Kecskemét is considered to be a city of theatres that have the courage to experiment in the 21th century as well. László Kelemen was the leader of the first theatre group that played in Hungarian language and he tried to give a strong foundation to Kecskemét’s theatre, regardless of the fact that his efforts did not bring long term results in his hometown.
Almost a hundred years later the leading elite of our town, in a congress held on May 13th 1892 stated that 200.000 forints would be spent on the construction of the city theatre. Between the years 1895-96, in memoriam of the country’s 1000 years’ anniversary, based on the plans of the famous Viennese architect couple, Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, the City Theatre of Kecskemet was built. On October 14th 1896 on the stage of the new theatre “Bánk bán” (the title is the name of a Hungarian historical character) was played by the famous actors of the era. Mari Jászai as Gertrudis, Emília Márkus as Melinda and Ede Ujhazi played Tiborc.
The architectural masterpiece, often referred to as a jewel box is a heritage building today and still considered one of the most beautiful and richly decorated countryside theatres. The eclectic style of the building is enriched with neo-baroque ornaments that are mostly the work of Henrik Hausbeitner’s amazing craft of sculpture. On the beautiful facade in window alcoves one can find the portrait sculptures of Károly Kisfaludy and József Katona.
The theatre was modernised several times, the most complex renovation took place in 1986. The reconstruction work followed the plans of the Ybl-prize owner Gábor Farkas and Pál Boros architects. The institute was originally called City Theatre and the modern name was only given twenty years after the construction work was finished, on November 11th 1916. It was named after the Kecskemét-born József Katona, who became part of Hungarian literature through his masterpiece called “Bánk bán”.
After socialization, in 1949 Szolnok and Kecskemét had a shared drama group, and from 1951 the headmaster Vilmos Radó lead the theatre for 15 years. He was one of the most dedicated drama group activists and due to his efforts the theatre became a modern factory of plays. The sixties were the true era of blossoming, the directors Béla Udvaros and László Seregi did significant work on stage next to many others - Kamilla Dévay, Erzsi Galambos, Agi Margitay, Mariann Moór, Tibor Fekete, György Bárdy, Gábor Koncz and as leading actor of “Liliom”, Zoltán Latinovits were extraordinary. The excellent directors - Antal Németh, László Seregi and in the seventies József Ruszt - represented the best quality of Hungarian theatre art, later under the direction of Miklós Jancsó, Mari Törőcsik, József Madaras, András Kozák, István Sztankay also worked in Kecskemét.
World-famous stars shot movies in the theatre, such as Richard Burton, Maximillian Schell, Ed Harris. The Golden Globe award winning movie “Being Julie” with leading actors Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons, directed by István Szabó was filmed here, just like many scenes of the movie “Hidember”, directed by Géza Bereményi.
From 2008 onwards, the József Katona Theatre of Kecskemét has been directed by Péter Cseke, and it has been providing a rich scale of choices, from drama, comedy, musical, operetta, story and opera. The present theatre is operating in three spaces, the Main Theatre Building, the Laszló Kelemen Chamber Theatre and the József Ruszt Studio Theatre - putting on more than 350 shows a season, with the number of audience above 100 000 people. “It is an exceptional pleasure and great responsibility to run a theatre, entrusted by this large number of people” - said the director. From 2013 it is not only a mono-divisional prosaic theatre but it is extended with a dance division, called Kecskemét City Ballet.
Throughout several years the spectacular Actor Ball enriched with a special show the events of the ball season. We are very proud that the theatre of Kecskemét has a leading role in Hungarian theatre life. The jewel box of the Plain, the Theatre of Kecskemet is a true centre of culture, where one can learn while laughing and can be enriched with a lifetime experience.
We are looking forward to welcome you in the Katona József Theatre of Kecskemét!