Théâtre de l'Œuvre

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Théâtre de l'Œuvre
Salle Berlioz
Theatre de l'OEuvre, Cite Monthiers, Paris 9.jpg
Théâtre de l'Œuvre c. 2010
Address55 rue de Clichy, 9° arrondissement
Coordinates 48°52′51″N2°19′43″E / 48.880961°N 2.3285°E / 48.880961; 2.3285 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, located atop cité Monthiers, at 55 rue de Clichy in the 9° arrondissement in Paris, France. It is best known as the theatre where Alfred Jarry’s nihilistic farce Ubu Roi premiered in 1896.

Alfred Jarry French writer

Alfred Jarry was a French symbolist writer who is best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), a pataphysical work which depicts the bourgeoisie as the super-mediocre. He coined the term and philosophical concept of pataphysics, which uses absurd irony to portray symbolic truths.

<i>Ubu Roi</i> French avant-garde comic play by Alfred Jarry, first performed in 1896

Ubu Roi is a play by Alfred Jarry. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre, causing a riotous response in the audience as it opened and closed on December 10, 1896. It is considered a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms, and conventions. To some of those who were in the audience on opening night, including W. B. Yeats and the poet and essayist Catulle Mendès, it seemed an event of revolutionary importance, but many were mystified and outraged by the seeming childishness, obscenity, and disrespect of the piece. It is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century. It is a precursor to Dada, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices—in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.


Founded in Paris in 1893, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre was among the first theatrical venues in France to provide a home for the artists of the Symbolist Movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Modeled on the experimental structure of the Théâtre Libre, the venue was directed by Lugné-Poe, [1] a prominent Parisian actor and stage manager from its opening through 1929. [2]

Symbolism (arts) art movement

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts.

Théâtre Libre theater

The Théâtre Libre was a theatre company that operated from 1887 to 1896 in Paris, France.

Lugné-Poe actor and director

Aurélien-Marie Lugné, known by his stage-name and pen name Lugné-Poe, was a French actor, theatre director, and scenic designer best known for his work at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre, one of the first theatrical venues in France to provide a home for the artists of the symbolist movement at the end of the nineteenth century. Most notably, Lugné-Poe introduced French audiences to the Scandinavian playwrights August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen.


Lugné-Poe had embraced symbolism's "subjectivity, spirituality, and mysterious internal and external forces" [3] as a source of profound truth after working as an actor at the Théâtre d'Art. The first of the independent Symbolist theatre, the poet Paul Fort, then just seventeen years old, formed the company to explore the performance potential of found texts such as The Iliad , The Bible , and his own lyric verse. When Fort left the group in 1892, his work was carried on by what would become the Théâtre de l'Œuvre with Lugné-Poe at the helm. [4]

Paul Fort French poet and playwright

Paul Fort was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. At the age of 18, reacting against the Naturalistic theatre, Fort founded the Théâtre d'Art (1890–93). He also founded and edited the literary reviews Livre d'Art with Alfred Jarry and Vers et Prose (1905–14) with poet Guillaume Apollinaire, which published the work of Paul Valéry and other important Symbolist writers. Fort is notable for his enormous volume of poetry, having published more than thirty volumes of ballads and, according to Amy Lowell for creating the polyphonic prose form in his 'Ballades francaises'.

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, 1892. According to theatre historian Oscar Brockett:

Maurice Maeterlinck 19th/20th-century Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist

Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck, also known as CountMaeterlinck from 1932, was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who was Flemish but wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911 "in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations". The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life. His plays form an important part of the Symbolist movement.

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 room atop the cité Monthiers called the salle Berlioz and calling themselves Maison de l'Œuvre, or literally, the "House of Works." [5]

Camille Mauclair French writer

Séverin Faust, better known by his pseudonym Camille Mauclair, was a French poet, novelist, biographer, travel writer, and art critic.

Édouard Vuillard French painter

Jean-Édouard Vuillard was a French painter, decorative artist and printmaker. From 1891 through 1900, he was a prominent member of the Nabis, making paintings which assembled areas of pure color, and interior scenes, influenced by Japanese prints, where the subjects were blended into colors and patterns. He also was a decorative artist, painting theater sets, panels for interior decoration, and designing plates and stained glass. After 1900, when the Nabis broke up, he adopted a more realistic style, painting landscapes and interiors with lavish detail and vivid colors. In the 1920s and 1930s he painted portraits of prominent figures in French industry and the arts in their familiar settings.

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 also produced Sanskrit dramas in addition to 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. [6]

Oscar Wilde 19th-century Irish poet, playwright and aesthete

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s saw him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for "gross indecency", imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

Gerhart Hauptmann German dramatist who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912

Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann was a German dramatist and novelist. He is counted among the most important promoters of literary naturalism, though he integrated other styles into his work as well. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912.

August Strindberg Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter

Johan August Strindberg was a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg's career spanned four decades, during which time he wrote over sixty plays and more than thirty works of fiction, autobiography, history, cultural analysis, and politics. A bold experimenter and iconoclast throughout, he explored a wide range of dramatic methods and purposes, from naturalistic tragedy, monodrama, and history plays, to his anticipations of expressionist and surrealist dramatic techniques. From his earliest work, Strindberg developed innovative forms of dramatic action, language, and visual composition. He is considered the "father" of modern Swedish literature and his The Red Room (1879) has frequently been described as the first modern Swedish novel.

Just as in the description of the theatre's initial performance, the majority 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." [3] The staging was atmospheric and the acting stylized; costumes were usually simple and “timeless.” [6] Some designers included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis, Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, and Vuillard himself. [7]

On December 10, 1896, Théâtre de l'Œuvre presented Alfred Jarry's legendary Ubu Roi, 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." 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." [3] In this lithograph announcement by Jarry for the performance of Ubu Roi, 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.

Poster advertising the premiere of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi. Premiere Ubu Roi.jpg
Poster advertising the premiere of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi .

Temporary Closures

By 1899 the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre 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 in 1899, marking an end to the first major phase of the anti-realism movement in the theatre.

Lugné-Poe revived the theatre 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 1914. They reopened again in 1919 with the help of financing from the actor Marcelle Frappa and ran the theatre continuously until his final retirement in 1929. 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." [3]

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 Performances

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. "The Théâtre de l'Œuvre". Musée d'Orsay Online. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  2. Craig, Edward Gordon (2009). Franc Chamberlain (ed.). On the Art of the Theatre. London: Routledge. ISBN   0203889746.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Brockett, Oscar Gross (1968). The History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. pp. 442–43.
  4. Jasper, Rathbone (1947). Adventure in the theatre: Lugné-Poe and the Théâtre de l'oeuvre to 1899. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers.
  5. Cogeval, Guy. Édouard Vuillard. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 2003.
  6. 1 2 "Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, a Paris Theatre". Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica Online. Retrieved 13 Aug 2011.
  7. Simonson, Lee (1963). The Stage Is Set. New York: Theatre Art Books.
  8. "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.
  9. Cf. Base de données de l'Association de la régie théâtrale, consultée le 31 mai 2010.