- Early theatrical and musical performances were staged at the ducal court and in city taverns and inns. Lyric theater began to disengage from the traditional repertoire of the Rhetorical Chambers in the 16th century. In 1625, the magistracy made available a room at the Hôtel de Ville for performances. About 1650, brewer Jean Van-der Elst built a permanent hall in the street that became known as the rue des Comédiens, which remained until the end of the 17th century. Several other venues emerged in the late 1600s, notably at the Coffy tavern near the Grand' Place. The Théâtre royal de la Monnaie, which dates from 1700, became one of Europe's finest theaters for dramatic performances. Other sites, notably the Coffy, now limited themselves to light comedies, marionette performances, and circus acts.In 1782-1783 the Vauxhall theater was built at the Parc de Bruxelles. This open-air theater was the first of its kind on the Continent, modeled on the English Falk's Hall or Falk's Garden. Illustrious visitors included Napoléon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauhar-nais, who attended a dinner here in 1803, and King Leopold I and Queen Victoria (1848). It was used as a casino for German officers during World War I, saw little use by the public between the wars, and was closed during World War II. It has since been restored.The Théâtre du Vaudeville opened in 1845 and, one year later, the Alhambra, the largest in the city, where music hall and circus acts were staged. Jules Delacre founded the Théâtre du Marais, where classics alternating with modern works were performed.After 1830, the city subsidized two theaters—the Monnaie and the Théâtre royal du Parc, the former continuing to stage operas and concerts and the latter serving as the premiere theater for light opera and comedy. Later, the Koninklijke Vlaamsche Schouwburg (KVS), where Dutch-language productions were held, would be similarly supported. Visiting French-language productions from Paris have been a mainstay of theaters for centuries.The Ancienne Belgique (rue des Pierres 25) opened in 1906 as the Vieux Dusseldorf, became the Bruxelles Kermesse in 1913, and acquired its present name in 1937. More a combination nightclub and music hall than a theater, the Ancienne Belgique showcased rising talent locally, nationally, and internationally. Jacques Brel debuted here in January 1955. The theater went bankrupt in 1971 and it has served as a cultural center for the Dutch-speaking community since 1979.Writer and theater director Henri Ronse, born in Brussels in 1946, left for Paris at age 19 but returned in 1980 to found the Nouveau Théâtre de Belgique, where he employed theater, music, dance, and the plastic arts in presenting works by authors ranging from Euripides to Maurice Maeterlinck, among many others. Ronse returned to Paris in 1997.Brussels counts more than 46 theaters in the metropolitan area. French-language houses predominate, including the Théâtre royal du Parc, Théâtre du Rideau, Théâtre Saint-Michel in Etterbeek, and Théâtre Varia, where classic French works, among others, are performed. Dramatic and musical performances are staged at the Théâtre de la place des Martyrs, which opened in 1998 on the site of the former Étoile cinema. It was the first theater built by the French community. Others include the Théâtre de Poche, which opened in 1954 by Roger Domani, and the Chapelle des Brigittines (De Brigittenen), a venue for dance, theater, music, and the visual arts.The Théâtre national de la Communauté française de Belgique, housed at the Centre Rogier, dates from 1945. Formerly known as the Théâtre national de la Communauté Wallonie-Bruxelles (or simply the "Théâtre national"), the company has counted three directors: founder Jacques Huismans, Jean-Claude Drouot (1985-1990), and Philippe van Kessel (1990- ).The Francophone theater world witnessed considerable shakeup at the end of the 1960s under the influence of radical democratizing trends. The "Jeune Théâtre" movement produced lively debates questioning the traditional links between artists and audiences, and projects developed critical approaches stressing sociopolitical and psychoanalytical themes, among others. Performances were staged increasingly in public-friendly factories, stores, and workshops. Since the 1980s, the "Théâtre Action" movement has seen employment of nonprofessional performers, most especially in comedic roles, in marking a further move toward democratization of the cultural scene. Since 1979, the Brocoli Théâtre has staged productions that employ comedy in making social commentary.A number of theaters stage Dutch-language works, including, in addition to the KVS, the Kaaitheater, noted for avant-garde plays, and the Beursschouwburg, for experimental productions. Originally a biennial international arts festival, the Kaaitheater founded in 1977, now presents theater, dance, and concert events each season. It is housed in the former Lunatheater, built between 1929 and 1932 on the site of an amusement park by architect Marcel Driesmans. Revues and operettas were staged here for two seasons beginning on 7 October 1932. Used as a variety theater during the 1940s and 1950s, it later stood vacant until it was leased by the Flemish community and reopened on 10 September 1993. The Vlaams Theater Instituut (Flemish Theater Institute) and Flemish cultural centers are also housed here.Theater cafés also exist (Le Jardin de ma Soeur). Dance and musical performances are held at Forest National (Vorst Nationaal) and the Cirque Royal (Koninklijk Circus [rue de l'Enseignement 81]). The latter was built in 1876 on the initiative of Burgomaster Jules Anspach. It was closed in 1951, renovated, and reopened in 1954.The French community has run the facility since 1999.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.