The Swedish National Theatre (S.N.T) in Helsinki is situated in the heart of the city at the western end of the Esplanade Park. It is one of six professional theatres in Finland to serve the Swedish speaking population and is considered to be the Swedish national stage. The S.N.T. was built in 1866 by the Russian architect Nicolai Benois. The site had already housed a wooden theatre that burned down in the early 1860?s. This wooden structure was home to sporadic performances but once Nicolai Benois? theatre was completed, regular performances began. The theatre still enjoys the beautiful salon in red and gold built by Benois. The intermission space for the audience is original as well. The rest of the building went through a major renovation and modernization in 1936 by the famed Finnish architects Saarinen and Eklund. Thus the theatre building has an interior partly from the 1860?s and an exterior from the 1930?s. In May of 1867 a society was founded with the purpose of running the theatre. At that time an ensemble was employed and there has been a permanent ensemble ever since. The board of the society still runs the theatre carrying the economic responsibility and appointing key positions.
The stage language at the S.N.T. is Swedish and the reason is easily explained. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 and during the Russian period (1809-1917) the cultural ties to Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia remained strong. In 1917 Finland became a sovereign state, bilingual by constitution. Swedish is spoken by 6% of the population with roughly 40.000 Swedish speakers living in Helsinki. Both languages are common to the nations inhabitants since both languages are taught in school. The S.N.T audience consists of around 220.000 bilingual people in the capital area. In the beginning of the 20th century the artists at the theatre were almost solely from Sweden. As nationalistic ideas spread, the opinion for a theatre with domestic talent won ground. This became more feasible by the founding of a theatre school at the Swedish Theatre in 1908. By 1916 the nationalization of the theatre was completed. The special status of being a National stage gives the theatre a responsibility to keep up the identity and tie together the Swedish speaking community in Finland.
The task and goal of the S.N.T. is to offer as broad a repertoire as possible, explicitly in Swedish. The S.N.T. prides itself in performing a wide variety of plays, from classics to modern drama, from family and children?s plays to stand-up and revues, both comedies and tragedies. The goal is for the repertoire to engage, amuse and touch the contemporary nerve. It has been a priority to perform new plays written by Swedish speaking Finns. In 1996 all these goals came to fruition securing the theatre the prestigious award of the Finnish ?Theatre of the year?.
S.N.T has become famous for its performing of musicals. The first modern success came in 1959 when the theatre was first in Scandinavia to stage My Fair Lady. It was performed over 200 times and seen by approx. 100,000 people. My Fair Lady was again in the repertoire in 2003. Another famous musical to receive its Finnish premiere at the S.N.T was the Sound of Music in 1964. It is again in the repertoire in 2007. S.N.T was the first theatre I Finland to produce Hair in the 1970?s and since the 1990?s several new musicals have enjoyed success. HYPE the musical, a local production boasted an audience of 100,000. In the beginning of this century the theater has produced two new original musicals. KICK in 2003 and SPIN the musical in 2005. Both musicals have gone on to be staged internationally.
Even though Musicals are highly appreciated by the audience the theatre also produces drama.
The S.N.T has two stages. The main stage is registered for 900 with a seat capacity 503 and flexibility up to 750 seats as of today. The mini stage seat an audience of 127. The personnel consists of 78 people, 20 of them being artists and actors. The theatre has its own in house costume, set building, sound design, lighting and marketing departments. Free lance artists and musicians are commonly employed for various projects.
Since 1993 the S.N.T has qualified for guaranteed government funding with the city of Helsinki also contributing. The theatre also works with other companies and institutions in co-productions and thus mainly serves Helsinki and Fi