Michel Saint-Denis

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Michel Jacques Saint-Denis
Born(1897-09-13)13 September 1897
Died31 July 1971(1971-07-31) (aged 73)
Other namesJacques Duchesne
OccupationActor, theater director, drama theorist

Michel Jacques Saint-Denis (13 September 1897 – 31 July 1971), dit Jacques Duchesne, was a French actor, theater director, and drama theorist whose ideas on actor training have had a profound influence on the development of European theater from the 1930s on.

Life and career[edit]

Saint-Denis was born in Beauvais, the nephew of Jacques Copeau, who had founded the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in 1913. Saint-Denis was exposed to theater early in his life. He joined Copeau's troupe in 1919, after their return from New York City, where they had performed for two years. Saint-Denis was greatly influenced by Copeau's approach to theater taught at his Ecole du Vieux-Colombier, which embraced not only the play on stage but also the actor training itself. He soon became Copeau's right-hand man, like Charles Dullin or Louis Jouvet before him. Together with other members of the troupe of the Vieux-Colombier, he followed his uncle to Burgundy in 1924, where they formed a new troupe that would become famous as les Copiaus.

In 1929, Michel Saint-Denis together with some other members of the Copiaus and with the help of Copeau, moved to Paris and set up the Compagnie des Quinze, transporting Copeau's teachings on international stages to wide acclaim. In 1935, he accepted an invitation to London, where he founded the London Theatre Studio, together with George Devine and Marius Goring, an actor school where he introduced Copeau's and his own concepts from his earlier experience in France. Working together with established actors like Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, Michael Redgrave, John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier, he soon became known as a renowned director. At one time, he also co-directed the Royal Shakespeare Company.[1]

During World War II, he directed the French programme of the BBC, Radio Londres, under the pseudonym of "Jacques Duchesne". After the war, Saint-Denis founded a new theater school at the damaged Old Vic that existed from 1947 to 1952.

In 1952, Saint-Denis accepted a call by the Centre Dramatique de l'Est first at Colmar, and then—since 1953—at Strasbourg, where he founded the Ecole Supérieure d'Art Dramatique at the Théâtre national.[2] After his retirement for health reasons in 1957, he taught at the Juilliard School in New York, where he instituted the Juilliard Drama School, and served as an advisor to the National Theatre School of Canada. In 1961 he was named artistic advisor at the new Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 1966 he appeared as a storyteller on the BBC children's programme Jackanory narrating in five episodes.


Having suffered from health problems for a long time, Michel Saint-Denis died in Westminster from a stroke, aged 73.[3]



Year Title Role Notes
1936 Secret Agent Coachman Film debut, uncredited
1962 A Man Alone Himself Final film


Year Title Notes
1939 Twelfth Night TV, Movie
1951 The Black Arrow TV, Serial


Year Title Notes
1939 Twelfth Night TV, Movie

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Saint-Denis, M.: Theatre, a Rediscovery of Style; New York, Theatre Arts Books; 1963.
  • Saint-Denis, M.: Training for the Theatre: premises and promises, New York, Theatre Arts Books; 1982.


Main reference:

  • Gourmel, J.-B.: Michel Saint-Denis; in French. Abstract of a thesis. URL last accessed July 18, 2006.

Other references:

  1. ^ British Library: The Michel Saint-Denis Archive. URL last accessed July 18, 2006.
  2. ^ Théâtre National de Strasbourg: Les directeurs du TNS depuis sa création Archived 2006-11-16 at the Wayback Machine. In French. URL last accessed July 18, 2006.
  3. ^ “SAINT-DENIS Michel Jacques / 13Se1897 / Westminster 5e 1819” in General Index to Deaths in England and Wales (1971)

Further reading[edit]

  • Baldwin, J.: Michel Saint-Denis and the Shaping of the Modern Actor; Greenwood Publishing Group 2003. ISBN 0-313-30566-8.

External links[edit]