The Comédie Française, the oldest national theater in the world, is an actor-centered company that has produced some of the world’s greatest talent (e.g. Adrienne Lecouvreur, Sarah Bernhardt, Jean-Louis Barrault).
It has not, however, always succeeded on its merits alone:
|Louis XIV combines the two extant acting companies to create the Comédie Française.
|This creates, for a short time, a theatre monopoly — but then the Italians move in.
|Responding to the jealousy of hiscomédiens-français, Louis XIV closes down the popular competing Italian Theatre of Paris and sends the Italians packing.
|Other venues (previously dedicated to vaudeville-style entertainments) pick up the Italian repertoire and begin performing it on their own. The public, missing the Italians, begins frequenting these venues.
|All venues except the Comédie Français are prohibited from using dialogue onstage.
|The other companies perform plays consisting entirely of monologues. Other onstage characters respond with gestures, or wait until the speaking character runs offstage to speak themselves. The innovation proves fun and popular.
|The use of any spoken word whatsoever is prohibited in other venues.
|Characters in these theatres communicate only through song and mime. The French operetta is born to great success.
|Singing onstage is limited to theRoyal Academy of Music.
Stories are told using only mime and very popular songs to which all theatregoers would know the lyrics. The audience is thus able to sing the show to themselves (with the help of onstage cue cards worn by the silent actors). This early version of karaoke proves to be a big hit.*
|Louis XIV dies of gangrene. Crowds boo the dead body as it is carried to its funeral.
The Italians are invited to return to the city; other performers are now prohibited from performing Italian plots. The high competition and legal between the major theatres will continue, but the influence of the past 35 years of innovations will not be lost.
TO SEE THE COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE IN ACTION: The Comédie Française, it should be pointed out, is no longer as staid as in centuries past. It is split among three stages. For tickets, go to: www.comedie-francaise.fr.
1. Salle Richelieu, Place Colette, +33 184.108.40.206.15
2. Theatre du Vieux-Colombier, 21 rue du Vieux Colombier, +33 220.127.116.11.00
3. Studio-Theatre, 99 rue de Rivoli, +33 18.104.22.168.58
* This is thought by some to explain the origin of the term “vaudeville:” these performances were voix-de-ville, or the voices of the city.
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