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The Spirit in the Little Theatre (1917)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2024

Jacques Copeau*
Founder, Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, Paris


Ladies and Gentlemen,

[It] may be that never before in my life have I had to meet such a trial as I am undergoing today.

Copyright © The Authors, 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Society for Theatre Research, Inc.

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This speech has been transcribed, with minor edits for clarity only, by J. Ellen Gainor and John Un from the previously unpublished, partially handwritten, and partially typed manuscript of the speech, “The Spirit in the Little Theatre—Washington Square Players,” 1917, Jacques Copeau Collection, Department of Performing Arts, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), 4-COL-1(457). Reproduced with the permission of the BnF. The archive also holds a manuscript version of the lecture in French, which appears to be solely in Copeau's handwriting, and which appears to have served as the source for the 1954 published version, discussed in our preceding essay.



1 Here and elsewhere, we have retained the sporadic UK (as well as US) spellings as they appeared, inconsistently, in Copeau's manuscript.

2 That is, the insincere production style afflicting the commercial stage with tawdry acting, writing, and design. See our preceding essay for a discussion of this term.

3 The first handwritten section ends here, and the typed section, with handwritten emendations, follows.

4 Copeau appears to have used slash marks to indicate pauses for oral delivery.

5 Copeau speaks not of the Little Theatre movement (fl. 1912–25), but rather of little and alternative theatres around the world.

6 Famed Italian actress, 1858–1924. See also note 31 in our preceding essay.

7 Probably an inadvertent translation error from “petits” for “little,” as in “little theatre[s],” which he uses elsewhere.

8 Copeau's Journal provides more evidence indicating the identity of the actress, Susan Glaspell of the Provincetown Players. He notes there that he saw her on 4 April 1917. For more details, see our preceding essay.

9 The typed section ends here, and the original handwriting resumes at this point.

10 A new hand commences here.

11 Copeau may also be suggesting a haughty, “grande dame” actress who is calling our attention to her technique—her ability to convey simplicity.

12 The original handwriting resumes at this point.

13 Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966) and Adolphe Appia (1862–1928)—early pioneering theorists of modernist scenic design.