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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.

Théâtre de l'Œuvre
Salle Berlioz
Théâtre de l'Œuvre, Cité Monthiers, Paris 9.jpg
Théâtre de l'Œuvre c. 2010
Address55 rue de Clichy, 9° arrondissement
Coordinates48°52′51″N 2°19′43″E / 48.880961°N 2.3285°E / 48.880961; 2.3285Coordinates: 48°52′51″N 2°19′43″E / 48.880961°N 2.3285°E / 48.880961; 2.3285
OperatorGérard Maro

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]


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]

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:

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]

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]

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.

Temporary ClosuresEdit

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 PerformancesEdit

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.


  1. ^ "The Théâtre de l'Œuvre". Musée d'Orsay Online. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 6, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ Craig, Edward Gordon (2009). Franc Chamberlain (ed.). On the Art of the Theatre. London: Routledge. ISBN 0203889746.
  3. ^ a b c d e 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. ^ a b "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.