At a time when the theatre audience was restricted to a relatively affluent class –the cheapest seat cost the equivalent of one day’s wages for a tradesman in the eighteenth century– the Troupe needed to maintain as varied a programme as possible so as to keep the audience interested.
What are we performing tonight? Or when the poster didn’t always say…
Alternating productions was the usual way theatres operated at the time. They performed an average of 150 different plays a year. The actors memorised a very large repertoire of roles and had to be capable of “brushing up”, in a matter of hours, on a part that an unexpected programme change could impose on them out of the blue. These last-minute changes were frequent, due to a new production failing and needing to be replaced in extremis by a dependable play that was well-liked by audiences, or because of an actor’s illness. The semainier, the actor in charge of making the announcements that week, then informed the audience what was on the bill, since it hadn’t been displayed at the front of the theatre.
The practice of alternating productions diminished dramatically in the twentieth century: the introduction of staging meant that a specific set had to be designed for each play, and only a limited number of sets could be stored backstage. This reduced the number of plays performed concurrently. In addition, the double bill, where by two plays were performed per evening, was abandoned. Today, the practice of alternating productions persists at the Salle Richelieu, with fifteen plays performe devery season, while a dozen plays are performed in runs on the other two stages of the Comédie-Française, the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier and the Studio-Théâtre.
In 1680, the Repertoire was both an immense privilege and an immense responsibility for the Troupe. A privilege because it was the only troupe entitled to perform in French in Paris and its outlying areas, a responsibility because it meant that no playwright could do without it if he wanted to see his work performed. Any play rejected therefore ran the risk of falling into oblivion. The actors enjoyed broad prerogatives and could ask the author tocorrect his play, or even make modifications themselves, after gauging the first audience reactions: a play could be reduced from three to two acts, another could have a prologue added, and so on.
Is inclusion in the Repertoire synonymous with consecration for the author?
It is often the case, but that does not mean that the text is frozen in a canonical version: rather, it is considered as a “work in progress”, undergoing an evolution in the course of time, through successive adaptations. In the twentieth century, foreign texts entered the Repertoire more massively than than in the past, in translations and more or less free versions. The Repertoire is therefore an evolving entity that has the particular characteristic of enriching itself with contemporary writings over the centuries. Non theatrical texts also undergo theatrical adaptations, such as novels, and more recently film scenarios.
The Comédie-Française is also known as the House of Molière. While the first troupe of 1680 contained a number of the playwright’s companions, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that this name came to be forged, in reference to the great frequency with which Molière’s works were performed there. Molière’s repertory was an opportunity for the Troupe to gather together, especially during the ceremony of The Imaginary Invalid (or The Doctors’ Ceremony) during which all the actors are required to appear on stage.
A moment’s pause to pay homage to Molière, a celebration of Molière and a celebration of the Troupe
Since 1822, the homage to Molière has been celebrated on 15 January, the date of his baptism, a moment when the entire Troupe greets the audience. Gradually, the idea came about to portray the sociétaires in engravings or paintings, and later in photographs. The homage to Molière has since become the ritual moment of a group photograph, renewed every year.
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Suite au renforcement du plan Vigipirate, toute personne se présentant avec une valise ou un sac (hors sac à main) se verra interdire l'accès à l'enceinte des trois théâtres de la Comédie-Française.
Pour faciliter les contrôles, merci d'arriver au minimum 30 minutes avant le début des représentations.