Théâtre de l'Ambigu-Comique  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique (literally, Theatre of the Comic-Ambiguity) was one of the theatres of Paris. Founded in 1769, it was demolished in 1966.



18th century

It was founded in 1769 on the boulevard du Temple in Paris by Nicolas-Médard Audinot, formerly a comedian of the Opéra-Comique, which he had left to become a puppet-master at the Paris fairs. Audinot had already been a success in one of the sites of the Saint-Germain fair, where his large marionettes (called "bamboches") were in vogue.

Under the name of his foundation, the "Comédiens de bois", the Opéra-Comique proposed pantomimes and "féeries" (spectacles), then he enlarged his repertoire to include marionnettes, child-performers, and acrobats, in comedies, vaudeville shows, "opéras comiques", dramas and pantomimes.

The variety and mix of these theatrical modes justified and explained changing the theatre's name, after only one year, from "Comédiens de bois" to "Ambigu-Comique" when Audinot substitued child-performers for marionnettes. The profits he raised allowed him to build a theatre building, to which he transported his "acteurs de bois" and which was inaugurated on 9 July 1769. The following April, Audinot added to his puppets with a few young children, who he trained up in the theatrical arts, and painted the motto "Sicut infantes audi nos" on the theatre's curtain. His success caused Delille to write "Dear Audinot, childhood attired as old age".

A Conseil decision of 1771 (demanded by the Opéra) banned singing, dancing, and having more than 4 musicians aroused such emotion that it was revoked only a few days later, and Audinot took full advantage of the situation. Judging, in 1772, that the time was right to extend the building, he gave up puppetry altogether, replacing them entirely with child-performers. Not entirely released from the ties which had brought about his rise in the large theatres, from 1780 he had to pay the Opéra a fee for representation and to engage him but not use him, in producing ballets and lyric pieces borrowed for that scene, whose shows had at least 10 years of publicity. The Comédie-Française and the Comédie-Italienne stipulated, for their part, that dialogue pieces in the repertoire would be submitted to them before being played, so they could edit and change them to their own advantage.

Despite these problems and burdens, the Ambigu was able to rebuild and enlarge its theatre in 1786. Audinot sustained the fashion for "pantomimes historiques and "pantomimes romanesques" such as "Belle au bois dormant", "Masque de fer", "Forêt-Noire", and "Capitaine Cook". The Ambigu's success was equally down to the "comédies graveleuses" written by its official writers Plainchesne and Moline. Bachaumont even noted in 1771 that Audinot's theatre was better attended than the Opéra.

1791 to 1900

The proclamation of the freedom of the theatres in 1791 gave rise to a large number of rivals to the Ambigu, which was forced to close in 1799. In 1801, he inaugurated a melodrama with Guilbert de Pixérécourt, Caigniez and Victor Ducange.

The Ambigu's building burned down in 1827 and was rebuilt to plans by Jacques Ignace Hittorff and Jean-François-Joseph Lecointe on the boulevard Saint-Martin, at the corner of rue de Bondy (now rue René-Boulanger). The 19th century saw the Ambigu's success augmented, so much so that its grand spectacles, dramas, melodramas, "pièces de boulevard" and vaudeville shows remain the most faithful representation of the dramatic traditions of what is called "the boulevard of crime" ("le boulevard du crime").

20th century

In the 1920s, the building was briefly turned into a cinema. In 1954, the comedian Christian Casadesus reopened the Théâtre de l'Ambigu, and plays were staged there once again, by contemporary authors such as François Billetdoux and Roger Vitrac. In 1966, despite several demonstrations and a spectacular parade by the whole theatrical profession, the theatre was closed for good and demolished. The department of André Malraux, minister of culture, promised that the auditorium, then the whole building, would be preserved, when demolition works had already begun.

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