Opened in autumn 1893, the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow is one of the most distinguished Polish dramatic stages. The decision to build it was highly controversial, several location proposals were presented, but medieval buildings connected with the oldest hospital of the Holy Spirit in Poland had to be demolished to gain a place for the theatre facility. The famous painter Jan Matejko, who fought fiercely to keep the monuments in this place, resigned his title of the City's honorary citizen as a sign of protest.
The theatre was erected in 1891-1893 according to Jan Zawiejski's design. Initially, it was called the ‘Municipal Theatre’ and was to bear the name of ‘Aleksander Count Fredro’, a trace of which is the bust in front of the main entrance. Finally, in 1909, the theatre was named after Juliusz Słowacki to mark the centenary of the poet's birth.
The theatre building was modelled on the Paris Opera, with elements of other European opera houses. The façade bears the motto: "Krakow to the national art", and the attic of the representative western façade is modelled on the attic of the nearby Sukiennice and decorated with mascarons.
The nearby building of the former theatre power station called the ‘Machines House’, now houses the ‘Miniature Stage’. Thanks to this facility, the theatre was the first public building in Krakow equipped with electric lighting.
The theatre front is decorated with sculptures by Mieczysław Zawiejski, Alfred Daun and Tadeusz Błotnicki, while the interiors show-cases Antoni Tuch’s frescos. The two lovers on the building front found themselves there quite by chance. In the original design, Apollo and Athena were to crown the top of the façade. When it turned out that nobody was able to carve the figures of the ancient deities, a certain Odo Bujwid donated the figures from his house, which have remained in the same place to this day.
The Theatre's auditorium is decorated with Henryk Siemiradzki's curtain, namely, an oil painting on canvas depicting an allegorical scene. The figures painted on the curtain include Inspiration, Beauty and Truth, Tragedy and Comedy, and are accompanied by a jester, Eros, Furies and Spectres, Psyche, Music, Singing, and a Bacchic retinue dancing around a statue of Terpsichore. The curtain went up for the first time on 10 April 1894. Since 2018, the Theatre has had a second decorative curtain based on Stanislaw Wyspianski's sketch entitled "From my fantasies" and made by the painter, Tadeusz Bystrzak. Next to the stage is Ludwik Solski's historic dressing room, where one can see drawings and autographs of artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Stanisław Wyspiański was the actor and director who gave this stage its special status. The most outstanding Polish artist of the turn of the century, a poet and painter, moreover, a brilliant stage designer, he was endowed with creative imagination and staged most of his works in the Municipal Theatre. The legendary premiere of "The Wedding" on 16 March 1901 was one of the most critical events in the entire history of Polish culture. As a stage director, Wyspiański combined the two most vital trends in the Krakow theatre of the time - a fascination with new art and a strong, though not uncritical, interest in Romantic literature. In 1901, he was the first to stage all the parts of Mickiewicz's "Forefathers' Eve". That was one of the historic premieres of the incredible Romantic repertoire at the Municipal Theatre.
In the interwar period, the theatre favoured the classics, albeit, avant-garde - provocative performances were organised by futurists, and in 1921, the famous painter and playwright, Witkacy, debuted with his "Brainy Tumour".
The theatre was managed by several outstanding directors, including Tadeusz Pawlikowski, Ludwik Solski, Juliusz Osterwa and Karol Frycz.
Performances were created here by many renowned artists, directors such as Wilam Horzyca and Kazimierz Dejmek (directors), Andrzej Pronaszko and Tadeusz Kantor (stage designers), and the greatest Polish actors - figures such as Helena Modrzejewska, Irena Solska, Ludwik Solski, Juliusz Osterwa, Stefan Jaracz, Tadeusz Łomnicki, Gustaw Holoubek and many others - performed on stage here.
The Słowacki Theatre has always been a favourable place for young artists, too, and directors who staged plays here ranked among the leaders of Polish theatre today, and include Krystian Lupa, Maja Kleczewska, Agnieszka Olsten, Agata Duda-Gracz and Paweł Miśkiewicz – all of whom made their first performances here.
In the 1970s, under Krystyna Skuszanka's management, a side stage of the Theatre - MINIATURA - was opened in the building of the former theatre power plant (known as the Machine House), where, among others, the outstanding director Krystian Lupa made his debut.
Operating since 2012, Małopolska Garden of Arts (MOS) is open to artists seeking new theatrical language and new forms of relations with the audience. It is the most experimental space of the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow. Here, the audience can break with their habits and find themselves in situations requiring interaction with the in-house artists. The artists, working at the junction of many arts, seek inspiration in various artistic areas, emphasising music and visual elements. MOS combines sound, theatre, installation art and multimedia. It has become not only a place of development for artists looking for a new language for artistic performance, but also a place of impresario activities and cooperation with many of Krakow's cultural initiatives.
The Słowacki Theatre is linked to the Theatre Crafts House, located two streets away at Radziwiłłowska Street, in a renovated warehouse for staging equipment. The building has been entered in the Register of Historical Monuments, and houses a costume warehouse, a rehearsal room and tailor workshops.
The Theatre's current programme can be found on the website https://teatrwkrakowie.pl/repertuar.