In 1913, Jacques Copeau surveyed the left bank in search of a site upon which to anchor his theatrical ambitions. He set his sights on 21 rue du Vieux-Colombier, far from the large boulevards where an abundance of noisy theatres thrived, more often than not resembling oversized bourgeois salons. With ascetic rigour, Copeau opened this space by vowing it would go “against all cowardliness of commercial theatre”. It was greeted by widespread enthusiasm that the war of 1914 interrupted but could not stop and the shockwave of the Vieux-Colombier was to deeply mark the modern theatrical adventure. Rejecting scenery, machinery and props so as to focus on the work and the author, Jacques Copeau pushed the aesthetics of the bare stage further than anyone before. Known as “le patron” (the boss) by his contemporaries, he was the very soul of the theatre.
In 1924 he put an end to the Vieux-Colombier experience and left to settle in Burgundy. In 1940 he was appointed administrator of the Comédie-Française but had to resign shortly thereafter. On 9 April 1993, the doors of the Vieux-Colombier were reopened. Had it not been purchased by the State in 1986 and had there not been a will to make it into the Comédie-Française’s second stage, this essential site of modern theatre history would have disappeared. There was still the matter of bringing this place of memory to life. The architecture was entrusted to Bernard Kohn who proceeded with careful observation of the volumes and respect for the materials, to achieve a genuine return to the theatre’s origins.