Théâtre de l'Œuvre

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Théâtre de l'Œuvre
Salle Berlioz, 3, Cité Monthiers
Theatre de l'OEuvre, Cite Monthiers, Paris 9.jpg
Théâtre de l'Œuvre c. 2010
Theatre de l'OEuvre
Address55 rue de Clichy, 9° arrondissement
Coordinates 48°52′51″N2°19′43″E / 48.880961°N 2.3285°E / 48.880961; 2.3285
OperatorGérard Maro
Capacity 326

The Théâtre de l'Œuvre is a Paris theatre on the Right Bank, located at 3, Cité Monthiers, entrance 55, rue de Clichy, in the 9° arrondissement. It is commonly conflated and confused with the late-nineteenth-century theater company named Théâtre de l'Œuvre (or simply, L'Œuvre), founded by actor-director-producer Aurélien Lugné-Poe, who would not take control of this performance space until 1919. His company is best known for its earlier phase of existence, before it acquired this theatre venue. From 1893 to 1899, in various Parisian theatres, Lugné-Poe premiered modernist plays by foreign dramatists (Ibsen, Strindberg, Hauptmann, Bjørnson, Wilde), as well as new work by French Symbolists, most notoriously Alfred Jarry’s nihilistic farce Ubu Roi , which opened in 1896 at Nouveau-Théâtre (today, Théâtre de Paris, 15, rue Blanche).


It is best to discuss the surviving theater building and Lugné-Poe's several-phase theater production company separately, though they share much of their history.

Building: Salle Berlioz

According to the present theatre's Web site, at some point in the nineteenth century, the Duke of Gramont built a rudimentary little theatre on this property, where he had also installed his mistress, opera singer Mademoiselle Coupé. Reputedly, the theatre privately offered a repertory that included risqué, even salacious work. In 1892, the space was renovated as a public concert hall with entrance in the adjoining courtyard area of Cité Monthiers. The hall, which featured orchestra level and three-sided balcony seating, as well as a large upstage organ, was named Salle Berlioz in honor of French composer, conductor, and music critic Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), who had lived nearby on the rue de Calais. [1]

Lugné-Poe's art theater company

Launched in Paris in 1893, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre was among the first theatrical companies in France to provide a home for the artists of the Symbolist Movement of the 1890s. Director Lugné-Poe modeled the enterprise on the experimental structure of André Antoine's independent, subscription-based theatre company Théâtre Libre, though it would intentionally adopt a non-Naturalistic program of plays. [2] [3] Lugné-Poe had embraced symbolism's "subjectivity, spirituality, and mysterious internal and external forces" [4] as a source of profound truth after working as an actor at the Théâtre d'Art, the first independent Symbolist theatre. The poet Paul Fort, then just seventeen years old, had formed the company to explore the performance potential of found texts such as The Iliad , The Bible , new plays by French writers, and his own lyric verse. When Fort left the group in 1892, and his efforts to produce Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande and Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's Axël fell through, Lugné-Poe stepped in to transform the art-theater endeavor into his own company, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre. [5]

Unlike Fort's project, which catered to the intellectual elite, Lugné-Poe sought to create a "theatre for the people," and customarily offered free tickets to most of the public, reserving only 100 seats for his subscription holders. Under his direction, the company first performed Maurice Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande on May 17, 1893 at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. According to theatre historian Oscar Brockett:

The opening production, Maeterlink's Pelléas and Mélisande, was typical. Few properties and little furniture were used; the stage was lighted from overhead and most of the action passed in semidarkness; a gauze curtain, hung between the actors and the audience, gave the impression that mist enveloped the stage; backdrops, painted in gray tones, emphasized the air of mystery; costumes were vaguely medieval, although the intention was to create draperies of no particular period. The actors spoke in a staccato chant like priests and, according to some critics, behaved like sleepwalkers; their gestures were strongly stylized. Given this radically new approach, it is not surprising that many spectators were mystified. [4]

With the help of poet and critic Camille Mauclair and the painter Édouard Vuillard (with whom Lugné-Poe was sharing an apartment), the director dedicated the theatre to presenting the work of the young French Symbolist playwrights in addition to introducing new foreign dramas. The group established themselves that same year, renting a small rehearsal room atop Salle Berlioz and calling themselves Maison de l'Œuvre, or literally, the "House of Works." [6] Lugné-Poe, however, soon established company offices at 23, rue Turgot, eventually moving operations across the street to no. 22. None of the productions in the seminal phase of his art theatre (1893-1899) appeared at the Salle Berlioz. [7]

La salle Berlioz in 1907 Paris Salle Berlioz 55 rue de Clichy 1907.jpg
La salle Berlioz in 1907

In addition to those of Maeterlinck, the theatre company produced Sanskrit dramas, as well as works by foreign authors such as Oscar Wilde, Gerhart Hauptmann, August Strindberg, and Gabriele D’Annunzio, alongside works by young French dramatists like Henry Bataille, Henri de Régnier et Alfred Jarry. Lugné-Poe was also instrumental in introducing Henrik Ibsen’s plays to French audiences. [8]

Just as in the description of the theatre's initial performance, the majority of Lugné-Poe's stage settings were simple, non-realistic representations of line and color on canvas backdrops. He sought to create a theatre of poetry and dreams while staying true to his motto, "The word creates the decor." [4] The staging was atmospheric and the acting stylized; costumes were usually simple and “timeless.” [8] Some of the company's designers included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis, Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, and Vuillard himself. [9]

Jarry's lithograph advertising the 1896 premiere of Ubu Roi. 620px-Programme for the premiere of Ubu Roi.jpg
Jarry's lithograph advertising the 1896 premiere of Ubu Roi.

On December 10, 1896, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre presented Alfred Jarry's soon legendary Ubu Roi , at Nouveau-Théâtre, 15, rue Blanche, with actor Firmin Gémier in the title role. Jarry had finished this epochal play about human greed, cowardice, and stupidity just six months before it would shock the audiences with its unapologetic opening line, "Merdre" and its playfully theatrical, marionette-like performance style. Though Jarry affected an attitude of political indifference, his revolutionary ideas challenged assumptions about society, propriety, and existence. Brockett notes that "Ubu Roi shows in all its grotesqueness a world without human decency." [4] In this lithograph announcement by Jarry for the premiere of Ubu Roi, the obese, tyrannical King Ubu appears as a shadow puppet with a segmented arm. He brandishes a scimitar in one hand and clutches a sack of gold in the other.

Temporary Closures

By 1899, the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre company had presented 51 programs and toured England, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium. In spite of this success, Lugné-Poe had come to feel that the work of the Symbolists was juvenile and limiting to his artistic development. He closed the theatre company in 1899, marking an end to the first major phase of the anti-realism movement in European theatre.

Lugné-Poe revived the enterprise on December 22, 1912, with a production of Paul Claudel's L'Annonce faite à Marie. Following that were several works by the Dadaist and Surrealist writers of the era. The group was off to a running start, but activity was interrupted again with the beginning of World War I in August 1914. Through their productions, tours, and critical reviews, the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre, under the direction of Lugné-Poe, had managed to influence "almost every departure from realism between 1893 and 1915." [4] After the War, in 1919, Lugné-Poe reopened the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre—renaming the Salle Berlioz as the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in the process—with financing from the actor Marcelle Frappa, and he ran the theatre continuously until his final retirement in 1929.

Lucien Beer and Paulette Pax succeeded Lugné-Poe in 1929 and served as the theatre's directors until the beginning of World War II. Shortly after the conflict began, Hitler conquered France and the Vichy Regime under Jacques Hébertot made most theatres illegal in the occupied zone. After the Liberation of Paris in 1944, Raymond Rouleau rejoined Lucien Beer, and together they ran the theatre until 1951, when they were both replaced by Robert de Ribon.

In 1960 Pierre Franck and Georges Herbert took over direction. They ran the theatre until 1978, when they were replaced by Georges Wilson as Artistic Director and principal scenic designer. He remained until 1995 when Gérard Maro, who had been Artistic Director of the Comédie de Paris since 1981, took over as chef of the Théâtre de l'Œuvre. He is still in charge today.

Notable Théâtre de l'Œuvre Productions

A lithograph by Edouard Vuillard depicting a rehearsal on the stage of the Theatre de l'OEuvre. The print was used as a program for the play "L'Oasis" by Jean Jullien on December 14, 1903 and for a different production in 1908. Rehearsal at lOeuvre Vuillard.jpg
A lithograph by Édouard Vuillard depicting a rehearsal on the stage of the Théâtre de l'Œuvre. The print was used as a program for the play "L'Oasis" by Jean Jullien on December 14, 1903 and for a different production in 1908.

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  1. "Histoire du Théâtre de l'Œuvre: Première Époque 1893 – 1928.", 2019,
  2. "The Théâtre de l'Œuvre". Musée d'Orsay Online. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  3. Craig, Edward Gordon (2009). Franc Chamberlain (ed.). On the Art of the Theatre. London: Routledge. ISBN   978-0203889749.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Brockett, Oscar Gross (1968). The History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. pp. 442–43.
  5. Jasper, Rathbone (1947). Adventure in the theatre: Lugné-Poe and the Théâtre de l'oeuvre to 1899. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers.
  6. Cogeval, Guy. Édouard Vuillard. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 2003.
  7. Robichez, Jacques. Le Symbolisme au théâtre: Lugné-Poe et les débuts de l'Œuvre. L'Arche, 1957, pp. 502-47.
  8. 1 2 "Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, a Paris Theatre". Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica Online. Retrieved 13 Aug 2011.
  9. Simonson, Lee (1963). The Stage Is Set. New York: Theatre Art Books.
  10. "Ford's 'Annabella' Played in France; Lugne-Poe Returns Monthly to the Task of a New Spectacle" (Review). New York Times. 18 November 1894. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  11. Cf. Base de données de l'Association de la régie théâtrale, consultée le 31 mai 2010.