Théâtre à la Table: The Paradoxical Proximity of the Comédie-Française’s YouTube Series 

Macs Smith


Following the second closure of theatres in France due to Covid-19 in October 2020, the Comédie-Française launched a weekly YouTube series of staged readings entitled Théâtre à la table. In each video, members of the troupe perform a text after five days of rehearsal. These videos were remarkably successful, each attracting tens of thousands of viewers from around the world. The director of the Comédie-Française, Eric Ruf, attributed that success to the feeling of proximity generated by the staged readings. In this paper, I propose to examine this paradoxical feeling of proximity and how it was generated. The paper will consider the “as-live” recording of the performances, the staged reading format and the artificial rehearsal constraint, and the way YouTube as a platform fosters identification between viewer and performer. What formal choices allowed these technologically-mediated performances to generate a feeling of immediacy that, in Ruf’s view, was stronger than what some spectators would feel in the theatre itself? What do these unpolished performances accomplish that recordings or livestreams of fully-produced stage shows do not? Noting that one of the “texts” performed for Théâtre à la table was a transcript of Delphine Seyrig’s documentary film, Sois belle et tais-toi, the paper will also explore how the Comédie-Française’s entrée into digitally-mediated performance connects to the institution’s increasing openness to cinematic tools and texts (its 2016 addition of a screenplay to the official repertoire, its deployment of cameras and screens in mise-en-scène, its participation in Christophe Honoré’s 2021 backstage film Guermantes).


Macs Smith is a Career Development Fellow in French at Queen’s College, Oxford. His research concerns the intersection of media theory and the body. His first book, Paris and the Parasite, uses the figure of the parasite to examine how marginalised people, nonhuman life, and noise have been pathologized in French urbanism. He is currently starting a book project on the relationship between new media and changing attitudes towards the body in contemporary French theatre.