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LT theatre today

Theatre as history or history as theatre?

How to approach Lithuanian theatre? How to describe its past and its present history, the pages of which we are still consistently flipping through. What should fill the gaps that we’ve missed, skipped through or pushed aside? Perhaps we should let go of the time that’s passed as of the history itself? Or perhaps not only theatre itself is becoming history here, but history turns into theatre? Which one should be trusted?

When looking at Lithuanian theatre history from the farthest perspective, theatre can be seen in forms of various performances on city’s main squares, during the events for Lithuanian dukes, elite gatherings, festivities and religious ceremonies. Starting from XVIth century, theatre in Lithuania is starting to get mentioned in a different context – it’s becoming less and less mundane, turning into an individual form of art. Although, to be fair, even back when theatre was considered something ordinary, it still had an element of something greater, something spiritual or even divine. Some time later, when political and historical atmosphere in Lithuania was becoming more and more favourable, first theatres with their own troupes and houses started to emerge, it was the time of the first performances, first attempts to discover a unique style and genre. Jesuit school theatre, Grand Duchy of Lithuania noblemen’s theatre, and later on – underground readings in Lithuanian. Theatre has naturally become a mean of expression, a sort of statement, the meaning of which was growing stronger over time.

If we replace our take on Lithuanian theatre with facts, we have to start from 20th of August 1899, when the first public amateur theatre performance based on Keturakis comedy America in the Bathhouse took place in Palanga. In 1920 in Kaunas a society of Lithuanian artists was gathered. The society has gathered a special Theatre council, which itself has founded the first professional Lithuanian theatre – Drama Playhouse. On December 19th, 1920 it presented the public a premiere – Fires of St. John by Hermann Sudermann (directed by Jonas Vaičkus). In 1930 the theatre, which was now called State Theatre, welcomed its new director – Andrius Oleka-Žilinskas, whose proteges, Romualdas Juknevičius and Algirdas Jakševičius, have started writing the history of Lithuanian theatre. At the initiative of  Romualdas Juknevičius on January 25th, 1940 Vilnius State Theatre troupe was transformed into Vilnius State Theatre (up until 1998 it has been operating under different names before finally becoming Lithuanian State Drama Theatre). In 1940 Panevėžys Drama Theatre was established, changing it’s name to Juozas Miltinis Drama Theatre in 1995. In 1945 Vilnius Russian Drama Theatre was established, that in 1960 changed its name to Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania. Its first troupe consisted of Moscow and Leningrad theatre actors as well as theatre school graduates. So just like that first professional theatres creating and cherishing the tradition were established.

In case of considering theatre a historical and political truth, first of all it is worth mentioning the immense effect that the grip of the USSR had on Lithuanian theatre – censored repertoire, the approval committee, formalities, socialist realism, suppressing each and every directorial idea that seemed even a little too bold or original, weakening of both directorial and acting traditions, prosecution of artists. Although, even in such environment strong artists have managed to sneak through the keyhole, opposing the regime, creative silence and public opinion. Juozas Miltinis, Jonas Jurašas, Juozas Rudzinskas, Aurelija Ragauskaitė, Povilas Gaidys – they all have managed to create performances, speaking to the audience beyond the topics of socialist realism.

In order to add certain personalities to the pages of Lithuanian theatre history we’d have to take the brightest possible ink and start with such directors of the end of the 20th century as Dalia Tamulevičiūtė, Jonas Vaitkus, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Rimas Tuminas, Gytis Padegimas, Saulius Varnas, who have created a distinctive directorial language of Lithuanian theatre. The theatre has freed itself from both social and political snares, although, along with these changes it got rid of literature as well, becoming more poetical, metaphorical and symbolical.    Independent directing has taken Lithuanian stage by storm, which has led theatre to a modern artistic self-observation, artists turning their eyes to themselves.

If we are going to take a look at Lithuanian theatre through the prism of performances, we ought to start from 2011 Banishment by Oskaras Koršunovas which has formed a particular personality of a modern Lithuanian – a lonely misunderstood soul that feels out of place in this world. Homeless, powerless body of an immigrant without an identity, a body that even its owner cannot understand. This is the main character floating through space of the major theatre performances: it’s just him alone, dancing on the stage during Lokis (directed by Łukasz Twarkowski, 2017, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre), a lonely her, walking on zinc plates in Zinc (Zn) (directed by Eimuntas Nekrošius, 2017, Lithuanian State Youth Theatre). Another Lithuanian, loner Antanas Garšva (directed by Jonas Jurašas, 2012, Kaunas State Drama Theatre) stuck in a New York elevator, is struggling with the same loneliness as every author of the Tales from the Vienna Woods (directed by Yana Ross, 2019, Lithuanian State Youth Theatre). He is left all alone, just like a professional hunger artist in Hunger Artist (directed by Eimuntas Nekrošius, 2015, Meno Fortas theatre) or an actor from the El Publico, lost in the theatre (directed by Gintaras Varnas, 2010, Utopia Theatre). How mournfully Treplev (Martynas Nedzinskas) gazes at Nina in The Seagull (directed by Oskaras Koršunovas, 2013, OKT Theatre) or what indifference Joseph Schuster (Valentinas Masalskis) reeks of in Heroes’ Square (directed by Krystian Lupa, 2015, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre). Perhaps the same look can be noticed in the eyes of a Girl whom God was Afraid of (directed by Jonas Vaitkus, 2010, Klaipėda Drama Theatre) and those fighting for Lithuania’s freedom in the Barricades (directed by Valters Sīlis, 2014, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre). A tiny bit happier is the grotesquely smiling nanny in Christmas at Ivanovs’ (directed by Jonas Vaitkus, 2012, Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania)… What about The Cherry Orchard (directed by Krystian Smeds, 2009, New Drama Action), letting people into its home? Or those touching stories told in the dark in the I Dreamt I Dreamt (directed by Kamilė Gudmonaitė, 2019, Lithuanian State Youth Theatre)? In what shadows these narratives with our DNA encrypted in them are born? Have we developed such national identity – sensitive, sore, real, viable, cut into our skin like a scar – in the past few decades?

But how should we view future Lithuanian theatre? How should we understand something that is only about to happen and see the light of day, a future explosion of a new theatrical thought. Who will start writing theatre history? What will it be like? It’s definitely worth waiting and finding out.   

Theatre in facts and numbers

Status / type of financing

To this day there are 13 active state theatres in Lithuania: 8 drama theatres, 2 puppet theatres, 3 music theatres. Three of them were granted a status of a national theatre. So in Lithuania theatres are divided into several categories: national (Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, National Kaunas Drama Theatre), state (Juozas Miltinis Drama Theatre, Kaunas State Puppet Theatre, Kaunas State Music Theatre, Klaipėda Drama Theatre, Klaipėda State Music Theatre, Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania, Lithuanian State Youth Theatre, Šiauliai State Drama Theatre, Vilnius State Small Theatre, Vilnius Theatre Lėlė), city / municipality and private theatres, established at an independent initiative, including troupes, production organizations, performing art centres etc. In total there’s around fifty public and private theatres in Lithuania.

Creative activity of the theatres is directly connected to their funding, so they are often presented according to their status. In Lithuania theatres are mostly financed by the Ministry of culture, Lithuanian council for culture, municipal and other budget allocations. A part of funding comes from European Structural and Investment Funds, other Lithuanian and foreign funds, as well as their own personal income.

Most of the performances are staged in the national theatres, where there’s more experiments, a broad variety of creative forms. Also, national theatres take into consideration both needs and age of an audience, invite artists and performers from abroad.


According to statistical data, more that 70 percent of new performances in professional theatres in Lithuania are dramatic performances. Both classics and modern plays are dominant, although the performances are mostly based or plays or screenplays, rather than on random literary pieces or texts that’s been created by a group of people for a certain performance.

Puppet and object theatre performances, dance shows (ballet, modern dance, motion theatre) as well as musical performances (operas, operettas, musicals etc.) take almost equal parts of the repertoire, whereas circus performances in Lithuania are still getting the least attention and initiatives.


Each year since 1985 a professional Lithuanian theatre festival Vaidiname žemdirbiams takes place in Rokiškis. During this festival the most remarkable dramatic performances are being presented. Since 1977 Kaunas has its own festival – Lietuvos teatrų pavasaris, Klaipėda – an international theatre festival Šermukšnis (since 1985), Šiauliai – Lithuanian drama festival Atgaiva (since 1988). Klaipėda also has a unique Puppet theatre festival Materia magica since 1997.

Since 2004 Vilnius international theatre festival Sirenos has been inviting its audience to enjoy not only Lithuanian theatre showcase, but also the newest international theatrical events, brightest creators and their performances. Lithuanian National Drama Theatre has been hosting a contemporary (at first – national) drama festival Versmė since 2005.

Famous for its creative workshops and published achievements, Klaipėda Youth Theatre launched its own festival Jauno teatro dienos in 2012. Actors, directors, scenographers and playwrights are invited on a week-long workshop under the supervision of mentors from Lithuania and from abroad.

It is also important to mention Alytus City Theatre which has been contributing to a comedic genre since 2014 by hosting an international theatre festival COM•MEDIA.

The same practice of theatrical exchange is being applied during Klaipėda international theatre festival TheATRIUM since 2017. Also, there is an international street theatre festival SPOT in Vilnius, which first took place in 2018.



There have been a few theatre awards in Lithuania since 1992: 1995–2001 most significant works were recognised by the St. Christopher award, which later has been replaced with the Golden Stage Cross award. Artists in Kaunas are being conferred a Fortūna award since 1996