The Reign of the Theatrical Director: French Theatre, 1887-1924

The Reign of the Theatrical Director: French Theatre, 1887-1924

The Reign of the Theatrical Director: French Theatre, 1887-1924

The Reign of the Theatrical Director: French Theatre, 1887-1924

Excerpt

1887: the founding of the Théâtre-Libre by André Antoine; 1893: the birth of Aurélien Lugné-Poës Théâtre de l'Oeuvre; 1913: the coming into being of Jacques Copeau's Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier.

Three memorable dates in the history of the performing arts. Three noteworthy theatres on whose stages France and the world were to witness not only innovative theatrical performances, but also the beginnings of the reign of the theatrical director! There had been, to be sure, directors of all types throughout the centuries in France. Molière, for example, was the greatest of them all. But since his time few French directors had captured the attention of dramatists, performers, and the tout Paris; still fewer had created styles of their own, bringing fresh insights into the performance of multiple genres of international scope. Antoine enlarged the ideals, mission, and function of the theatrical director; so, too, did Lugné-Poë, and Copeau. The three were the inspirational forces and the teachers of many successful twentieth-century French directors, such as Charles Dullin, Louis Jouvet, Gaston Baty, Sacha and Ludmilla Pitoëff, Antonin Artaud, Jean-Louis Barrault, Jean Vilar, Roger Blin, Roger Planchon, and others.

The year Antoine founded the Théâtre Libre (1887) fell seventeen years after the excoriating Franco-Prussian War, which concluded with victory for the Germans and humiliation and suffering for the French. "It isn't a war alone," Zola wrote, "it is the collapse of a dynasty, the breakdown of an epoch." The military debacle did not put an end to the misfortunes hovering over France. The harrowing events suffered during the Civil War which followed aggravated an already bad situation. Riots broke out. Fighting between the Communards, the proletarian government group occupying the Hôtel de Ville, and Thiers' government, which resided at Versailles, was vicious. In May 1871 fifteen thousand people were executed. The Tuileries Palace, the City Hall, and the Cour des Comptes were burned.

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