Théâtre du Soleil


Le Théâtre du Soleil (lit. "The Theater of the Sun") is a Parisian avant-garde stage ensemble founded by Ariane Mnouchkine, Philippe Léotard and fellow students of the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 1964 as a collective of theatre artists. Le Théâtre du Soleil is located at La Cartoucherie, a former munitions factory in the Vincennes area of eastern Paris. The company creates new theatrical works using a devising process based on utilizing physical theatre and improvisation.

Sociohistorical context

The Theatre du Soleil was founded as a theatre collective in 1964, in the midst of cultural turmoil that was sweeping the western world.[1] With the capitalist west and the Communist east locked in the midst of the Cold War, nuclear warfare was imminent while the whole of Europe was slowly recovering from the destruction of World War II. In 1965 Charles de Gaulle was re-elected President of France in the first election with direct popular vote for the office. The year 1968, a watershed for protests and turmoil around the world, was characterized by rebellion against conventional culture, huge political demonstrations, and labor strikes in France involving 11 million workers, students, and far-left politicians.[1] It was in the middle of this period of uncertainty, changing cultural attitudes, and disillusionment that Mnouchkine, a student in land, started Le Theatre du Soleil with her peers who were interested in creating original theatre.


1964: Le Theatre du Soleil is established[2]

1964–65: Les Petits Bourgeois presented at Théâtre Mouffetard

1965–66: Capitaine Fracasse presented at the Theater Récamier

1967: La Cuisine presented at Cirque de Montmartre

1968: Le Songe d'une Nuit d'Ete (A Midsummer's Night's Dream) L'Arbre Sorcier, Jerome et la Tortue

1969–70: Les Clowns presented at Festival d'Avignon, Piccolo Teatro de Milan

1970–1971: Le Theatre du Soleil moves to their permanent base, la Cartoucherie, a former munitions factory on the outskirts of Paris

1789 opens in La Cartoucherie.

1974: Film version of 1789 released

1975: L'Age d'Or

1976–77: Don Juan

1979–80: Mephisto, Le Roman d'une Carriere

1981–84: Translated works of Shakespeare are presented in cycles, including Richard II and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2

1985–86: L'Histoire Terrible Mais Inachevee de Norodom Sihanouk, Roi du Cambodge

1987–88: L'Indiade ou L'Inde de leurs Reves

1989: Film version of La Nuit Miraculeuse

1990–93: Cycle Les Atrides (including Ipighenie a Aulis, Agamemnon, Les Choephores, and Les Eumenides)

1993: L'Inde, de Pere en Fils, de Mere en Fille

1994: La Ville perjure ou le Reveil des Erinyes

1996–97: Film Au Soleil Meme la Nuit

1997–98: Et Soudain des Nuits d'Eveil Tout est Bien qui Finit Bien

1999–2002: La Ville Parjure ou le Reveil des Erinyes Tambours sur la Digue

2003–2006: Le Derner Caravanserail (Odyssees) Le Fleuve Cruel Origines et Destins

2007–2009: Les Ephemeres

2008 : Film L'Aventure du Theatre du Soleil

2010–2011: Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir (reached 200th performance in February 2011)

March 19–22 – Japanese kyogen troupe, hosted by Le Theatre du Soleil at La Cartoucherie, performs traditional kyogen pieces and an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors

May 4 – Company tour begins in Nantes

Mission and philosophy

The Theatre du Soleil was founded in the 1960s as a reaction against traditional theatrical institutions in France.[3] Although they have never presented a formalized mission statement, from their inception they have been characterized by a commitment to long-term collaborative rehearsal processes; the merging of a wide variety of art forms both Western and non-Western, including music, dance, and puppetry; actively communicating and mingling with their audiences; and maintaining a large, hierarchy-free company that lives together and equally shares the work of creating their productions. Company members describe working for the Theatre du Soleil as "a style of life",[4] while a reviewer for The New York Times said of their production Les Ephemeres: "The aim here is not to shape life into taut dramatic form but to present lived experience intimately and without evidence of artists' interpretation and manipulation."[4] Mnouchkine summarized the philosophy of the organization as "Theatre du Soleil is the dream of living, working, being happy and searching for beauty and for goodness….It's trying to live for higher purposes, not for richness. It's very simple, really."[5]

The company's productions have included both re-imaginings of classics of Western theatre such as Shakespeare's Richard II and Moliere's Tartuffe,[6] but the company is equally well known for their original works. The collective, consisting of 70 members as of July 2009,[4] takes the concept and direction for their original productions from founder Ariane Mnouchkine, and works together in a collaborative rehearsal process that stretches out over many months to create a finished performance event. For example, their six-hour-long 2005 production Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées) was based on a compilation of letters and interviews collected by Mnouchkine and her colleagues from refugee camps from around the world, while Les Ephemeres in 2009 was based on nine months of improvisations stemming from Mnouchkine's question: What would you do if you found out that all of humanity would die out within three months?[4]

At other times, they provocatively, directly comment on contemporary events, such as their production of Tartuffe in which the title character was presented as an Islamic zealot at a time when there was a movement in France against foreign immigration.[7] They have drawn inspiration from non-Western cultures, such as when they used bunraku-style puppetry in their production Tambours sur la Digue.[8] The company's emphasis on movement and physical theatre is in part due to Mnouchkine's study under Jacques Lecoq.[9] Their performances also frequently feature direct contact between the actors and the audience members, whether through a dressing and makeup area that is open to the public's view[10] or lunch for both actors and audience served at intermission.[4] Beyond their production process, part of the company's philosophy includes communal living and a complete lack of hierarchy for every member of the organization. All employees, whether actors, administrators, or technicians, are paid the exact same wage, and must sometimes go without a salary for months when the company is not performing and earning income. The company lives together in shared housing and equally shares the work of cooking, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining their living space. In addition, all performers do technical work on productions, such as maintaining moving set pieces for Les Ephemeres.[4]

Major works

The Theatre du Soleil's premiere performance was in 1964–65 with Les Petits Bourgeois.[2] The company's first widely recognized production was in 1967 with Wesker's The Kitchen. They continued on to form a theatre collective and produce their first major success 1789, a show about the French Revolution. Their performance suggested "the Revolution was subverted by those more concerned about property than justice".[11] Another of the company's most famous works was Les Atrides. This was made up of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis and Aeschylus' The Oresteia. The production took over two years to mount, played in numerous countries including the United States and Germany, and integrated several forms of Asian dance and drama. In 2005, Le Theatre du Soleil presented Le Dernier Caravanserail (Odyssees) or The Last Caravansary (Odysseys).

One of the company's most recent major works was their production of Les Ephemeres created and directed by Ariane Mnouchkine. The show premiered at the 2009 Lincoln Center Festival. Les Ephemeres is centered on the river of time with its events both past and present. The Village Voice characterized the show's theme as "To go with the flow, to accept the fact that time is the great devastator. Tout passe, tout casse, tout basse, says a French proverb: Everything passes, everything breaks, everything sinks."[12] The performance is split in two three-and-a-half-hour-long sections with the full run time just over seven hours long.

Major players

While Ariane Mnouchkine, acknowledged as the founder of the troupe, regularly acts as the company's concept creator and director, a number of her fellow students were also her collaborators in the initial founding of the company, including:[3]

Senior members such as Mnouchkine are not given preferential treatment. Mnouchkine, for example, refused to be interviewed alone for a New York Times article,[4] although individuals such as Helene Cixous (playwright) and Jean-Jacques Lemetre (composer and musician) repeatedly fulfill specific production roles and have done so for many years.[13]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Egalité! Liberté! Sexualité!: Paris, May 1968". London: The Independent. 23 February 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  2. 1 2 "Chronologie des spectacles et des films du Théâtre du Soleil". Le Theatre du Soleil. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  3. 1 2 Bablet, Marie-Louise; Denis Bablet. "Vers un theatre autre". Le Theatre du Soleil. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Cohen, Patricia (6 July 2009). "Troupe's communal vision includes lunch". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  5. Rockwell, John (August 27, 1992). "Behind the masks of a moralist". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  6. "A touch of Soleil". Economist. 2000-05-20. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  7. Jennison, Mark (Fall 1996). "Le Tartuffe by Moliere" (pdf). Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism: 119–124. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  8. "Theatre du Soleil Tambour". artlabchicago. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  9. Murray, Simon David; John Keefe (2008). "Contemporary Practices". Physical theatres: a critical introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 96. ISBN 9780203012826. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  10. Richardson, Helen E. (2000). "Book Review - Collaborative Theater: The Theatre du Soleil Sourcebook". The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  11. Brockett, Oscar G. (2007). History of the Theatre, Foundation Edition. Allyn & Bacon. p. 505.
  12. Feingold, Michael. "Les Éphémères Goes with Reality's Flow; Ivanov Twists Chekhov into Postmodern Shapes". The Village Voice. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  13. "Le Theatre du Soleil: L'ecriture". Le Theatre Du Soleil. Retrieved 20 April 2011.

External links

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