27 July 2020

Jacques Copeau in Pernand-Vergelesses (Côte-d'Or (21))

Jacques Copeau (1879-1949) was born in Paris and died in Beaune. He is a major figure in the French intellectual and cultural world, particularly in the theatre. He was a theatre critic for several Parisian papers, and was one of the founders of La Nouvelle Revue Française in 1908, with André Gide and Jean Schlumberger. He founded Le Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in 1913, which he directed for several years. Camus said that in the history of French theatre there are two periods: before and after Copeau.

Copeau wanted to establish L'École du Vieux-Colombier in Burgundy, although financial constraints forced him to compromise to some extent. Copeau's troupe (named 'Les Copiaus') ended up in Pernand-Vergelesses, near Beaune, and the troupe even took part in argicultural work (including in he vineyards). From May 1925 Les Copiaus played Molière and plays written for them by Copeau. However, Copeau's control weakened and by June  1929 Les Copiaus had become a new troupe: La Compagnie des Quinze, which returned to Paris and put on Noé by André Obey under the direction of Michel Saint-Denis.

In conflict with the Vichy régime and the Germans, Copeau retired to Pernand-Vergelesses in 1941, where he wrote Le Théâtre populaire (1941), which influenced the ideas of Jean Vilar. Ill since several years, Copeau died in Beaune in 1949

The building where Copeau, from 1924 to 1929, installed himself and worked with his troupe, nicknamed 'Les Copiaus' (here given an 'x' instead of an 's').

Another sign on the building (with the more conventional 's') states that members of the troupe lodged with the locals in Pernand-Vergelesses, and that their names are mentioned on the houses with a logo of two doves.

Michel Saint-Denis (1897-1971), known as 'Jacques Duchesne' in World War II, was an actor and producer. He was Jacques Copeau's nephew and secrétaire général of the theatre, becoming Copeau's right-hand man. He followed Copeau to Pernand-Vergelesses in 1924,  and led La troupe des Copiaus, which in 1929 became La Compagnie des Quinze in Paris. It acquired an international dimension, spreading his uncle's ideas on the renewal of the theatre.

Jacques Copeau is buried in the small cemetery in Pernand-Vergelesses.

At the top of his stone is the symbol of two doves.

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