ISSN 2451-2966


Piotr Olkusz

The Pope’s New Clothes: Jean Vilar’s Lay Religion and Popular Theatre


It is no accident that the return of questions concerning popular theatre coincided with debates triggered by the celebrations of 250 years of public theatre in Poland. Ought the public theatre of today model itself on the tradition of the  Comédie-Française – or should it look up to the idea of the théâtre populaire instead? Who should this type of theatre serve: artists or audiences? Should it be overtly political and cause controversy, or should its foremost task be the formation of a broad community? The fortunes of French popular theatre refer us back to its quasi-religious aims – which,  however, were being born in an increasingly secular society, as if theatre was to become the universal religion of the new republic. In analysing the actions of Jean Vilar, and the conceptions he proposed, we may argue that he regarded popular theatre not just as an 'audience's theatre', but also 'a theatre of the state'. The festival in Avignon and the Théâtre National Populaire performances were, in a way, celebrations of the values shared by those populating the republic. Despite their frequently professed political ambition, their revolutionary nature was limited.


Festival d’Avignon; popular theatre; public theatre; Jean Vilar; Théâtre National Populaire

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Piotr Olkusz

graduated Roman philology and cultural studies (he specialized in theatre) programmes at the University of Łódż, where he also defended his doctoral dissertation on French theatre. He works as assistant professor in the Chair of Drama and Theatre of the University of Łódż; editor of the journal Dialog, responsible for its international section; collaborates with He was a scholarship holder at institutions including the French government and the National Science Centre. He has published articles on the history of theatre and problems of contemporary staging, contemporary drama and influence of institutional factors on aesthetics of productions, in journals such as Dialog, Pamiętnik Teatralny and Didaskalia, and in Polish and international essay collections. He has translated French literary works (from Maurice Maeterlinck and Romain Rolland to contemporary authors) and texts on literary theory and theatre.