History of the theatre building
NUKU building complex has a long and grand history, which archaeological fi nds prove to date back to the 13th century.
A theatre house was fi st erected at this end of Lai Street in the 19th century, when the grandiose Tallinn Theatre was founded next door to the Stock Club in Lai 1. Tallinn Theatre, the first professional theatre in Tallinn, was festively opened on 1st February 1809. The hall of the German-speaking Tallinn Theatre was at the time considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. In 1816, the first all-Estonian performance was given in Tallinn Theatre – a one-act folk play “Der Talkus” (“Community Bee”) by August Kotzebue and A. Knorring. Professional Estonianlanguage theatre was thus born on the stage of Tallinn Theatre.
Earliest records of puppet shows in Tallinn Theatre date back to 1828, when Mechanical Theatre (Mechanisches Theater) gave guest performances with its puppet show “Don Juan”. In 1855, most of the theatre building was destroyed in a fire caused by heating. Only part of the Stock Club and its hall remained intact. A renovated theatre house was opened in the autumn of 1860. The facade and exterior of the building were almost the same, but the interior had changed. In 1902, another fi re broke out and the theatre building was completely destroyed. Plans to build a theatre house at the same site for the third time were abandoned and more extensive grounds outside the Old Town were chosen for the location of the 41 new, by then Tallinn German Theatre (today the building of Estonian Drama Theatre).
A new building was erected over the theatre ruins in 1907. It was the building of Nobility Society, designed by architect N. Thamm, which is still standing today. The stage area of the former Tallinn Theatre was not restored, but replaced with a courtyard that was separated from the street with a wall. In the 20th century, the building housed the First Estonian Insurance Association, ESSR State Insurance, National Youth Centre and the Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation and Navy (ALMAVÜ).
In 1954, after the dissolution of the Youth Centre, part of the building was given to Estonian State Puppet Theatre, which had been a touring company since its founding. The fi rst performance in a new home was given in January 1955. In 1963, a fi re broke out on the stage and in the auditorium, after which the theatre side of the building underwent extensive renovation and reconstruction. The entire building came into the hands of Puppet Theatre only in 1990. Puppet Theatre took on its present appearance with extensive renovation works in 2001-2003, which renewed all the audience spaces, the 200-seat performance hall on the first floor and the facade. The site of the twice-destroyed stage of Tallinn Theatre became a location for open-air performances in 1990, and in 2006, a temporary 620-seat yard hall was built here.
In 2010, the theatre opened a museum for puppet arts in the adjoining building in Nunne 8. During years 2015–2016 was a time of construction works in the NUKU courtyard, which resulted in a new, 1400-square-metre building between the current theatre house and the adjoining museum building. In addition to the new performance hall, the extension created new technical and storage rooms and an outdoor terrace. The instalment of a lift improved accessibility for people with disabilities. The architectural design of the theatre building was created by Karisma Architects. Construction works were preceded by archaeological excavations, which burrowed through 230 cubic metres of soil. Digging through the basement walls of Tallinn Theatre and several earlier layers revealed remains from the 13th century – traces of a wooden building and a limestone well. The NUKU Theatre extension with a 400-seat hall was opened on 13th November 2016, creating a unique four-building complex for puppet arts.