The iconic city theater on Leidseplein was built between 1891 and 1894, designed by architects J. Springer, J.B. Springer and A.L. van Gendt — it has been a national monument since 1982. The theater is located in quite a large complex between Leidseplein, Lijnbaansgracht and Marnixstraat. There’s the old theater from 1894, the Rabozaal with its glass foyer on Lijnbaansgracht from 2009 (designed by architect J. Klinkhamer) and the office part (behind the façades on Marnixstraat). At the front of the building is the main entrance, the so-called Ajax-terrace on top of it (used for soccer celebrations).
Amsterdam Theater History
At the end of the 15th century the first theater groups appeared in Amsterdam, which organized in the 16th century in so-called Rederijkerskamers (Chambers of Rhetoric). In 1617 playwrights Samuel Coster and Gerbrand Bredero founded the Nederduytsche Academie, modeled after the Italian academies of the time, in a wooden building at Keizersgracht 384. The first brick Amsterdam municipal theater, designed by Jacob van Campen, opened there in 1637. It was enlarged in 1665. After a devastating fire in 1772 destroyed it, the city decided to build a new municipal theater on Leidseplein.
In 1774 the first theater on Leidseplein opened, a wooden construction. It was renamed National Theater in 1795 and Koninklijke Hollandse Schouwburg from 1807 to 1814. In 1826 the city of Amsterdam took over the exploitation of the theater until 1895. In 1874 a brick façade was added, but a fire in 1890 destroyed the entire complex. Some sculptures from that first theater (created by Bart van Hove) were saved and then restored in 1996. One of these sculptures, called Muziek en Vreugde (Music and Joy), is now in the garden of Hotel The Manor at Linnaeusstraat 89.
The current building opened in 1894 and was constructed partly over the covered Lijnbaansgracht, its main hall seating 900 people. On the Marnixstraat was the Royal entrance, a smaller balcony above it. Common people entered at the sides of the building. The theater was expanded in 1940, in 1950 the front part was internally restructured and the side entrances removed. In 2005 the theater became independent and stopped being a municipal asset. In 2009 the back of the building was demolished and a modern part was added at the Lijnbaansgracht side, with a second performance hall (seating 550), offices and studios.
On the front of the theater the letters SPQA (Senatus Populusque Amstelodamensis, Council and People of Amsterdam), below the sculpture depicting Comedy (also by sculptor Bart van Hove, it was saved after the fire which destroyed the first stadsschouwburg and restored in 1994). The main entrance with the balcony above it once permitted rich theater visitors to keep dry when they stepped out of their coaches. In the restaurant on the ground floor a large chandelier from former department store Hirsch across the street. The artist entrance is at Marnixstraat 427.
What’s in a Name?
Amsterdam’s municipal theater has been called Stadsschouwburg since 1637, so the name was in use for almost all 381 years — the main user was a theater group with the same name (SSBA). Yet in 2018 some people — with too much international ambition and too little respect for tradition — thought it would be a good idea to also change the name of the building itself to International Theater Amsterdam (ITA).
When Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TA) fused in 2018 with the original main theater group Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam (SSBA) they had every right to change their name to ITA, but they probably should not have overreached and rename the historic building as well. It was ill-advised anyway, since the acronym is also in use by Italian airlines ITA (previously Alitalia) and by several other organizations. Let’s see for how long the Amsterdam population can resist this renaming, the umpteenth erosion of history through completely unnecessary anglicizing.
Photo Gallery of the Stadsschouwburg (February 2023)
Website Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam: https://ita.nl/en/
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