French Theater - from the 19th to 20th Century

French Theater – from the 19th to 20th Century

19th century

The public’s enthusiasm for theater continued in the 19th century and the theater became a magnet for large groups of the population. The popular theater remained located on the Boulevard du Temple, where the “mélodrame” (melodrama), an exaggeratedly sentimental and pathetic touching and shuddering piece from the end of the 18th century, fascinated the simple, often still illiterate audience. A successful genre of entertainment theater was the vaudeville as a one-act comedy with vocal interludes. The main representatives of the commercial tabloid theater were A. E. Scribe, E. Labiche and G. Feydeau whose pieces revolve around storytelling love affairs. Poetologically, the “drame romantique” (romantic drama) was the most important innovation, which was formulated both theoretically and practically by V. Hugo and consists in overcoming the dramaturgy classique. In terms of content and form, the shallow entertainment theater and its performance practice were rejected by naturalistic and symbolistic theater at the end of the 19th century. Both A. Antoine and the Théâtre Libre (founded in 1887) and Aurélien Marie Lugné-Poe’s Theater de l’Oeuvre (founded in 1893) encountered renewal processes of the theater, which would shape the 20th century strong, so such. B. the director’s theater. The staging is no longer dependent on the cult around a star – such as Sarah Bernhardt  - but on the director, who is responsible for the overall scenic and artistic concept. In particular, Lugné-Poe’s innovative stage work (destruction of the audience’s identification with the characters, puppet-like character of the characters, circular drama structure, suspension of communication) and the premiere of A. Jarry’s »Ubu roi« (1896) point to avant-garde tendencies.

20th century

After “Ubu roi” it was G. Apollinaire’s surrealist piece “Les mamelles de Tirésias” (1917) in particular that prepared the transition to the avant-garde and intermedia staging practices. A. Artaud’s Théâtre Alfred Jarry (founded 1926) and his concept of the »théâtre de la cruauté« (theater of cruelty) ultimately follow the approach of a surrealist total theater. While the boulevard theater remained in the tradition of the 19th century until the end of the 1930s, the Théâtre de l’Absurde (Theater of the Absurd) by S. Beckett, E. Ionesco and A. Adamov continued after the Second World Warthe tendencies of the historical avant-garde continued. The Festival d’Avignon, founded by J. Vilar in 1947 and taking place in the inner courtyard of the Papal Palace and at other outdoor venues, provided decisive impulses for a renewal of the theater landscape: On the one hand, it became the starting point for Vilar’s creation of the Théâtre National Populaire (1951). in the sense of a “theater for everyone” in the Paris Palais de Chaillot; on the other hand, Vilars’ spartan staging style became groundbreaking through targeted work with the actor and the sought-after dialogue with the audience. This is how the festival, which takes place annually in summer, is still today after Vilars have left (1963) of immense importance for the French theater scene, especially since 1966 with M. Béjart and since 1967 with J.-L. Godard dance and film are integrated into the program; Jazz, musicals, video performances, pyrotechnics and puppet performances have been added over the years. Groundbreaking productions such as P. Brooks “Mahābhārata” (1985) demonstrate the great importance of the Festival d’Avignon. The establishment of theaters in the suburbs and in the provinces as part of the so-called decentralization théâtrale (decentralization), which followed that of Vilar Seeking lively dialogue with the audience, the creation of further state theaters (Théâtre national de l’Odéon 1968, Théâtre national de Chaillot 1968, Théâtre national de Strasbourg 1968, Théâtre national de la Colline 1987) and finally the politicization of the theater as a result of May 1968 set in motion reforms that can still be felt today. The student movement of the 1960s had an impact on the development of French theater in a number of ways, including: by dismissing J.-L. Barraults in 1968 as director of the Théâtre de France (in the Odéon), since he allowed its occupation during the student revolt. In 1964, in the context of the student movement, a theater collective emerged that has been operating as a multicultural collective with the name Théâtre du Soleil since 1970works under the direction of Ariane Mnouchkine and has a great national and international reputation to this day. The Théâtre du Soleil conceives its collective, audience-engaging productions as politically committed total theater that assimilates all forms of scenic representation (drama, pantomime, masks, dance) from other cultural areas as well. The plays “1789” (1970) and “1793” (1972) as well as “Molière” (1976/77), the performances of Shakespeare tragedies (1981–84), are groundbreaking productions (and in some cases films) that illustrate the troupe’s theatrical work) and since 1985 in collaboration with the feminist author Hélène Cixous staged contemporary and ancient tragedies. Thanks to the innovative directorial work of J.-P. Vincent, A. Vitez and Jacques Lassalle (* 1936), who led the time-honored Comédie-Française as Administrateurs généraux (artistic and administrative directors) between 1983 and 1993, also experienced this decisive push of modernization, which continues to this day.

21st century

At the beginning of the 21st century, the authors of French theater deal with the socio-political reality of their country and their cultural identity in very different ways. While Yasmina Reza and Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt are successful with linguistically pointed comedies, many younger authors often stage their plays themselves and bring them to the stage with their own ensembles. So fascinated Thomas Jolly (* 1982) in 2015, visitors to the Theater Festival of Avignon with an 18 hour-long mammoth production of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI.” Also with large-scale literary adaptations (including from Michel Houellebecq’s “elementary” or Roberto Bolaños »2666«) Julien Gosselin (* 1987) made a name for himself. Fabrice Melquiot (* 1972), who is also active in children’s and youth theater, and Marie NDiaye are also influential in contemporary Frenchtheater. One of the most successful dramatists in contemporary French theater is Rémi de Vos (* 1963), who combines social and political reality with comical and absurd elements in his plays.

French Theater - from the 19th to 20th Century