Theatre Building

This area of Vasilyevsky Island is a wonderful historical part of Saint Petersburg where many glorious events took place and many famous persons lived. In the 1850s, the buildings of Sredny Prospekt between the 11th and 12th lines belonged to the titular counsellor and painter N.D. Bykov, also known among artists as a connoisseur of Russian art who discovered young talents.

The mansion was richly decorated, furnished with antique furniture, embellished with crystal and bronze, and its walls were hosting a wonderful collection of paintings by V.L. Borovikovsky, D.G. Levitsky, A.P. Losenko, A. G. Venetsianov, K.I. Bryullov, O.A. Kiprensky and others. After the death of the owner in 1884, a significant part of the collection was acquired by Moscow merchant P. M. Tretyakov for his gallery, and the mansion was reconstructed and built up to five floors. In the mid-1880s, the building was given to the widow of the actual state counsellor Vera Nikolaevna von Derwies.

In April of 1897, von Derwies submitted to the Building commission of the St. Petersburg City Council a stone building project with an auditorium. The project was approved on May, 7 of the same year. A large outbuilding was constructed in 1897-1898 in the courtyard, its front door faces Sredny Prospect even today. Basically, this building was created as a People’s House: on the ground floor there were a reading room, a library and music rooms with pianos for the poor students of the conservatory, on the third floor a school of painting was situated. And the second floor hosted a 576 seats auditorium, elegantly decorated with faience and metal tiles, that soon became known as the “Von Derwies Theater Hall”.

The People’s House was opened on February 18, 1898.
A tastefully decorated auditorium with a good acoustics attracted various troupes of actors, and soon the building on Vasilyevsky Island became one of the theatre centers of St. Petersburg. In the season of 1889/90, the amateur theatre troupe of A.P. Vorotnikov worked here, followed by the Opera Partnership and the troupe of the Kronstadt Theater of G.S. Karskiy. In 1903-04, the Theatre hosted a partnership of actors of the Vasileostrovsky Theater under the direction of E.E. Kovalevsky, a troupe of the Berlin Modern Theater, and the Modern Theater of actress N.N. Otradina in the season of 1905/06.

After that the New Vasileostrovsky Theatre under the direction of N.A. Popov rented the stage for several months. In the spring of 1907 the performances by combination company of V.R. Gardin were staged here, and in the autumn of the same year - performances organized by the actor and director N.A. Solomin. 

On October 20, of 1908 in the building of von Derwies the Theater of Arts was opened directed by V.R. Gardin. Posters announced that the theater made part of the Art Classes. Apart from the performances, the theatre hosted classes on the art of expressive reading, lectures on art problems, poetry nights The Northern Flute (“Severnaya Svirel”).

In the season of 1909/10 V.A. Kazansky and E.A. Mosolova opened here their Music and Drama Theater, next year it was P.P. Weinberg Drama Theatre. With the beginning of the Revolution of 1905-07, the Bolsheviks and other political parties representatives held their rallies and meetings in the People’s House, and later held some illegal activities here. Since 1912, a troupe of B.A. Roslavlev worked here quite continuously, but after the October of 1917 the building was requisitioned by the Soviet government. Nevertheless the theatre history of this “island of culture” did not finish, in the period from 1928 to 1933  it was a seat of the Touring Musical Theater, and later - of the Regional Youth Theater.

After the World War II, the theater was converted into cinema, and the building itself was given to the Uritsky Tobacco Factory Club. The building was decaying, and no trace of the former grace of the Art Nouveau style could be seen anymore.In 1989, Vladimir Slovokhotov with a group of enthusiasts founded the Experimental Satire Theater. Not having a permanent stage, the management of the new Theater were searching hard for a suitable building, and soon the fortune smiled on theater devotees: the Uritsky Tobacco Factory decided to get rid of  such a “burden” as the House of Culture. By that time, V.D. Slovokhotov looked over several dilapidated locations, including that one, which gave him the impression of a gloomy desolation. Though attractive was the location of the building in one of the most respectable and beloved areas of the city, which had not had yet its own cultural centre. While Vasilievsky Island was a traditionally cultured district of the city, densely populated by native residents, moreover, the State University is situated nearby, as well as a number of university dormitories (including the one of the Theater Academy).

The first performance of the Theater in the new building was Sanin based on the novel by M. Artsybashev. The theater gave two performances and ... was closed. The building required serious repair and large restoration work. It was decided to reconstruct the pre-revolutionary look of Mrs. von Derwies theater using archives. And so, on May 28, 1993 the Theater opened in the restored building with the performance of N. Gogol’s Marriage directed by Anatoly Morozov. This date could be considered as another birthday of the theater, moreover, the name was also changed adding one important word - the State Satire Theatre on Vasilyevsky Island.

And even today the Theatre building remains one of the most stylish and comfortable in the city. The Main Stage, the Chamber Stage, ancient stairs, foyer and buffet reproduce almost completely the architectural style of the early XX century, which is perfectly combined with some necessary modern elements. The theater has carefully preserved not only the historical look of the interiors, but also the democratic spirit and artistic atmosphere of this place.

The People’s House has become a Theatre house,an open and welcoming one. Today's Saint Petersburg Drama Theater on Vasilyevsky is widely known in the northern capital of Russia and beyond.