Théâtre Populaire : histoire d’une revue mythique

par Marco Consolini
1997, in La Revue des revues n° 23

Théâtre Populaire is the journal which best incarnates the myth of an age – the 1950s – during which theater and political involvement were closely linked if not often one and the same thing. To overview the history of this « militant » publication, directed by Robert Voisin at les Éditions de L’Arche from its beginnings in 1953 to its disappearance in 1964, is to observe the history of the time from a privileged stand point.
Created alongside Jean Vilar’s Théâtre national populaire, Théâtre Populaire seems to adhere fully to Vilar’s utopia of « public theater ». Actually, the periodical was already in search of its own identity which it came upon first in its extremely violent criticism of the « theater of money » and then, in the example of Berthold Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble which first played Mother Courage in Paris in June 1954. The encounter with the German playwright was of capital importance. Théâtre Populaire soon became the French herald of Brechtism and its condemnation both of Bourgeois theater and Vilar himself as well as avant-garde playwrights became ever more incompromising. The term « Brechtism orthodoxy » was often applied to the journal (and especially two of its principle editors, Roland Barthes and Bernard Dort) but could twist the true aspect of the periodical. For Théâtre Populaire, Brecht was often the means of defending a « terrorist » cause, but the playwright was also a tool for free thought which allowed the journal to elaborate an entirely original point of view within the ideologically paranoid years between the IVth and the Vth Republics which were dominated by the cold war and the Algerian War. Today, thanks to the precision of its analyses, Théâtre Populaire is an unequalled source for any historian interested in the theater of that time. Moreover, Théâtre Populaire remains a model of ethical rigour in theatrical criticism.

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