Jean Vilar
and the Théâtre National Populaire

Acte II

In 1951, when Jean Vilar was appointed director of the Théâtre du Palais de Chaillot, he lost no time in reinstating its original name of Théâtre National Populaire.

Over a period of 12 years he built a space and pioneered an approach which put the audience at the centre of his reflections about inclusive culture.

This included changing the times of performances to allow the public to go home earlier to get up for work the next day, the offer of a light meal before a performance, leaflets presenting the play and the actors, a salary for the ushers, publication of the complete texts at a modest price (Collection du Répertoire), discussions with the public, the development of an overall aesthetic with the graphic artist Jacno, and a monthly publication, Bref.

Although he focused mainly on the classics, Jean Vilar also proposed an innovative programme with modern texts (Brecht, Claudel, Pichette, Gatti…), and invited prominent artists on stage: actors (Gérard Philipe, Georges Wilson, Maurice Garrel, Jean-Pierre Darras, Jeanne Moreau…), visual artists (Alexandre Calder, Édouard Pignon, Léon Gischia,…) or musician Maurice Jarre…

He had a tough battle with the traditionalism of some critics and upper-class society. However, the public were won over and flocked in ever increasing numbers to the performances.

This is an uphill struggle and one day it will come to an end.” Jean Vilar did not renew his contract in 1963, concentrating instead on directing the Festival d’Avignon which he had created in 1947.