History of the Shumen Theater

The Drama-Puppet Theatre "Vasil Drumev" is the inheritor of theatrical traditions in Shumen dating back to the era of the Bulgarian Revival. The first documented record of a theatrical event from the distant past is associated with Shumen. In 1813, the Armenian priest and cultural figure Minas Puzhshkyan, passing through our town, witnessed a locally organized "theater" event. He described the spectacle as a "play." This event was connected with the civic celebration of the Day of Saints Cyril and Methodius. This documents Shumen's initial contribution to Bulgarian theater knowledge.

Stefan Izvorski

In a publication of the magazine "Lyuboslovie" from 1846, a theatrical celebration at the end of the school year is described, which took place at the Shumen Mutual Teaching School on August 11, 1846, under the guidance of teacher Stefan Izvorski. This date is considered the birth of the school theater. Its students were Vasil Drumev and Dobri Voynikov, and its deputy was Sava Dobroplodni. Voynikov studied and developed his own way of presenting student performances. This is the origin of the school theater, which featured characteristic dramatic dialogues of that era.

The Shumen society was not satisfied with child-student plots, thus it took great interest in the cultural life of the Hungarian emigration. Among them were prominent dramatic, operatic artists, and musicians. The city's residents became witnesses to diverse cultural events – theatrical and operatic performances, orchestral renditions of European music. On March 13, 1850, the play "The Fugitive" by Sigligeti was staged on a specially decorated stage in the garrison barracks. This first theatrical performance caused extraordinary excitement in the city. It was then that Mihai Shafran created a permanent orchestra of immigrants, and the following year saw the establishment of the first Bulgarian orchestra. In September 1850, the Polish emigration staged the first opera production in the city, which was a great success.

Teachers and students on the Shumen theater stage. In the first row, from right to left, are Tsarevna Miladinova, Dobri Voinikov, the priest Todor Baychev - the prompter for the Shumen performances, and the co-director Todor Dzhabarov.

During the Crimean War (1853-1856), the people of Shumen gradually embraced new cultural entertainments brought from Europe by the English and French forces stationed in the city.

Kavrakov's cafe, where the play "Mihal Mishkoed" was performed in 1856, artist St. Petrov

With the growing cultural needs of Shumen society, the idea of establishing a public community center (chitalishte) was born. It was founded in 1856 in Shumen by the initiative of Sava Dobroplodni and was one of the first community centers in the country. It was initially located in the Kavrakov Cafe, and later in Tash Maaza – a building constructed by Hungarian emigrants, owned by Anastas Haji Stoyanov. At the insistence of Dobri Voynikov, chorbadji Anastas provided two rooms for the needs of the community center.

In the same year, on August 15, Sava Dobroplodni staged the Bulgarianized comedy "Mihal Mishkoed." This performance is considered the beginning of contemporary Bulgarian theater. His assistant in directing was Czech emigrant Josef Meisner, and the actors were his students – Vasil Drumev, Vasil Stoyanov, and others. The success of the first Bulgarian performance confirmed in the artists and the Shumen community the belief that theatrical art is not foreign and inaccessible to Bulgarians. The theatrical enterprise in Shumen continued its development, being closely connected with the "Archangel Michael" community center (now the "Dobri Voynikov" community center) until the end of the 19th century.

Community Center "Archangel Michael"
The first theater curtain from 1898 in the "Archangel Michael" Community Center

In the 1860s, Dobri Voynikov began his theatrical and dramaturgical activities. After school stage dialogues, he transitioned to larger-scale theatrical performances. On June 29, 1862, the comedy "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" by Molière was presented.

Later, in the 70s, theatrical activity continued to develop within the community center, which became a hub of cultural and intellectual life in the city. A modern theater hall with a rich wardrobe and props was established, which was advanced for its time.

During this period, plays such as "The Suffering Genevieve," "Nevyanka," "Lost Stanca," Voinikov's "Misunderstood Civilization" on November 21, 1871, "Raina Knyaginya" in February 1872, and also "Ivanko, the Killer of Asen I" by Vasil Drumev in 1874 were performed on the community center stage, among many others.

Almost all of the actors were members of the community center. In Voinikov's historical plays, members of the Revolutionary Committee, led by chairman Panayot Volov, also participated. His involvement in "Misunderstood Civilization", which led to the event known as the "French Wedding," is significant. This event defined Shumen's contribution to the Renaissance theater, lifting our national self-esteem. The Revolutionary Committee recognized the moral impact that theatrical performances had on the youth of Shumen, encouraging its members to participate in the theater. This prompted the Turkish authorities to halt the theatrical activity of the community center in 1875.

In 1876, Dobri Voinikov returned to his hometown and, alongside his teaching work, once again engaged in community center activities. With the help of chairman Haralan Angelov, along with theater enthusiasts Todor Chengeliev and Todor Dzhabarov, he succeeded in forming a new association within the community center named "Shumen Theater Stage," where he became a director and producer. On the eve of the Liberation War, theatrical performances were again halted until the city was occupied by Russian forces.

Vasil Drumev
Dobri Voinikov
Sava Dobroplodni

In the first two decades following the Liberation, theatrical activity in Shumen was organized jointly by the "Archangel Michael" community center and the teacher's society "Foundation." Thus, the new theater life after the Liberation began with Voinikov's play "Princess Raina," in honor of the long-awaited freedom.

In 1882, the community of Russian officers in the city joined the community center theater. Prince Gedroitz prepared several Russian plays, including comedies by Gogol, "Marriage" and "Inspector General." The following year, the community center theater commission included Racho M. Rachev, Georgi Balkanski, and Encho Atanasov, who invigorated theatrical activity with the help of the "Foundation" teacher's society and the "Patriotism" women's society. Thus, in the mid-80s, the presentation of theatrical productions entirely shifted to the "Foundation" society. The wide corridor of the pedagogical school was often used as a theater salon.

In 1898, extensive opportunities for theater emerged in Shumen when the new community center building was completed, featuring a modern hall and a wide stage for its time. Then, the "Foundation" society staged a new production of "Ivanko, the Killer of Asen I," which was one of its last theatrical performances.

After 1900, the Renaissance theme gave way to contemporary artistic drama, mainly of Western European origin. The city's theatrical activity depended on the initiatives of some schools and incidentally formed amateur troupes. Attempts were made to establish a permanent professional theater. Many of these attempts were unsuccessful, until in 1910, Sava Stoyanov formed the "Bulgarian Free Theater" with several artists and enthusiasts. They debuted with the play "Happiness in Hell," which was highly successful. Due to lack of funding, the theater ceased its operations in 1912.

Veliko Dukemendjiev

After the First World War, the "Shumen City Theater" was founded by actors Vladimir Sheytanov and Al. Robertovich. In 1920, artists from the "Shumen People's Theater" joined it. The period from 1919 to 1920 is one of the most dazzling for theater in Shumen. The "Shumen City Theater" existed until 1927, and during its eight years of existence, it staged 35 productions from contemporary European drama.

In 1927, the professional artists in Shumen established the "Dramatic Studio," which was later renamed the "Shumen Municipal Theater," replacing the Shumen City Theater. The following year, the two theaters merged under the name "Shumen Municipal City Theater," which existed until 1934 with municipal support. On its stage, 16 Bulgarian plays were performed. After its closure, the first "Regional Theater" in the country was established, directed by Veliko Dyukmedzhiev, and it existed until 1937.

Shumen - ul. "Slavianska" - "Odeon" Theater

A stable, professional municipal theater was established by the decision of the Shumen Municipality in the spring of 1944, with director Stefan Gudularov. Due to events in the same year, its activities began after September 9. The issue of a theater building was a challenge for the Shumen administration. The composition of the new municipal theater either performed on the community center stage or at the "Odeon" cinema. Neither of these venues was suitable for theatrical performances; the conditions were extremely poor – there were no dressing rooms, the premises were unhygienic, and the stage was unsuitable, which created numerous difficulties for a proper play production. The poor conditions began to affect the theater's work, and some of the artists moved to other ensembles.

In the years after 1944, despite facing many challenges, the theater presented up to ten premieres per season. A committee for the construction of a theater building was formed, which managed to raise some funds, but they were extremely insufficient. The construction of such a building began, but even before the foundations were completed, it was halted.

On January 1, 1949, the theater was nationalized. Its director was Ivan Georgiev. The first manifestation of the State People's Theater – Shumen was the restored production of Molière's "Tartuffe" directed by Dimitar Stratev.

National Theatre "Vasil Drumev"
National Theatre "Vasil Drumev"

On October 13, 1957, after almost a decade of construction, the new multifunctional theater building with a revolving stage was opened. The theater's director was Doychin Doychinov. The grand opening of the new building took place with the play "Ivailo," prepared by director Boris Spirov.

In 1966, the first edition of the "Drumevi Theater Holidays" festival was realized. The main organizer and host was the Drama Theater – Shumen. At that time, the theater was directed by actor Ivan Yanchev.

On the occasion of celebrating the 1300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state, various festivities and the opening of new cultural institutions were organized in our city. On this occasion, and upon the proposal of the District Council for Art and Culture – Shumen, the beginning of the "Creators of the Bulgarian State" Complex was marked, starting from the theater building. The project for the main reconstruction and modernization of the theater was entrusted to architects Mikhail Sokolovski, Boris Kamilarov, and Tzanko Hadzhistoychev. The new building of the "Vasil Drumev" Drama Theater was opened on November 28, 1981. The first play performed on the main theater stage was the play "Daughter-in-Law."

Starting from January 1, 2000, the Drama Theater – Shumen, and the Puppet Theater "Patilanchо," were merged into the "Vasil Drumev" Drama and Puppet Theater – Shumen.

Drama Puppet Theater "Vasil Drumev"
Drama Puppet Theater "Vasil Drumev"