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1890, november 10 Imagining the Self In which Rachilde’s first play is performed and some mirrors are looked into In addition to being at the forefront of movements such as decadence, Rachilde was at the forefront of symbolist theater in France, and some have gone so far as to suggest that she was the only “domestic” symbolist playwright. Moreover, the symbolist movement of the 1890s is credited with the creation of an avant-garde in France, both in the sense of an avant-garde movement in the arts in general (leading to such international and interdisciplinary phenomena as surrealism and abstract art) and in the more specific sense of the theatrical avant-garde movements that would flourish in the twentieth century such as Antoine Artaud ’s theater of cruelty and the theater of the absurd. As one of the principal figures of the symbolist movement, then, Rachilde is also one of the founding members of the French avant-garde. Theater was the most popular form of mass entertainment throughout the nineteenth century, and it flourished in Paris, especially in the 1880s and 1890s, as developments in mass transportation brought more and more people to the city in search of distractions. In addition to such established theaters as the Comédie-Française, the 1890s saw the beginning of a fringe movement that changed the direction of theater history. This avant-garde introduced new Scandinavian dramatists such as Strindberg and Ibsen to French audiences as well as new staging techniques . Through their innovations, they influenced not just the content of plays but the entire theatrical experience: a night at the theater changed from being a social event to an art performance. One of the first innovators and developers of fringe theater was André Antoine, an amateur producer. After gaining experience in this capacity, he decided to begin producing new plays and founded the Théâtre libre, which gave its first performance on March 30, 1887, and flourished until 1893. Because it functioned as a private club (seats were by subscription), Antoine was not always consistently regulated by the censor, and he was therefore able to mount productions of quite controversial plays. Antoine challenged the conventions that predominated in mainstream theater and proposed the injection of realism into set design , acting, language, and subject matter. Antoine’s Théâtre libre was primarily identified with naturalism, however, while symbolism had been headed in a less and less realist direction for over a decade. Paul Fort, for example, had started the Thé- âtre mixte, another amateur company, which gave its first production in the rue Condorcet in 1890, followed by another varied program at the Théâtre Beaumarchais later that year. Fort had been working with Louis Germain, founder of Théâtre idéaliste, but when Germain dropped out (in November 1890), Fort changed the name to the Théâtre d’art and stayed on as its director. On Wednesday, November 10, 1890, the company staged Rachilde’s one-act play La Voix du sang (Robichez, Symbolisme au théâtre 86–92). Rachilde’s role in symbolist theater begins with this play and with Paul Fort’s Théâtre d’art. Along with its successor, Lugné-Poe’s Théâtre de l’oeuvre, the Théâtre d’art was responsible for changing the face of theater in France. Between them, these two troupes promoted Scandinavian drama (principally Ibsen, but also Strindberg); they transformed theatergoing from a form of entertainment to an aesthetic experience; they pioneered techniques of synaesthesia by combining music, lighting , and perfume as part of the performance; they involved painters whose work would transform art theory (such as Gauguin, ToulouseLautrec , and Munch); they brought important and influential works such as Maeterlinck’s Pelléas and Mélisande and Wilde’s Salomé to the stage for the first time; and last but not least they acted as midwife for the birth of one of the most important figures in the pantheon of the grotesque, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu. The symbolist theater movement was one of the most innovative in theater history, and Rachilde was at the center of the ferment, offering vehicles to further the experiment and advising those who made it happen. Although Antoine’s Théâtre libre had opened the door to innovation , Paul Fort’s Théâtre d’art had almost no precedent. The troupe broke with tradition and reinvented theatrical practice. Theater historian Jacques Robichez would summarize the value of this short-lived theater...


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