Parisian fair theater

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Open-air show at the Saint-Germain fair

Parisian fair theater (French Théâtre de la foire ) is the name of a spectrum of entertainment events in Paris since the 17th century, which included theatrical parodies , puppet theater , artistry , pantomime , vaudeville and later the opéra-comique (cf. Volkstheater ).

These events had their seasonal and local center in the fairs of Saint-Germain, Saint-Laurent and later Saint-Ovide. They were the origin of all continental European forms of theater that did not originate from court theaters, but from entrepreneurship of the third estate . This importance has to do with the number of visitors: Paris, the largest European city, already exceeded the limit of 500,000 inhabitants in the 18th century, while Vienna , the largest city in German-speaking countries, only had 200,000 inhabitants around 1790.

Fair theaters have always been a symbol of individual (and private-sector) resistance to the established, aristocratic- run theaters of the city and court, which fought their competition.

Saint Germain

The Saint-Germain fair

The fair is first mentioned around 1176 and was held around the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abbey . It usually lasted three to five weeks around Easter. It has been open from February 3rd to Palm Sunday since the 18th century . Textiles and dishes of better quality were sold, but no weapons or books. The fair lasted until 1789, when it became the property of the city during the French Revolution . In 1818 it was reopened as a municipal market. The fair has been around since its revival in 1978.

The first known comedians to produce themselves at this fair were Jean Courtin and Nicolas Poteau, who in 1595 won a lawsuit against the troops of the Hôtel de Bourgogne , who insisted on their privilege . André Soliel and Isabel Le Gendre had a similar success in 1618. Later puppeteers, tightrope walkers, floor acrobats and animal tamers showed up at the fair. In 1696 four small theaters with about 100 seats each were built.

After 1700 there was a literarization, also a politicization of the fair theater. More and more operas and plays were performed that mocked well-known courtly theater events. Writers like Alain Lesage and Louis Fuzelier wrote for the fair theater.


Performance in Saint-Laurent

The Saint-Laurent fair had existed since 1344 in the Enclos Saint-Laurent between the church of the same name and today's Ostbahnhof ( Gare de l'Est ). In the 18th century it was held from August 9th to September 29th.

The Saint-Laurent fair was a meeting place for craftsmen, traders and bourgeois customers in the open air, while the covered fair Saint-Germain served more as a shopping center for luxury goods such as jewelry or china.

Many artists and theater companies from the Saint-Germain fair also performed here, because one fair was held in spring and the other in summer. As the theater scene expanded, Saint-Germain's theater productions resumed in Saint-Laurent.


Saint-Ovide booths

The Saint-Ovide Fair has been held on Place Louis XIV (now Place Vendôme ) since 1764 and moved to Place Louis XV (now Place de la Concorde ) in 1772 . Despite its small size, it was an important competition from Saint-Laurent, which took place around the same time (around August 15 to September 15).

In 1777 the stalls were destroyed by fire.


The comedian Tabarin , who was very successful at the beginning of the 17th century, was declared an enemy by the French Classics , so that a rivalry between popular and courtly performances developed. The artistic performances of the 17th century increasingly turned into small comedies and thus a market for talented writers and composers.

Prohibitions and their circumvention

Since the expulsion of the Italian comedians from Paris by Louis XIV in 1697 , new forms of French theater emerged. The professionalization of the fairground spectacles worried even the Comédie-Française , which began to see dangerous competition in them. Due to various lawsuits that she led against the fairground comedians, in 1707 she achieved the famous ban on "pièces dialoguées" at the fair, a general ban on (French) stage dialogues from which the silent pantomime emerged .

The skill with which this prohibition was circumvented gave rise to new forms of theater, such as plays that consisted exclusively of monologues . Later on, gibberish was invented ( Pendao le medicinao!: Pendons le médecin: “let's hang the doctor”) in order not to violate the Comédie-Française's sole claim to the French language. Finally, intermediate texts were also shown with the help of signs and rolls of paper. In order to circumvent the ban on singing on stage, the audience was encouraged to sing. The Paris police commissioner Ményer describes this around 1718 as follows:

... The first act is played by the actors as well as the audience. Boards appear from above, on which the piece being played is written in vaudeville style as text to familiar melodies. The actors pantomime what is written on the signs and the audience sing the text. In between, to connect the couplets, the performers say a few words, and when the signs are lowered, four violins, a bass and an oboe play the melody to which the next text is sung.

In this way, the Comédie-Française could no longer take action against successful productions. The Paris Opera, on the other hand, already had the sole right to perform singing and ballet performances throughout the French kingdom, and therefore did not have to strive for any prohibitions. The directors of the opera, however, tried to improve their income by selling theater entrepreneurs the right to musical spectacles at the fairs. This is how the genre of the opéra-comique came into being in 1714 .

But with the growing success of the fair productions, the opera also increased the license fees and got the free entrepreneurs in trouble. In turn, the Comédie-Française took advantage of this by achieving a general ban on performances at fairs with the exception of puppet shows and tightrope walking in 1719.

Opera performances

In 1716, after the death of the Sun King, who had expelled the Italians, the regent Philippe II founded the Comédie-Italienne , later the Théâtre-Italy : it played at the Saint-Laurent fair from 1721–1723 without any notable success.

The merchant Maurice Honoré was able to acquire the renewed right to opera performances in 1724. Other licensees followed him. The most important representative of the fair theater Charles-Simon Favart valued the Opéra-comique through his poetic and entrepreneurial achievements, so that in 1762 it was the first originally bourgeois theater genre to find its way into the royal Théâtre-Italy.

The genre of the opera parody that arose at the annual markets had an influence far beyond the French borders, including the old Viennese Volkstheater . Favart's wife Marie Duronceray, for example, in her famous parody of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Le devin du village entitled Les Amours de Bastien et Bastienne (1753) portrayed the tender country girl realistically with clogs and dialect. The significance of a serious opera could be measured by how often it was parodied at the annual fairs.

More performances

In addition to theater and opera performances, there were also circus-like performances at the fairs, displays of abnormalities in cabinets of curiosities , traveling menageries, etc. Since the end of the 18th century, the events have shifted more and more to the venues on the Parisian boulevards, mainly on the Boulevard du Temple .


  • Émile Campardon: Les spectacles de la foire. 2 volumes. Berger-Levrault, Paris 1877.
  • André Degaine: Histoire du Théâtre dessinée. De la Préhistoire à nos Jours tous les Temps et tous les Pays. Nizet, Paris 1992. ISBN 2-7078-1161-0
  • Michel Faul: Les Tribulations de Nicolas-Médard Audinot, fondateur du théâtre de l'Ambigu-Comique, Symétrie, Lyon, 2013. ISBN 978-2-914373-97-5
  • Isabelle Martin: Le théâtre de la Foire. Des tréteaux aux boulevards (= SVEC 2002, 10). Voltaire Foundation, Oxford 2002. ISBN 0-7294-0797-7

Web links