Georgian theatre has a long history; its oldest national form was the "Sakhioba" (extant from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD). The Georgian National Theatre was founded in 1791 in Tbilisi, by the writer, dramatist and diplomat Giorgi Avalishvili (1769-1850). In the twentieth century the Tbilisi-based Rustaveli Theater has been acclaimed internationally for its performances (in Georgian) of the works of William Shakespeare and German dramatist Bertolt Brecht.
The first cinema in Georgia was established in Tbilisi on November 16, 1896. The first Georgian cinema documentary ("Journey of Akaki Tsereteli in Racha-Lechkhumi") was shot in 1912 by Vasil Amashukeli (1886-1977), while the first Georgian feature film ("Kristine") was shot in 1916 by Alexandre Tsutsunava (1881-1955). In the postwar era (The Second World War), Georgian filmmaking and theater developed an outstanding reputation in the Soviet Union. Several Georgian filmmakers achieved international recognition in this period.
It must be mentioned that the firs theatre was founded in Georgia in the town of Gori in the village of Uplistsikhe. Uplistsikhe is the oldest cave town in Georgia. Back in the second millennium BC it was a flourishing city situated on the great east-west trade route, the Silk Road. Visitors can still walk among the ancient streets, rock-carved theatre, royal halls and pharmacy, while the remains of granaries and large clay wine vessels give us some clue as to the daily life of the inhabitants.
The building of Rustaveli National Theatre ("Artistic Society") was designed by Korneli Tatishev, Engineer of the Province, and Alexander Shimkevich, Tbilisi Municipal Architect. The construction was undertaken by Isai Pitoev and Co Trading House. The foundation of the building was started on 18 February 1998. On 7 February 1901 the Newspaper "Iveria" wrote "On February 6 at 2 p.m. the building of the Artistic Society on the Golovin Avenue was blessed". Shimkevich and Tatishev used the forms and motives of late Baroque style and ornaments of Rococo. At first the building functioned as a club for the Artistic Society and was used for different purposes. The audience hall was on the first floor and the concert all, along with the Club premises, was on the second. The basement housed a restaurant, "Anona" which was later transformed into a café-restaurant "Kimerioni" of "Blue Horns" (Union of Georgian modernist poets). With a request from the Modernist "Blue Horns" poets, the decoration of the basement walls was initiated by a famous theatre designer Sergei Sudeikin. Celebrated artists Lado Gudiashvili, David Kakabadze, Kirile Zdanevich and Zigmund (Ziga) Valishevski were working together with him. They were later joined by Mose and Irakli Toidze – equally important names in Georgian culture. Their masterpieces were brutally whitewashed in the Soviet period, and, unfortunately, the restoration of only small part became possible.
Under the auspices of Mikheil Vorontsovi, the Old Opera Theatre was built on April 15, 1847, and took four years to complete construction. Italian architect, Antonio Skudieri, designed the theater which became the first opera theatre in the entire South Caucasus region large enough to house a maximum of 800 people. The Old Opera was originally located in Freedom ("Tavisufleba") Square. In 1896, however, a new opera theatre was built on Rustaveli Avenue (formally called Golovini Ave.) designed by Shreteri. Known as the "Treasury Theatre", the new opera boasted a viewer capacity of 1,200 people and is currently a functioning opera theatre in Tbilisi today.
The Treasury Theatre opened its doors to the public on November 3, 1896 with an opera by Mikhain Glinka entitled, "Ivan Susanini". Built in a Mauritanian style, oriental features such as: a cross vault and ogive, narrow columns, and decorative turret and lace ornaments, adorn the building. The front of entrance opens to a terrace with a Mauritanian vaulted ceiling. A complex reconstruction of the building was undertaken in 1982-1987. Architect Otar Nakhutsrishvili supervised the restoration works, and the façade of the Theatre regained its modern look. With the supervision of an artist Amiran Gogoladze, the "Kimerioni" frescoes were also rehabilitated.
Today the Theatre has three stages technically equipped to modern standards – Main Stage (783 places), Minor Stage (300 places) and Experimental Stage (182 places). The Theatre is also proud of its facilities for conferences and other events – Large Ball Room, Minor Foyer and Small Guest Room.
On 9 June 1949 fire brought the building to ashes. Only the main façade facing the RustaveliAvenue survived. The building was restored in a year according to the photos.
The history of Georgian theatre is impossible to imagine without Marjanishvili State Drama Theatre. The theatre was founded in 1928 in the city of Kutaisi by Kote Marjanishvili, a great director and reformer of the Georgian theatre. Following Marjanishvili's death in 1933, the theatre was named after him. Georgian, antique, classical and modern drama are all equally at home on the Marjanishvili stage. Many of its productions, although certainly unique, are built solidly on the Georgian theatrical tradition.
The Marjanishvili Theatre was invited to perform abroad as soon as the opportunity arrived. Although the successful foreign tours are without doubt significant to the cultural life of the nation, the priority audience for the Marjanishvili Theatre is the Georgian audience.