Before the Fundaments
When Det Ny Teater opened on the 19th September 1908, it was Denmark's second largest theatre with its 12,000 m2 and more than a thousand seats. The technical facilities backstage were also the most advanced i the country, and the theatre was furbished most attractively for both the public and the personnel.
The theatre’s beginnings, however, were both difficult and intriguing. It began in the spring of 1902. The construction company Bona purchased some of the older properties between Gammel Kongevej, Vesterbrogade and Bagerstræde. Bona had plans to construct a theatre and open a passageway between Gammel Kongevej and Vesterbrogade with shops, restaurants and concert rooms.
The construction of the theatre was stormy for a number of reasons. There were two especially. The first had its roots in personal theatre scheming, and the other was for political and appropriation reasons. The intrigue started around the man who was to be Det Ny Teater’s first Managing Director, the actor Viggo Lindstrøm. He was a splendid character comedian and director who after many seasons at Dagmarteatret was at the time the right hand man at Folketeatret for Managing Director Dorph-Petersen, whom he was expected to replace. However, an absurd situation took hold which filled the minds of the Danish theatre environment and remained in many actors' memories, described as “the story of a nod”.
The story goes as follows: Lindstrøm was negotiating the contract of his wife, actress Vera Lindstrøm, with Folketeatret in Managing Director Dorph-Petersen’s office. According to Lindstrøm, Dorph-Petersen had nodded in confirmation to Mrs. Lindstrøm's continued employment at the theatre. However - nod or no nod - the wife was given her notice. Following this, Viggo Lindstrøm who was otherwise a pleasant and humorous fellow, became so furious that he said goodbye to Folketeatret and decided to create his own theatre.
He made contact to the board of Bona, which in 1906 had applied to the Ministry of Justice for a licence to run the new theatre that was contemplated. The historically notorious Minister of Justice Alberti denied the application with the reason that "the economic fundaments were unable to be kept under control”. Bona were of the opinion that the project should be cancelled, and a hotel complex constructed instead. However, Viggo Lindstrøm would not let go of the idea and set about getting a personal application approved. The power lay in the hands of Alberti as far as theatre applications were concerned, but above him sat the King who at the time was the obliging Frederik VIII. When in audience at Fredensborg, Lindstrøm explained the situation and was given a distinctive “nod” from the monarch himself. How Frederik VIII as constitutional King managed to get this decision reversed, no one knows – the Managing Director at Folketeatret was given an order of chivalry, and Viggo Lindstrøm received his license to construct, open and run Det Ny Teater.
Laying the Fundaments
In March 1907, the architect Lorenz Gudme was asked to work on the project, which he did to everyone’s satisfaction, and the fundaments were laid on August 14, 1907. Gudme had good qualifications for theatre buildin,g as he had worked for a number of years with Ove Petersen, who was responsible for both the Royal Theatre and Dagmarteatret. The new project, however, was not just a theatre building, but a whole complex of buildings that formed a road and a passage under the theatre.
With this design Det Ny Teater obtained two facades, one facing Vesterbrogade and one facing Gammel Kongevej. The first faced towards popular Vesterbro and the other towards more respectable Frederiksberg. Shortly after the construction had started, a disagreement occurred between Bona and Lorenz Gudme, apparently due to the slow progress. This resulted in Bona employing another architect, Ludvig Andersen, but they did this without informing Gudme. This resulted in a conflict of interests that resulted in Ludvig Andersen being expelled from the Academic Architect Organisation. In the end, though, it was in fact Ludvig who completed the building of Det Ny Teater. Ludvig Andersen was an architect who understood the value of using new materials. Det Ny Teater was therefore the first building in Denmark to use the Hennebique-system, a special form of reinforcement of concrete and steel, which resulted in improved fire safety and weight support combined with broad width possibilities. The theatre was also the first in Denmark to have a revolving stage, balconies without supporting pillars and an advanced sprinkler system in case of fire on stage. Showers were installed for the actors on every floor. The public could look forward to cosy family boxes, festive stairways in marble and large inviting foyers lit by crystal chandeliers where everyone could greet each other. The price for this construction was approx. DKK 1,200,000 - plus the value of plots DKK 600,000.-.
The Opening Performance
The opening performance in September 1908 was a Pierre Bertons Napoleon comedy "The beautiful lady from Marseille" - Lindstrøm loved France and everything French – with 32 roles, amongst others Asta Nielsen and Poul Reumert, and a great number of extras, an overwhelming array of decorations and costumes plus a huge orchestra which played Hartmanns march of "Trymskviden" before Clara Wieth, later Pontoppidan, recited Sophus Michaëlis' festive prologue "Be welcomed! Here I am! With the wind under my wings -!" Incidentally, this evening of triumph was almost, at the very last minute, on the verge of literally being all washed up! Those who wanted to sabotage the evening decided to turn the theatre's sprinkler system on, so that water suddenly poured down over the beautiful decorations. Asta Nielsen, Poul Reumert and Clara Pontoppidan have each described this vivid incident in their memoirs.
A short time later the theatre was once again the target for new attacks, as evil tongues spread the rumour that the balcony would most certainly, before very long, fall down on the heads of those in the rear stalls. To completely disperse this rumour, Lindstrøm with firm resolution closed the theatre for a few days, and - according to Poul Reumert - ordered "countless piles of sacks, full of sand to be placed all around the balcony, proving its strength, and which represented more than a 100 times the weight that the balcony could dream of supporting. Even if very stout people were tightly packed in formation they could still happily fill all the family boxes." It was a prestigious cast of actors and actresses Lindstrøm presented for his first seasons, with a solid repertoire of alternating Danish and foreign drama. Lindstrøm was both idealistic and had an eye for quality, but in those days it was not unusual that a large theatre would present 12-15 premieres in just one season. Should a production not be to the public’s liking, a new would immediately be taken in and set up. Clara Pontoppidan gave Det Ny Teater a huge success as Dickens' "Little Dorrit", and the theatre's leading man, Poul Reumert, according to Asta Nielsen created "a gallery of figures, of which I have never experienced equalled neither here nor abroad". Det Ny Teater's economy was saved for a time when the love of the operettas "The Dollar Princess", which was an astounding success and ran 185 times. However, after three seasons, Lindstrøm had to give up – to his his comfort, all the other theatres in the capital also had to replace their directors.
On June 3, 1911, "A/S Laanekassen i Kjøbenhavn" advertised Det Ny Teater for rent. The theatres future as a stage for acting was in great danger; many forces were at work, especially the cinema people. However, the actor and producer Leo Tscherning, who had been a part of the theatre from the beginning, started an intensive lobby-campaign to bring the right people together in saving Det Ny Teater as a living theatre. He succeeded! Just a month later, all the pieces were in place and the theatre had a new director: The wholesaler Ivar Schmidt, earlier an actor, now the owner of the Kanneworffske tailoring business in Kongens Nytorv. The Minister of Justice, Bülov was convinced that no other was "better suited to solve this impossible task", and so, on 30. June 1911 Ivar Schmidt received the grant. The economic conditions were more than tight, he stood without a repertoire and he had to accept those actors and actresses that were available.
Ivar Schmidt had a fertile imagination, both privately and in his choice of repertoire. Despite the difficult and pressing situation he was able to set up 14 different productions in his first season at Det Ny Teater. The three first – one of which was Ibsens "Samfundets Støtter", became Herman Bangs last production and involvement with Danish theatre. Before Bang set off on his final travels around the world, he donated the theatre’s stage door entrance a plaque with a farewell message, giving his best wishes for Det Ny Teater and health and happiness for the personnel for the future. During the rest of the season the theatre did indeed have good luck with productions like "Charlie’s Aunt", "Nitouche" and "Erik Ejegods Pilgrimsfærd." These three productions could be seen as the fundaments that represented Ivar Schmidts coming repertoire of popular comedies, light plays and operettas.
Just a year after Ivar Schmidts arrival at the theatre he began an improvement of the theatre’s interior. Many felt that the white stucco plasterwork was cold and uninviting. With the help of architect Helweg-Møller all the walls and ceilings were decorated in warm and tasteful colours. Ivar Schmidt was apparently the first Danish theatre director who did something special out of what he called "externally setting the scene". Inspired by Max Reinhardt in Berlin he was greatly involved in each production's visual expression, and he did all that he could to ensure that the stage design was an "elaboration of the piece ...its spirit, force and atmosphere".
In the 1930’s the theatre received strong competition from film and radio, and many were forced to close. Next came the thirties depression and massive unemployment. There were few who had the extra for theatre tickets. In 1936 Ivar Schmidt was the first in Denmark to hold a 25 years anniversary as the leader of the same scene, celebrating the last years together with the widely loved actor Ib Schønberg as associate director and leading man. However, two years later he was forced to sell and he left his directorship as a ruined man.
Det Ny Teater however, got back on its legs again in the following years with various leaderships. Firstly, for two years it was Axel Frische, who was well known as an author of different works like "Styrmand Karlsens Flammer" and "Ebberød Bank". His associate was Einar Linden, previously the director of the Casino Teatret. Per Løfberg who owned the theatre, wanted Linden as associate as an ultimatum or otherwise the building would be sold as a business complex.
Linden died in 1940 and was replaced, also at the wish of the owner, by Nancy Nathansen, who during the war changed her name to Nansig; she died in 1943. However, it was Thorvald Larsen, Folketeatret's successful director, and associate director during his 7 seasons that came to influence the repertoire at Det Ny Teater. This was mainly through operettas, amongst these the first performance of Emil Reesens "Farinelli" (1942). With the joint leadership of Folketeatret and Det Ny Teater the phenomenon Alliance-Scenerne came to life.
During the time of Thorvald Larsen, Peer Gregaard had been employed for 10 years as theatre inspector. I 1939 he also became the economic inspector at Det Ny Teater and knew the theatre well when the position became vacant. The Theatre Council was rather against the idea of a double administration continuing a couple years more, but in Marts 1944, Peer Gregaard became the artistic and economic sole leader and at only 31 years of age, the youngest theatre director in town. Here started a period in the theatres history where Det Ny Teater under the leadership of Gregaards, became the most outstanding performance theatre in Denmark, often regarded as the Royal Theatres "bad conscience". It was a question of the fact that no other theatre had presented so many wonderful performances within the same time span.
At the start of this shining era another important factor took place regarding Det Ny Teater's future. New Years night in 1947 the owner of the theatre Per Løfberg, donated the theatre and surrounding buildings to a foundation that should bear his wife’s name. Thereafter, Det Ny Teater’s buildings were funded as a self-running institution where Ida Løfbergs Foundation, amongst others, could offer the running of the theatre the best possible conditions with regard to rental, repairs and improvements.
The efforts that proved successful for Peer Gregaard, were to give Det Ny Teater an image and an artistic reputation by playing a repertoire of high quality, which gave the right challenges to the best actors and actresses and which therefore attracted a large public. The world classics, Shakespeare, Molière, Corneille and Sheridan alternated in tact with the Danish dramatists of the times, Abell, Munk, Soya, Sønderby and Branner. But it was also the new and latest of foreign drama productions that influenced Det Ny Teater, with flamboyant productions: Shaw, especially Coward, O'Neill, Miller, Williams, Faulkner, Roussin, Giraudoux, Anouilh, Vitrac, Genet, Sagan, Albee, Arrabal and Ionesco.
For this wonderful repertoire Gregaard made relationships with the greatest actors and actresses, producers, directors and producers and stage designers of the time. He could attract whomever he wanted at this time, and it was an honour for everyone who was attached to Det Ny Teater. Under Peer Gregaards leadership, Det Ny Teater was the only privately run theatre (apart from the Review Theatres), which received no economic support from the state or local council. Ida Løfbergs Foundation financed the extensive refurbishment of the theatre in 1953.
In 1966 Peer Gregaard was highly recommended to seek the position of Director for the Danish Royal Theatre. His replacement at Det Ny Teater was Meïr Feigenberg with author and journalist Knud Poulsen as drama critic. Feigenberg had been absent from the Danish theatre world for a few years, but prior to that was a clever and quality minded leader of Riddersalen and Frederiksberg Teater.
His three years in the director’s chair at Det Ny Teater was from the start a fight with economics. VAT was introduced on ticket prices and great successes like: Ernst Bruun Olsen’s "Bal i den Borgerlige" had to be inconveniently removed from the repertoire in order to take consideration for Arte. Feigenberg introduced a number of sponsor agreements with large companies, but already in his second season, he gave in his formal resignation. However, he stayed in the job until 1969 on the basis of a guarantee assurance of 300.000 kr. from the Minister of Culture Bodil Koch – just a fourth of what the theatre was in need of. Feigenbergs successor was his drama critic, Knud Poulsen, who had put pen to paper regarding Det Ny Teater's criticism of the governing market conditions at the time.
How Knud Poulsen kept Det Ny Teater above water in his 17 years, as director was not least a result of being an ingenious and eloquent theatre politician, which was very beneficial for Det Ny Teater. The press often criticized his repertoire. In principle unfairly, as apart from the star studded classics and comedies, he gambled daringly with the modern Danish revue comedy theatre as a genre and launched, with more or less good luck, a whole row of controversial productions in cooperation with people like Leif Panduro, Paul Hammerich, Ernst Bruun Olsen and Jesper Klein. The greatest success was "Vidunderlige Kælling" (Wonderful Bitch), a scenic collage in cooperation with Jens August Schade and Flemming Flindt.
It was apparent that Knud Poulsen was not afraid to enter into the new and experimental when he, amongst others, in 1973 invited one of the theatre world’s pioneers, Robert Wilson, with a guest production of the controversial 12-hour long "The Life and Times of Josef Stalin". It was not until Christmas Day 1971, just before the premiere of "Jeppe på Bjerget" with Buster Larsen in Kaspar Rostrups production (one of the many at Det Ny Teater), that the theatre director had to face the music and accept that there was no longer an economic base for the future running of the theatre. However, he managed to convince the then Minister of Culture K. Helveg Petersen to take affair; the theatre was saved and "Jeppe på Bjerget" became one of its greatest successes.
The enormous economic pressure and some imminent closures forced the politicians to accept that the continual increase of production costs without state support would be fatal. This resulted in the forming of the Greater Copenhagen County Theatres, which in the beginning consisted of 11 theatres in the capital that received state funds based on special calculations and estimates in relation to size and budgets.
Viggo Kjær Petersen replaced Knud Poulsen as director in 1987. He had been a drama critic at the theatre in 1971-72, when Knud Poulsen had been director of both Det Ny Teater and Gladsaxe Teater. It was from here that Peer Gregaard lured him over to The Royal Danish Theatre as his personal drama critic for the National Scene until 1983, after which he returned to Det Ny Teater.
Already after just a few seasons it was apparent that Kjær Petersen had obtained his inspiration from the Gregaardske model in his choice of repertoire: Large productions of the classics (Shakespeare, Marlowe) and musicals ("Sweet Charity", "South Pacific") plus the newest of the international plays – especially Ayckbourns. He succeeded in achieving Gregaard's dream of an alternative scene in the earlier “Ballet Hall” with productions like those about Herman Bang and Tjekhov.
In 1991 the Greater Copenhagen County Theatres were forced to reduce the number of theatres in their administration. Folketeatret and Nørrebros Teater had just been rebuilt for a large sum. Det Ny Teater, strongly in need of repair, was closed for an unlimited period. Ida Løfbergs Foundation, which owned the Det Ny Teater's buildings, feared that this could be the beginning of the end for Det Ny Teater. One of the members of the board, actor and director/producer Bent Mejding, became the primus motor in the efforts to round up the more than 50 million kroner, a total refurbishment of the theatre would cost. Thanks to the good will from private funds, Councils, Local Councils, and County Councils things began to take shape and in the following year when Mejding joined up with Privat Teatret's director Niels-Bo Valbro, they managed to achieve their goal.
The goal was to take the theatre back to its original appearance and with respect for this, introduce facilities that would make the theatre more versatile. The Greater Copenhagen County Theatre group agreed to pay the rental costs, whilst the running of the theatre should be driven privately without economic production support from the state. The restoration was prized by the Council of Copenhagen and was chosen as a pilot project by the European Union and received the European architect prize, Europa Nostra.
With the re-opening of Det Ny Teater in 1994, Denmark received an international music theatre that has the format to produce the great musical productions. With Bent Mejding and Niels-Bo Valbro as directors the theatre opened the wonderful theatre building with pomp and ceremony on November 4th 1994 with the extravagant production of the Strauss operetta "The Bat". The new smaller stage in the cellar, Sceneriet, opened November 5th with "Crazy Xmas Cabaret." Mejding and Valbro's joint leadership continued until 1996. Thereafter, Niels-Bo Valbro took over the leadership alone and at the same time continued as director of Privat Teatret. The running of such a large theatre with over 1000 seats today, without direct state support, is dependent on a certain flair for knowing just what the public want to see in this type of theatre. Det Ny Teater has since produced a whole row of successes: The Bat, La Cage aux Folles, The Merry Widow, Crazy For You, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Don Quixote - En Mand fra La Mancha, Peter Pan, Cats, Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, Chicago, The King and I, Les Misérables, Mary Poppins, Annie, Singin' in the Rain, Love Never Dies, Crazy For You, Evita, Billy Elliot The Musical, The Sound of Music, Jekyll & Hyde The Musical i.a. During the 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 seasons, Det Ny Teater presented Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which was seen by more than 450,000 people and therefore the greatest success in Danish theatre history. 200,000 people visit Det Ny Teater annually, and the theatre is thus the country’s most visited theatre.