Kraków is unequivocally one of the most important cities on Poland’s theatrical map. The city is home to important stages, develops new initiatives and supports directors, stage designers and actors at all stages of their careers. Even though Poland’s theatrical landscape has been changing over the years and the centre of gravity has been shifting, theatrical Kraków of the past and the present remains an important reference point.
Although the first permanent public theatre was founded in Kraków as early as the late 18th century, the current legend of Cracovian theatre dates back to the 19th century and the two oldest institutions in the city. The first started at two adjacent tenement houses at Jagiellońska Street adapted to stage performances in 1799 (renovated in 1906 in the Art Nouveau style); today the site is the main stage of the National Stary Theatre. The second is the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre (opened in 1893), located at one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind in Poland at the Św. Ducha Square, on the site of the former hospital of the Order of the Holy Ghost. It was there that Stanisław Koźmian founded the Cracovian acting school. In 1908, Irena Solska was the first actress in Poland to appear naked on stage as Lady Godiva. Helena Modrzejewska, who went on to conquer Hollywood as Helena Modjeska, made her first triumphs here; until the rise of Pola Negri (AKA Apolonia Chałupiec), she was the most famous Polish actress in the world. Kraków was also home of Stanisław Wyspiański, one of Poland’s most acclaimed dramatists; the premiere of his acclaimed play “The Wedding”, featuring characters inspired by famous Cracovians, is now the stuff of legend.