Zadnje novosti...
Uvjeti korištenja i pravila privatnosti
© Hrvatsko narodno kazalište u Varaždinu

Vizualni identitet kazališta

Visual Identity of the Theatre

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the theatre in Varaždin was a central place of social life. New plays were eagerly awaited, and the auditorium was easily filled. Given that there were ten to fifteen thousand inhabitants in the city, there could not be many reruns. The program had to be continuously “fresh”, which is evident from the available repertoire. The number of titles by Femen’s troupe and the Croatian Drama Society in a month or season is almost astonishing and unimaginable in today’s production framework. In the refurbished restaurant “K vujčeku”, in 1910, the first permanent Varaždin cinema “Union kinematograf” was opened, with several screenings a week. Since the appearance of television in 1956, when the collapse of live theatrical art was predicted, until today, despite the incomparably rapid change in the way of life in the last twenty years, due to digital technology, the theatre continues to fill auditoriums. Changes in society also dictated the repertoire. Theatre development was often influenced by material factors, so non-artistic reasons very often authoritatively determined the periods in the development of Croatian theatre. (Batušić: 1978:472).

While the posters in the early period of the Varaždin theatre, in addition to the oral dissemination of information, had primarily an informational character with information about the time and place of the program, ticket prices and, in addition to the title, often with the prominent main male or female protagonists, later also the director, from the 70s of the 20th century, the Varaždin theatre begins to attach importance to design and to build visual identity of its performances and the institution as a whole.


Theatre Poster Biennale

Since the end of the 70s, publicity material, such as posters, booklets, leaflets, etc., has received attention in the Varaždin theatre equal to that given to scenography, theatre costumes or dramaturgy. As an inseparable part of the play, with high aesthetic criteria, the poster as the audience’s first encounter with the play was of immense importance. Such importance to publicity visualization would certainly have been impossible if the Theatre had not had Goran Merkaš, an academic painter and designer, the author of the entire visual identity of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin, as an associate. Merkaš’s artistic significance exceeds the borders of Croatia, and not enough has been written about him as a painter, draftsman and designer. Darko Sačić, in the Varaždinske vijesti, points out the importance of Goran Merkaš for both Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin and Croatian culture:  

„(…) living the theatre, he designs posters, programs, invitations and engages in stage settings. From stage painter to scenographer, from illustrator to designer – he touches with his aesthetics, interprets dramatic templates (I dare to say, sometimes he directs the course of the construction of the play with pictures), and all this while respecting the experiences of human contacts with the director and actor, theatre porter and managing director, stage worker and a production manager… If (and it is) the Varaždin Theatre is the centre of culture of life and cultural life in Varaždin, Merkaš has chosen the right centre for his “Varaždin” life, giving us an enviable level of theatre design, I would dare to say the best in Croatia, with which we can proudly perform in any cultural centre of the world.“ (Sačić, 1993:4)

 Merkaš, three years before his untimely death, on the occasion of his exhibition in Varaždin says:

„I approach the design of all posters professionally, and within such an approach, I would prefer to call that intrigue sometimes happens. If I would dare to point out something as the quality of my posters, it would be, above all, their eventual multi-layer structures. That’s why they ask for a reading, because sometimes they don’t just talk about the play, but also about some current moment in society, or maybe they’re an occasion for a little mockery, for example, concerning primitivism or political kitsch.“


His posters made the Varaždin Theatre recognizable in wider cultural spaces, and for the Varaždin audience, they were regularly a unique artistic experience with a message.

The Theatre Poster Biennale as the largest exhibition of this type of theatre design in Southeast Europe began in Varaždin in 2009. It has become very respectable and the best designers respond to it, some of whom are world-renowned, especially designers from Slovenia and Serbia, such as Jovan Tarbuk, Danijela Grgić, Aljoša Bagola, with Vanja Cuculić from Croatia and many others. The initiator of the Biennale and the author of the exhibition is Marijan Varjačić. With this event he wants to emphasize the aesthetic dimension of the poster as its own artistic essence of a performance with an additional artistic commentary, i.e. a view of the performance and the world. As a tribute to Goran Merkaš, the authors of the best visual designs at the Biennale are awarded a prize that bears his name.


Ljerka Šimunić


Goran Merkaš

All the paintings, drawings, collages and prints by Goran Merkaš are born from the inside, created from the same matter. In a continuous sequence they shine and illuminate even in the moments of the deepest darkness and anxiety because they carry both the light and the darkness of existence. The world of Goran Merkaš abounds in metaphorical transpositions, twisted visions and apparitions. Observing it, it is as if we are pulling fragments of reality from the depths to the surface, no matter how deformed it may be. Or they are just flashes of dreaming.

Merkaš is a primordial draftsman. His line flows continuously from the first drawn stroke, guided by the inspiration of an overly rich inner world. It is not possible to fully read the development line of the ouvre due to his premature death. Except in the collection of about ninety theatrical posters of the Varaždin theatre created in the period from 1977 to 1996. When designing the posters, he had cover in the texts of plays, most often based on literature and the development process of the creation of theatrical productions, which he attended as an avid follower.

The first works known to me are drawings of nudes with charcoal on paper from the time of studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, created between 1968 and 1973 (Nude I, Female Nude and Seated Nude of an Old Man in Profile). One can sense the future trained cartoonist focused on the anatomical analysis of the human body and the intensity of expression following the example of the best masters of the Renaissance. In the abstract depiction of a falling figure (The Fall) performed in several variants, he reached for the painter’s freedom to transform what he paints, and yet the object of the transformation can be sensed. Assimilating painting experience, he became a commentator on reality in the seventies of the last century with a critical and witty attitude towards the experienced world and his own personality. According to the gallerist and art critic Alessandra Anderlini, Merkaš introduces us to an obsessive, confusing and grotesque world with his distinctive drawing figuration, described, reduced, interpreted with the help of different languages and complex expressions. These are the works charged with eroticism, fragmentarily presented, finely executed, compositions elaborated to perfection, often broken into several smaller pictures, with characters and objects of altered proportions and symbolic meaning. (Self-portrait from Bileća, The Jump, 1976, Silva, 1983). And sensual, busty and long-legged women, echoes of pop culture, are served to us as sex symbols bombarded by porn magazines.    

Mixing techniques and motifs within the same painting, combining different types of symbols, Merkaš assimilates painting experience. Sometimes he reaches for well-known works of fine art, more often for photography, which he includes in the assemblage, sometimes enhanced by painting. At the same time, he was collaborating with Varaždin actor and photographer Ivica Plovanić for many years. 

The Last Breakfast of 1990, executed in coloured pencil, solid concept, based on the tradition of historical painting, strong handwriting, with recognizable characters from real life and art. Next to the portraits of Dali and Leonardo, he placed his figure and that of his companion Rajka. What a gallery of famous people! In 1990, he immortalized the poet, philosopher and politician Vlada Gotovac with a brilliant portrait.  

Eye 1. as a medium of perception, not only records the world around him, his role is much more subtle; in its apparent simplicity, refined artistic handwriting points to the artist’s ironic departure from the content presented.

This hidden ambiguity is present in the collection of theatre posters. For about twenty years (1977-1996) he was a member of the theatre ensemble in Varaždin as a designer of posters and promotional publications. He is also the author of several stage settings. His first was a poster for Schneider’s Metastasis. He stayed in the theatre every day, he knew all the segments of the creation of a theatrical work, he participated in rehearsals, discussed with playwrights, directors, actors, writers, experienced all the beauty and stress of the creation of each play. The result is Merkaš’s posters. Each of them was organically connected with the play, using visual language to interpret, clarify, question, provoke, entice and attract the audience. As every premiere was eagerly awaited, equal interest was focused on its graphic-visual part. Merkaš created an oeuvre that ranks him among the best theatre designers. This is confirmed by the award for the best theatre poster in Croatia in 1996 for the play Woyzeck, the inclusion of the poster for Kafka’s The Trial in the catalogue of the 3rd International Theatre Poster Competition in the German city of Osnabrűck in 1996-97, and participation in numerous domestic and foreign exhibitions.

He presented the core of Kafka’s template for the play The Trial with a bunch of cut-out figures turned into caricature signs of modern society, namely the anxiety, alienation and loneliness of an individual who found himself in the middle of an absurd situation. In a similar way, he portrayed the uncertainty of the biblical Jonah in the final outcome and the possibility of survival after spending three days in the belly of a fish. Sometimes he reached, in a pop art manner, for popular scenes of mass culture, such as the poster for Čaruga. He incorporated copies of world-famous works of art, such as Michelangelo’s Pietà, or El Greco’s The Burial of Count Orgaz, giving them a new dimension. For the poster of the play The Return of Philip Latinowicz, based on the novel by Miroslav Krleža, he used the painting of the same name by Miljenko Stančić.

Merkaš designed all the publications of the Varaždin theatre for about twenty years. He is also the author of the overall visual identity of the Varaždin City Museum, and he graphically designed the catalogue of the Miljenko Stančić exhibition, with the motif of the painter’s hand with a brush at the moment when he makes the first stroke on the canvas, on the cover. The theatre magazines Gesta and Kazalište also bear his visual-graphic stamp. 


Vesna Kosec-Torjanac


Publications of the Theatre

In addition to posters, program booklets of plays and various promotional materials, catalogues of various exhibitions, etc., the Theatre also published several valuable memorial books and brochures from which we still derive extremely useful information about the development of theatre art in Varaždin: Varaždin Theatre 1873-1955, by Krešimira Filića et al., 1955, The National Theatre in Varaždin 1861-1841-1961, 1961, 100 years of Theatre in Varaždin, 1973, and The Varaždin Theatre Centuries, 2007, with valuable theatrical analyses of the history of Varaždin theatre by Marijan Varjačić, with biographical information of the artists who worked in the Theatre and a foreword by Dr. Branko Hećimović.

Jon Fosse’s four texts, entitled Mother and Child, translated from German by D. Torjanac, were printed on the occasion of the Croatian premiere in Varaždin. So, in 2012, the audience was able to meet the dramatic writing of the Norwegian author, recently an Oscar winner, in a book and on stage for the first time. In the same year, there was the premiere of the Macedonian playwright Trajce Kacarov’s text, In Just One Day, together with the printed book of the same name. The theatre also printed translations of texts performed for the first time in Croatia in program booklets (The Ugly Ones, by M. von Mayenburg, Šah brat, by V. Franceschi, etc.). In 2006, the picture book Maca Papučarica was published, with illustrations by Vojo Radoičić and a text in verses by Vesna Kosec-Torjanac on the theme of Ela Peroci’s story of the same name.

A monograph dedicated to the national champion, actress of the Varaždin’s Craotian National Theatre, Jagoda Kralj Novak, was published in 2019.

The special value of the Theatre are the magazines Gesta and Kazalište. Playwright Ante Armanini writes about Gesta, launched in 1978:

„It is only in the glare of theatrical and stage gestures that we become close to the reflection that the actor’s body, like any human body, is actually a brain that thinks through movement or a live stage gesture. Finally, the only theatre and literary magazine for which I was the redactor and editor in Varaždin was called, not by chance: Gesta! Precisely the gesture, with a pause, as the poetics of Veček’s direction was the brilliant and violent colour and vibration that nuanced the speech of this type of acting, and at that time it was recognized as a first-class stage invention, not only in Varaždin, but also at most theatre competitions and reviews in the entire former state, recognized as a significant part of the theatricality of contemporary theatre. Finally, speech without pause or gesture without nuance is the same as an image with only one colour, say gray or black.“ (A. Armanini)


Ernest Fišer


Gesta, a Magazine for Literature, Art and Culture

 Finally, it should be mentioned that at the invitation of Petar Veček, I took over the editing of the Gesta back in 1980. The publisher of this cultural magazine was the August Cesarec National Theatre, and the founder was the Self-Governing Interest Community of Culture of Varaždin Municipality. Until then, the Gesta was co-edited by Petar Veček and Ante Armanini (then dramatist in our theatre), publishing only two volumes in the first two and a half years of publication of this magazine, i.e. Issue 1 and Double Issue 2-3. Therefore, Veček decided that I would independently prepare for publication two issues 4-5 of the Gesta, with the central theme “Poetica Krležiana”. In that double issue, I also radically changed the editorial concept of the contents, which was based on the so-called magazine-type of cultural periodicals and contained about 10 permanent thematic sections. In addition, I managed to bring together a respectable number of Croatian writers and scientists (M. Matković, M. Šicel, S. Vereš, J. Skok, Z. Bartolić, S. Mijović Kočan, B. Jelušić, S. Tomaš, Z. Kovač, S. Hranjec and others).  

With my employment at the August Cesarec National Theatre (1982), the publishing house of the Gesta was taken over by Self-Governing Interest Association in the Field of Culture of Varaždin Municipality, and as editor-in-chief I immediately renamed its subtitle to – the magazine for literature, art and culture. With the new editorial and content conception, a total of 28 more issues of the Gesta were printed until the end in 1988 (up to three issues 29-30-31), which in that period profiled itself as one of the most interesting and best Croatian cultural periodicals, which was also confirmed by an expert with a prize. And of all the included central themes in those issues of the Gesta, we will apostrophize at least one here – “Comparative Study of Yugoslav Literature”, which was referred to by as many as 25 authors in their texts! Here are the most famous ones: V. Žmegač, A. Flaker, F. Grčević, Z. Kravar, I. Slamnig, C. Milanja, S. Marijanović, Z. Bartolić, Z. Kovač, M. Živančević, but also Janko Kos, Predrag Palavestra, Svetozar Koljević, Enes Duraković, Janez Vrečko, etc. In the end, it should be pointed out that from the first to the last issue of the Gesta, its great art and graphic editor was the academic painter Goran Merkaš, who at the same time confirmed himself as one of the most exclusive graphic editors, designer of theatre posters in Croatia. 


Vesna Kosec-Torjanac


Theatre about Theatre

Marijan Varjačić devoted most of his professional life to the study of historical data about the Varaždin theatre and systematically published it in Croatian periodicals. Thanks to him, many data have been preserved and are available. As the managing director of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin, he skilfully applied his penchant for theatrography in the magazine The Theatre, whose founder, editor and author, along with the indispensable and precious ones, Goran Merkaš, graphic editor, and Ivica Plovanić, whose acting eye recorded moments of performances with his camera for twenty years.

However, the history of the Theatre, divided thematically into several sections, is only part of the concept of the magazine, in which the current repertoire is presented, along with interesting essays by the playwright Ante Armanini and, in pictures and words, justified “praises” of plays and actors, as a representation of the repertory success of the time, among which there are countless awards to actors, individuals or the ensemble as a whole, (e.g. Vladimir Nazor Award to the ensemble of Puno larme a za ništ / Much Ado About Nothing).

The special value of the magazine is also the fact that T. Lipljin’s kajkavizations were published as an addition: in Number 2, Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, in Number 3, Three Lotharios under the Crucifix, a medieval farce translated from French by Vladimir Gerić, and in Number 4 the work by Alojz Jembrih, Jesuit Theatre.

The first issue was printed in 1993, two more issues in 1994, as well as in 1995, and the last, fifth, in 1996. Due to the death of Goran Merkaš, the magazine could not be what it is: informative, current, visually attractive – theatrical.


Theatre in New Millennium

Changes in overall communication are primarily manifested in an endless amount of information. Audiences are consumers who choose products and services, including culture and art. It is bought from the armchairs. Even theatres are forced to participate in an endless game of signs in the virtual and real world in order for the audience to buy tickets. Given that fashion has replaced taste as an aesthetic relationship to the world, which includes a general critical attitude, subjectivity is manifested as an object of economic demand, and the viewer a part of the market.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the Varaždin National Theatre began to be computerized, online ticket purchases were introduced, but no special attention was paid to advertising. This is one of the reasons why many premieres, Croatian premieres and some exceptional plays had a weak public response and a relatively short life.

From 2006 to 2012, Boris Bućan (1947-2023), one of our greatest painters, known for his research in various art disciplines: painting, drawing, prints, graphic design, was engaged. He was the first to introduce photography into the poster. His graphic design is related to pop art and conceptualism, and he anticipates postmodernist characteristics. He is the winner of many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and his works can be found in the world’s most prominent museums and galleries. For the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin, he continuously designs posters for plays and promotional posters of large dimensions. Unfortunately, it is seldom that one is posted in public.

Antun Boris Švaljek (1951-2023), Croatian painter, graphic artist and art teacher. He spent his youth in Varaždin, where he graduated from high school, and was a member of the Ars longa vita brevis Youth Theatre. He remains attached to Varaždin throughout his life; he created his great paintings in it. The crown of his artistic association with Varaždin was in 2011, when he created the ceremonial curtain of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin: a mirror copy of the crowded auditorium.

With the arrival of a new management under the leadership of Senka Bulić, Varaždin’s Croatian National Theatre decided to start advertising on social networks and in open space.


Spirit of the Theatre

The stage is a place of silent memory where all the roles are stored. Those played with ease and those with difficulty and uncertainty, with sadness under the mask or a spark in the eye. It is the scene of intellectual, emotional and physical manifestations in the creation of a world that we can call fictitious, although for an hour or two it seemed so real. All the roles and their owners in these one hundred and fifty years, some recorded in archival papers, younger ones in photographs and recordings, have left an echo of their lines that resound headless under the ceiling, all the way to the colourful circle above the auditorium. Perhaps they are recognized and welcomed there, because in that circle, lonely and distant to the eye, sit the four guardians of the Croatian word: Ivan Gundulić, Vatroslav Jagić, Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski, and the fourth does not (yet) reveal his identity.

The curtain, which comes down rarely, separates the space of expectation from the space of hope. The latter is enigmatic and inaccessible to the former, thus attractive and desired. There is also an iron curtain, which, fortunately, has not yet come down out of necessity, but only to check the correctness of the mechanism, usually during summer breaks. On the back there is a trace of the actors who played on this stage 50, 60 years ago and who are no longer there. There are also the young ones, whose records will be rediscovered by someone who will think: “How long ago it was.“

The little things “on the other side of the theatre barrier” are certainly not material for theatrical analysis or candlestick incidents, but they make up the spirit of the Theatre – it is the driver of creative enthusiasm. I don’t know if it is appropriate to mention how Tomica Lipljin brought primroses to every woman in the Theatre for Women’s Day with an indispensable joke, how the cleaners, Vesna and Katica, dressed up for the fancy dress, how Danijela and Mirela are always happy, and before them it was like this with Ruška, and before her with…; how aunt Zdenka knew which actor’s hidden pocket on his costume to sew and for what purpose, how mother Vuceković or mother Gerovac came up with funny jokes while making coffee… The wit of Šarli, the chess table in The Rogoz, guest appearances, performances, performances… 

As early as in 1924, Branko Tepavac highlighted an important feature in his work program: “unity and familiarity”. From the stories passed down from generation to generation, people worked and lived in the Theatre. It is not surprising that there were also mothers who, in a special way, took care of the actors and the entire theatre family, both during performance, conversation and socializing. Throughout history, there have been many married couples who joined the Varaždin ensemble together or were employed in other workplaces, and many couples were born during their working lives. Generations of theatregoers, artists and non-artistic staff are, in large numbers, followers of their parents, grandparents. The special characteristic of all the jobs in the theatre where the “theatre children” grew up, often contributed to their staying there: as actors, stage technicians, whisperers, masters… Varaždin residents and numerous members of the collective and a river of guests who came from various regions for decades, permanently staying or leaving, they wove a web in which each subsequent one was caught – they fell in love with the Varaždin theatre.

Theatre is made up of people whose professions and jobs are important cogs in the overall mechanism and each one is invaluable with their contribution on and off the stage. Those “behind the curtain”, together with the audience and the whole environment, like a pebble thrown into the water, create the spirit of the theatre, spread it in circles as a unique identity of Varaždin.