On May 29, 1953 a group of young actors and directors, mostly "rebels" from the Croatian National Theatre, led by dr. Branko Gavella as their "primus inter pares", took over the building of the Malo kazalište in Frankopanska 10 Street and founded Zagreb Drama Theatre.
Due to the space being renovated the first performance was a guest performance in Subotica. Our theatre finally opened its doors to the viewers on October 30, 1954 with the performance of the play ''Golgota'' by Miroslav Krleža, directed by Branko Gavella. Throughout more than half a century of its existance and over 300 premières, the theatre in Frankopanska street grew to be one of the most esteemed and the most enduring playhouses in Zagreb and Croatia. In 1970 it changed its name to ''Gavella'' Drama Theatre. Later on the noun ''city'' was added to its name so today we're talking about the City Drama Theatre ''Gavella''. In the first season as Zagreb Drama Theatre, Branko Gavella staged the plays U logoru (In the Camp) and Golgota (Golgotha). Kosta Spaić, Mladen Škiljan and Dino Radojević directed plays by Lorca, Steinbeck and Arthur Miller respectively. The notable performances from the next season were Spaić's modern interpretation of Moliere's Don Juan, as well as the historic performance of Držić's Dundo Maroje (Uncle Maroje) with the integral version of the original text. Among others to follow were Moliere's Scapin's Deceits (Les Fourberies de Scapin), directed by Škiljan, which, by touring the entire former country of Yugoslavia, was performed an astounding 264 times. Ionesco and Beckett were also staged as well as a number of domestic authors from Matković, Budak and Kolar to Gamulin, Ivanišević, Božić and Kaštelan. Towards the end of the 50's Georgij Paro and Tomislav Durbešić directed their first plays. By completing his final two productions in the spring of 1959, Graham Greene's The Living Room and Držić's Tirena, Branko Gavella left Zagreb Drama Theatre. A few years later, in 1962, after directing Chekov's The Seagull, another founding member/director, Mladen Škiljan, also left the theatre. Dr. Branko Gavella passed away that same year. Many years later it would be written about Gavella's death:''When he was born, on July 28, 1885, the world definitely got a gifted child and when he died, on April 8, 1962 it lost an irreplacable genius''. However, paradoxical though it may be, or maybe it just proves the unpredictability and elusiveness of the theatre art, the 1962/1963 season was regarded by many as one of the most successful seasons in the history of the theatre in Frankopanska street. During that season, among other plays that were performed were Betti's Coruption in the Palace of Justice (Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia), directed by Božidar Violić, O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, directed by Kosta Spaić and Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, directed by Dino Radojević all of which are now regarded as anthological achievements. In the 60's the viewers could see the debut productions of the directors Joško Juvančić, Tomislav Radić and Vanča Kljaković whose Jazavac pred sudom (Badger in court) written by Petar Kočić would go on to be performed 331 times.''Whereas Gavella attempted to draw the viewers in the play's universe, his successors wanted to inspire them to a more active relation towards reality, a reality where the theatre would, once again, be that unavoidable place of awareness of one's time and space.'' In 1970 Dino Radojević directed Krleža's Kraljevo, that would, until 1982, be performed 173 times. In the same year, on Radojević's own initiative, the theatre changed its name to Gavella Drama Theatre. This was the decade when Miro Međimorec staged Pirandello, Petar Veček presented Bond, Vladimir Gerić directed Feydeau and Kosta Spaić directed Držić's Skup, also performed over a 100 times. In the 70's Želimir Mesarić and Ivica Kunčević achieved their directorial debuts, also here were Vlado Habunek and Bogdan Jerković as well as Violić, Paro, Durbešić, Juvančić, Radić, Kljaković and towards the end of the 70's Marin Carić directed here. Marinković's Gloria, Brezovački's Matijaš Grabancijaš Dijak, Vojnović's Maškarate ispod kuplja and Krleža's Vučjak were on the repertoire and theatre-goers could see plays by Shakespeare, Schiller, Chekhov, Molière, Calderon, Strindberg, Brecht and von Hörváth, but also by Budak, Bakarić, Jelačić Bužimski, Prica, Šnajder, Šorak, Senečić and Brešan... Between 1980 and 1990 some major plays were staged in Gavella. Perhaps the first that comes in mind is Šovagović's Sokol ga nije volio (Sokol Did Not Love Him), directed by Božidar Violić, performed over 220 times in the period from 1982 to 1989 and it's hard not to remember Magelli's Ludi Dani (Crazy Days) from 1987 based on Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro and von Hörvath's Figaro Gets a Divorce. At the very beginning of the decade Radojević directed Shakespeare's Richard II and Kunčević staged Henry IV. In 1984 the audience could see Radojević's A Midsummer Night's Dream, in 1985 Spaić's King Lear and in 1986 Veček's Richard III. During those years, besides Shakespeare, a very welcome ''guest'' in Gavella was Krleža. In 1983 we could see his plays Hrvatski Bog Mars (Croatian God Mars), directed by Ladislav Vindakijević, in '84 Tajna Barunice Castelli (Baroness Castelli's Secret) by Radojević and Veček's Gospoda Glembajevi (The Glembajs). In '87 Međimorec staged Leda and Veček's U Agoniji (In Agony) was on the repertoire from 1988. Begović, Matković, Strindberg, Ibsen, Dostojevski, Chekhov, Gorkiy and Gogol are staged. Violić and Međimorec directed plays by Havel and Mesarić staged Schaffer's Amadeus. In the 80s, just like before, Gavella didn't forget about the contemporary domestic authors, so once again plays by Prica, Brešan, Šnajder and Jelačić Bužimski were performed, but now we also had plays by Ivšić, Bakmaz, Gavran and Lada Kaštelan. Since the 90's Gavella's ensemble has listed around 40 actors among whom the younger generation has a significant role in the realization of the greater part of our playhouse's repertoire. The pluralism that signified that eventful decade was noticeable from a large number of directors who staged plays of very diverse poetics. All of the directors whose plays were unavoidable in the past seasons continued to direct, so once more we were able to see works by Spaić, Violić, Paro, Međimorec, Juvančić, Kunčević, Mesarić, Veček, Carić and Magelli but the ones who also directed here between 1990 and 2000 were Dolenčić, Mužić, Nina Kleflin, Snježana Banović and Saša Broz, the actors Rade Šerbedžija and Mustafa Nadarević, foreign directors Warlikowski, Farr, Bagossy and Lorenci and the audience could witness the first time achievements by Brezovec, Jelčić, Baletić and Stojisavljević as well as the young Hana Veček, Aida Bukvić and Nora Krstulović, Nataša Lušetić and Emil Matešić. Of course, this was also the decade of productions we would gladly reminisce; from the awarded Dundo Maroje and Gloria through Breza (The Birch) and Ribarske Svađe (Fishermen's Quarrels) to the unavoidable Mjesec Dana na Selu (A Month in the Country) – the production that is still a part of our repertoire. Alongside domestic and foreign classics, Gavella Theatre continued to promote contemporary domestic authors like Bakmaz, Brešan, Paljetak, Jelačić Bužimski, Vujčić, Matišić, Stojisavljević, Lada Kaštelan and Ivan Vidić, who, even now, equally share the stage with dramatists such as: Držić, Krleža, Gogolj, Chekhov, Turgenev, Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht, Beckett or Pirandello and the contemporaries Koltès, Marber, Arjouni and Strauss. In the new century as well, the theatre in Frankopanska Street continues with its programme schemes, offering to the audiences productions such as Lada Kaštelan's Prije Sna (Before Sleep), Šovagović's Ptičice (The Birdies), Matišić's Sinovi Umiru Prvi (Sons Die First) along the earlier productions of plays by Perišić, Vujčić, Ana Prolić, Zlatar Frey. Also staged were Ives, Ayckbourn, Elton, Bernhard, Albee, Tabori, Hampton, von Mayenburg, as well as Chekov, Ibsen, von Horváth, Krleža, Genet, Ionesco, Feydau, Büchner, Euripid, Moliere, Iljif and Petrov, then Berkoff, McPherson, Sigurjonsson, Zelenka... Of all the Gavella premières in this decade, it would be unfair not to mention Janusz Glowacki's The Fourth Sister, directed by Samo M. Strelec, Pushkin's The Blizzard, directed by Alexander Ogarev, multi-award winning, both domestically and abroad - Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Aleksandar Popovski, the international cooperation on Caligula, directed by Tomaž Pandur, Calderon's Life is a Dream, directed by Rene Medvešek, Biljana Srbljanović's Barbelo, of Dogs and Children, directed by Paolo Magelli, Krleža's Balade Petrice Kerempuha (The Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh), directed by Franka Perković, Ibsen's Peer Gynt, again directed by Aleksandar Popovski, also there are the first ever performances of Filip Šovagović's Ilijada 2001. (Illiad 2001), Davor Špišić's Alabama and Ivan Vidić's Dolina Ruža (The Valley of Roses)... In its half a century of existance a number of good as well as bad things were bound to happen to our theatre. Its history was marked by the comings and goings of actors, a ''better past'' was remembered and anxiety was rising about ''the uncertain future''; there was true unity and great performances as well as conflicts and crises. However, with all the good and bad that has happened to us a ''quantitative fact'' stands out as the most significant and the most valuable one: the fact that, even half a century gone by, we are still here, constantly having in mind what we are striving for, our basic belief in, to use the words of our mentor, dr. Branko Gavella, ''artistic optimism''.