Salle Berlioz, 3, Cité Monthiers
|Address||55 rue de Clichy, 9° arrondissement|
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.
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.
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.Lugné-Poe had embraced symbolism's "subjectivity, spirituality, and mysterious internal and external forces" 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.
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.
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."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.
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.
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."The staging was atmospheric and the acting stylized; costumes were usually simple and “timeless.” Some of the company's designers included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis, Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, and Vuillard himself.
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."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.
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."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.
Alfred Jarry was a French symbolist writer who is best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), often cited as a forerunner of Dada and the Surrealist and Futurist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. He also coined the term and philosophical concept of 'pataphysics.
Jules-Jean-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'.
Jean Marie Lucien Pierre Anouilh was a French dramatist and screenwriter whose career spanned five decades. Though his work ranged from high drama to absurdist farce, Anouilh is best known for his 1944 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles' classical drama, that was seen as an attack on Marshal Pétain's Vichy government. His plays are less experimental than those of his contemporaries, having clearly organized plot and eloquent dialogue. One of France's most prolific writers after World War II, much of Anouilh's work deals with themes of maintaining integrity in a world of moral compromise.
Symbolism was a late 19th-century art movement of French and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts seeking to represent absolute truths symbolically through language and metaphorical images, mainly as a reaction against naturalism and realism.
Jean-Édouard Vuillard was a French painter, decorative artist, and printmaker. From 1891 through 1900, Vuillard was a prominent member of the avant garde artistic group Les Nabis, creating paintings that assembled areas of pure color. His interior scenes, influenced by Japanese prints, explored the spatial effects of flattened planes of color, pattern, and form. As a decorative artist, Vuillard painted theater sets, panels for interior decoration, and designed plates and stained glass. After 1900, when the Nabis broke up, Vuillard adopted a more realistic style, approaching landscapes and interiors with greater 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.
Ubu Roi is a play by French writer Alfred Jarry, then 23 years old. It was first performed in Paris in 1896, by Aurélien Lugné-Poe's Théâtre de l'Œuvre at the Nouveau-Théâtre. The production's single public performance baffled and offended audiences with its unruliness and obscenity. Considered to be a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms and conventions, it is seen by 20th- and 21st-century scholars to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the 20th century, and as a precursor to Dadaism, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd.
Aurélien-Marie Lugné, known by his stage and pen name Lugné-Poe, was a French actor, theatre director, and scenic designer. He founded the landmark Paris theatre company, the Théâtre de l'Œuvre, which produced experimental work by French Symbolist writers and painters at the end of the nineteenth century. Like his contemporary, theatre pioneer André Antoine, he gave the French premieres of works by the leading Scandinavian playwrights Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
Pelléas and Mélisande is a Symbolist play by the Belgian playwright and author Maurice Maeterlinck. It's about the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters and was first performed in 1893.
Intruder is a one-act play by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, which appeared first in publication in 1890. Journalistic appreciations of the text throughout that year prompted Parisian independent theatre producers to get the performance rights. From its stage debut the following spring, it became identified as a landmark work in the Symbolism movement of the late-nineteenth century.
Events from the year 1896 in France.
The Théâtre de la Gaîté-Montparnasse is a venue situated at 26, rue de la Gaîté, in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, in the 14th arrondissement. It opened in 1868 and seats 399 people.
The Théâtre du Vaudeville was a theatre company in Paris. It opened on 12 January 1792 on rue de Chartres. Its directors, Piis and Barré, mainly put on "petites pièces mêlées de couplets sur des airs connus", including vaudevilles.
Lucienne Bogaert was a French actress. She started her career in theatre, but later also worked in film. After she divorced her husband Robert Bogaert, she retained his name for professional purposes.
The Théâtre de l'Athénée is a theatre at 7 rue Boudreau, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. Renovated in 1996 and classified a historical monument, the Athénée inherits an artistic tradition marked by the figure of Louis Jouvet who directed the theatre from 1934 to 1951. During the period when he was director, it became known as the Athenée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet.
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Albert Rieux was a French stage and film actor.
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Berthe Bady (1872–1921) was a French actress of Belgian origin. She was the companion of Lugné-Poe and Henry Bataille. The fortunes she had won as an actress were devoted to her household with Bataille. Berthe died in isolation at Jouy-sur-Eure.
Firmin Gémier (1869-1933) was a French actor and director. Internationally, he is most famous for originating the role of Père Ubu in Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi. He is known as the principal architect of the popular theatre movement in France.