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The Royal Dramatic Theatre as an institution was founded in May 1788 by King Gustav III - who as a child used to get out of bed in the middle of the night to indulge in dramatic declamation. His ambition was to “establish a national stage, where the works of Swedish dramatists will be performed for the public by Swedish actors to the benefit of language, taste and the public mores.” All Swedish authors were expected to supply the theatre with plays. The King himself set an example; seven of his plays were performed at the Royal Dramatic Theatre before his death in 1792
The task proved to be difficult for the Swedish writers and the theatre was soon forced to perform foreign, mainly French, plays. Not until the middle of the 1800’s did a reasonably vital Swedish dramatic tradition begin to emerge. But the Kings’s hopes were probably first realized with August Strindberg, who eventually became one of the national stage’s most cherished playwrights.
The King realized that if the works of Swedish playwrights were to succeed on stage he needed skilled actors. Therefore, a drama school was founded already in 1787, in which the students were taught singing, dancing and recitation. Several extraordinary classes graduated from The Royal Dramatic Theatre's Acting School, like the class of 1922. Part of this group was both Alf Sjöberg, who directed 138 plays at Dramaten, and the famous Greta Gustafsson-Garbo. In 1964 the school closed and the training of actors was taken over by the state-run university.
The 1800’s belonged to the great actors. Reserving the right to do as they pleased and using rehearsals mainly for rough sketching, they often shocked both the audience and their fellow-actors with unexpected acting on the opening night. The 1900’s was the century of the great directors. Some of the most known are Olof Molander, Alf Sjöberg and of course Ingmar Bergman, who was also Artistic Director during the years 1963-1966. Ingmar Bergman debuted at Dramaten in 1951 with Light in the Shack and in 2002 his farewell play, Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, premiered.
The Ingmar Bergman International Theatre Festival (in Swedish known as Bergmanfestivalen) is an international theatre festival in the spirit of Ingmar Bergman. The first festival took place in 2009, and the second in 2012. The festival is a forum where different cultures and expressions can meet, a platform for curiosity, discussions and ideas. In 2016 Dramaten will once again arrange an international festival, this time to open the theatre’s autumn season. In addition to international guest performances, a number of Dramaten’s own festival productions will premiere.