When the Stage Lights Came On…

A Journey to the Beginnings of Vanemuine


The exhibition When the Stage Lights Came On… tells the multi-layered story of a theatre by displaying the folio of prints Theatre Wanemuine 100, which focuses on the beginning of the Vanemuine Theatre. The folio ties together two important moments in time: the birth of Estonian language theatre and the beginning of the 1970s, when the local theatre life was influenced by its Soviet environment but also by the beginnings of the theatrical renewal. Inspired by these layers, the folio is the impetus and central exhibit of the present exhibition.

The students of the Estonian Academy of Arts who curated the exhibition travelled from the world of art to the world of theatre and brought a small piece of Estonian theatre history to the museum. In all probability, the folio, which is part of the Tartu Art Museum’s collections, has never been exhibited. This allowed us to unravel the collages from the folio like detectives and to delve into their sources to better understand the backstory of the folio.

The Project Space of the Tartu Art Museum is the meeting place of these beginnings, where the prints denote the formation of the first chapter in the history of Estonian theatre and the sound excerpts of the theatre performances made for the 100 th anniversary of Vanemuine signify the renewal of the 1970s. The exhibition space has been inspired by the scenography of Estonian theatre in the 1880s, where showing an interior usually meant bringing a large table from the theatre bar to the centre of the stage and surrounding it with bistro chairs. Just as back then there was no distinction between a farmhouse, a noble castle or an urban flat, the exhibition space offers constant transformations and food for thought on Estonian theatre at the present time and throughout history, using both the experiences of visitors and exhibited items.

Theatre Wanemuine 100

Folio of silkscreen prints

Calligraphy and design: Villu Toots

Prints: Olev Soans

Quotations: Karin Kask Teatritegijad, alustajad (The People Behind Theatre, the Founders,1970)

Consultant: Lilian Kirepe, senior researcher at the Theatre and Music Museum

Hand printed by the actor Olev Eskola


Curators: Kristel Akerman, Gerli Mägi, Iti Niinemets, Veronika Ovsyannikova and Laura Rajala (students of the exhibition project course at the Estonian Academy of Arts)

Graphic design: Tuuli Aule

Editing: Richard Adang

Translation: Peeter Talvistu

Exhibition sound: Estonian Public Broadcasting archives, editing by Erik Pello

Exhibition team: Nele Ambos, Indrek Grigor, Joanna Hoffmann, Hedi Jaansoo, Hanna-Liis Kont, Kristlyn Liier, Julia Polujanenkova, Riin Lisett Rei and Peeter Talvistu

Thanks to: the Vanemuine Theatre, NUKU Theatre and Museum, Museum of the University of Tartu, Anu Allas, Maarin Ektermann, Annemari Parmakson and Mihkel Tikerpalu

Supporters: the Cultural Endowment of Estonia and Estonian Academy of Arts



“When the Stage Lights Came On…” exhibition booklet


Exhibition views
Photographer Taavi Piibemann

Virtual tour at the exhibition