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Jean Vilar

1912 : born in Sète, Southern France.

1932 : arrives in Paris to study for "licence de lettres" (B.A. in French Literature) at the Sorbonne University.

Until 1937, Vilar attends the Charles Dullin classes at the theatre, l'Atelier in Montmartre.

1941 : He joins the "Comédiens de la Roulotte" company, founded by André Clavé and linked to the "Jeune France Movement".

1943 : He leaves La Roulotte to establish the Compagnie des Sept.

1947 : Jean Vilar organises "Une Semaine d'Art dramatique en Avignon" (A Week of Dramatic Art in Avignon), which will become the Avignon Festival one year later.
He directs Richard II by Shakespeare in the Cour d'Honneur of the Popes' Palace.

1951 : Vilar is appointed Director of the Théâtre du Palais de Chaillot in Paris, and restores its original name given by Gémier in 1920 : Théâtre National Populaire.

Publication of the Petit manifeste de Suresnes (The Little Manifesto of Suresnes), where he exposed his vision of a popular theatre. Performances of Corneille's Le Cid and Kleist's Prince of Homburg in Avignon with Gérard Philipe. He also stages a new production of Brecht's Mother Courage.

1953 : Jean Vilar becomes the target of a smear campaign started by conservative critics and some politicians. It is rumoured that Antoine Pinay is about to close the theater. Vilar is charged with embezzling funds, and is criticised for staging Brecht, seen as a Communist, and Pichette, considered to be too avant-gardist, as well as Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral - a foreign work. La Mort de Danton, by Büchner is almost banned by the Minister of Culture and criticized by the CGT (left-wing trade union) and the French Communist Party  who considered that Büchner favours Danton over Robespierre. He then writes an essay "Le théâtre, service public "(The theatre, a public service).

1959 : André Malraux allocates a second auditorium to the TNP, the Théâtre Récamier, a venue dedicated to introducecontemporary writers first works.

1960 : A first production of the Résistible ascension d'Arturo Ui by Brecht - within the context of the Algerian War : at the same time General Salan launches a movement for French Algeria and 121 academics sign a manifesto called "Sur le droit à l'insoumission dans la guerre d'Algérie" (To claim the right to draft-dodging during the Algerian War) - is met with uproar and the TNP is now seen to be a strongly committed theatre.

1963 : Jean Vilar gives up his post as Director of the TNP, hands over to Georges Wilson, but maintains his post at the head of the Avignon Festival.

1968 : After the speech of General de Gaulle on 30th May, Jean Vilar informs André Malraux the Minister of Culture that he will not accept any official function. The TNP declines to take part in the Festival, Maurice Béjart is the only one to perform in the Cour d'Honneur. After riots break out, the Living Theatre leaves Avignon.

1971 : Death of Jean Vilar. Paul Puaux succeeds him as the Avignon Festival Director.


Marie-Agnès Joubert
In La Scene n° 9 dec. 2000.
www.lascene.com

© Agnès Varda - Enguerand