Michel Jacques Saint-Denis



  • (1897 - 1971) French actor and director, who founded theCompagnie des Quinze in Paris, the London Theatre Studio, the CentreDramatique de l'Est in Strasbourg, and the Bilingual National TheatreSchool of Canada in Montreal.

    Saint-Denis began his acting career under his uncle JacquesCopeau (1879 - 1949) at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier.In 1930 he founded the Compagnie des Quinze from his uncle's troupe,which made its debut the following year with André Obey's LeViol de Lucrèce, Noé, and La Bataille de la Marne,all of which Saint-Denis directed. Although the company achieved ahigh reputation in Paris and London, it disbanded in 1934.

    In 1936 Saint-Denis founded the London Theatre Studio to trainyoung actors, but it closed three years later at the outbreak of WorldWar II. In 1937 he directed Laurence Olivier and Judith Andersonin Macbeth at the Old Vic. Fulfilling the curse of the ScottishPlay, Saint-Denis narrowly escaped death in a taxi accident,Olivier was nearly crushed by a falling sandbag on stage, and LilianBaylis, the theater's manager, died on the eve of the opening night.Nevertheless, Olivier said he had had immediate faith in Saint-Denis:"I'll believe in you, boy. Whatever you say, I'll believe inyou."

    During the war Saint-Denis headed the French section of theBBC under the name of Jacques Duchesne, for which he was made an honoraryCBE. After the war he again directed at the Old Vic, becoming headof the theater's drama school (with George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw)in 1946. The drama school was closed in 1952 after a purge by theadministrator Llewellyn Rees (who also closed the Young Vic and firedOlivier and Ralph Richardson for being too interested in outside activities).

    Saint-Denis subsequently returned to France to establish theCentre Dramatique de l'Est in Strasbourg. In 1957 he became artisticadviser to the Vivian Beaumont Repertory Theatre Project at the LincolnCenter in New York and in 1962 joined Peter Hall at the Royal ShakespeareCompany as general artistic adviser. In 1960 he published Theatre:The Rediscovery of Style, on the subject of training for the stage.