Šovagović, Sven Lasta, Semka Sokolović, Izet Hajdarhodžić, Pero Kvrgić, Josip Marotti, and Drago Krča.
The turning point came under the management of Milena Večerina in 1953, when the Youth Studio – the seed from which today’s Theatre College grew – was established, and Zvjezdana Ladika joined in. Then in 1967, Nikola Vončina took the helm, changed the theatre’s name into the Zagreb Youth Theatre, and started to separate amateur and studio productions from the professional ones and continued pursuing distinct artistic and programme development. In the ten years under his management, ZKM had worked on getting its own stage, enlarging the actors’ company, and producing plays directed by some of the most distinguished artists of the younger generations, such as Tomislav Durbešić, Vladimir Gerić, Božidar Violić, Joško Juvančić, Dino Radojević, Petar Selem, Tomislav Radić, Želimir Mesarić, Petar Veček, and Miro Međimorec. This was the decade that saw the staging of anthological shows for children, such as Maksimilijan Zviždukalo, Pustolovina Toma Sawyera (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), Štrokoloka and Malapale, as well as Doživljaji dobrog vojaka Švejka (The Adventures of Good Soldier Svejk), Toranj (The Tower), and Anno Domini 1573 for adult audiences.
This was also the decade that saw the company become a coherent collective of strong artistic personalities, while the theatre lay grounds to become the central gathering point of young(er) generations of playwrights and theatre enthusiasts of the 1970s.
Major projects and anthological productions
The early 1980s brought fresh air and creative changes not only to artistic expression but to the society as well. These were the times that saw some of the monumental theatre projects come to light, such as Magelli’s Nacija (The Nation), Brezovec’s Traviata, Shakespeare the Sadist, Zašto smo u Vijetnamu Minnie? (Why Are We in Vietnam, Minnie?), Šnajder’s Bauhaus, Taufer’s Odisej i sin ili svijet i dom (Odysseus and Son, or the World and Home) and Magic and Loss, and Georgij Paro’s Krležine Zastave (Krleža’s Flags).
Thanks to the well organised operation of the Youth Culture Centre that made the staging of these monumental productions possible, ZKM saw its golden age. The Youth Culture Centre also gave roof to the new theatre festival Eurokaz and to the Contemporary Dance Week programme (staged at the Istra Hall), transforming ZKM into the hub of the city’s cultural life.
The early to mid 1990s saw the first productions distinguished by the particular directing poetics of Rene Medvešek, such as Zimska bajka (The Winter’s Tale), Mrvek and Crvek, and Hamper (Bucket, 1996), whereas the late 1990s were marked by Paolo Magelli’s legendary productions of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, which put ZKM on the map abroad.
Revolutionary theatre and international context
After a brief period under Davor Borčić, ZKMs helm was taken by Slobodan Šnajder, one of the last members of the original theatre company, who ambitiously restored political discourse by having two great writers – Krleža with Veliki meštar sviju hulja (The Great Master of All Scoundrels) and Kamov with Kamov, smrtopis (Kamov, On Death) – put on stage by Branko Brezovec. During his mandate, new productions saw the light of day, including Brat magarac (Brother Donkey) and Naš grad (Our Town) directed by Rene Medvešek, Mi djeca s kolodvora Zoo (We Children of Bahnhof Zoo, directed by Boris Kovačević), Veliki bijeli zec (Big White Rabbit, written by Ivan Vidić and directed by Ivica Kunčević), and Palačinke (Pancakes, written and directed by Filip Nola).
These last twenty years have seen new artistic tendencies and greater theatre production, especially through the World Theatre Festival and part of ZKM’s regular programme entitled “European Theatre at the Zagreb Youth Theatre”, which brought a number of visiting productions directed by world-renowned directors. With Dubravka Vrgoč at the helm, ZKM expanded its repertory with innovative concepts and plays directed by Rene Medvešek [Vrata do (Next Door), Najbolja juha! (The Best Soup), Glasi iz planina (Voices from the Mountains), Čovjek koji je spasio Europu (The Man Who Saved Europe), and Ideš dalje (You’re Part of It!)], Bobo Jelčić [Kristofor Kolumbo (Christopher Columbus), Galeb (The Seagull), and S druge strane (On the Other Side) with Nataša Rajković], Ivana Sajko, Dora Ruždjak Podolski, and Franka Perković [Arhetip: Medeja / Žena-bomba / Europa (Archetype: Medea / Woman-Bomb / Europa)]. It also collaborated with directors from the wider region, including Dino Mustafić, Jernej Lorenci, Haris Pašović, Jan Fabre, and Vasily Senin, renewed collaboration with legends such as Božidar Violić and Paolo Magelli [Zagrebački pentagram (Zagreb Pentagram)], promoted younger generations of directors (Anica Tomić and Jelena Kovačić) and authors (Tena Štivičić, Ivor Martinić, Olja Lozica, Damir Karakaš, and Nina Mitrović), and engaged old and faithful partners like Ivica Buljan and Robert Waltl to achieve its full production potential.
Since Snježana Abramović Milković took over the helm, ZKM has distinguished itself as a contemporary and progressive theatre producing content relevant to a wider European cultural setting thanks to the collaborations with leading European innovators in theatre discourse such as Oliver Frljić, Jernej Lorencij, Igor Vuk Torbica, Árpád Schilling, and Grzegorz Jarzyn as well as thanks to a careful and daring selection of emblematic and provocative titles such as Eichmann u Jeruzalemu (Eichmann in Jerusalem), Hinkemann, Braća Karamazovi (The Brothers Karamazov), and Črna mati zemla (Black Mother Earth). The last production is the adaptation of the homonymous novel by Kristian Novak, which has scooped the bulk of national theatre awards, toured important theatre festivals across Europe, and placed the Croatian theatre production shoulder to shoulder with the European.
With its accompanying programmes, ZKM seeks to advance and reinforce the new national drama and groom its audience. These programmes include “Držić at ZKM”, which brings forth awarded plays, and The Future is Here programme, which produces mentored dramatists. Last but not least, it brings the production of the Theatre College as the point of interaction with audience and the foundation of continued development for young actors.
In these times of social turbulences and the sweeping influence of digital and social media on how we perceive reality, ZKM has assumed a challenging task to produce current, inspiring, and relevant shows that call for an open discussion about our present, past, and future. These are the threads that keep ZKM connected with its current and future audiences.