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Farewell Ubu
 
Françoise Kourilsky has closed down the Ubu Repertory Theater nearly twenty years after she created it. Here is a tribute to her adventure.


On 17 May 2001, the Institut français/Alliance française in New York invited the public to an evening entitled ''Bravo Ubu'', a tribute to Françoise Kourilsky who founded the Ubu Repertory Theatre. Indeed, Françoise Kourilsky worked tirelessly and successfully at the task she set herself of promoting French-language plays in the capital of American theatre.
To achieve her goal Françoise Kourilsky implemented the quite simple idea of presenting plays in English translations, making it possible to reach non-French-speaking audiences. Her initiative was immediately supported by the French Ministry of Culture and was developed along several different lines. A theatre company and a translation-publishing department were created, all housed in the same venue where events in keeping with its mission statement were staged.
The Ubu Rep. Adventure began in New York in 1982 in a loft on Mercer Street in Soho. Readings, round table discussions, workshops and exhibitions were held there, while performances were held in well-disposed theatres. Thus, starting in 1982, Françoise Kourilsky staged the world premiere of Combat de nègre et de chiens by Bernard-Marie Koltès at the La MaMa Annex. Ubu also organised festivals, obtaining the cooperation of important New York cultural institutions such as the New York Public Library, Crossroads Theater, the Center for African Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, etc. In 1989, Ubu Repertory Theatre moved, inaugurating a 90-seat theatre on 28th street. The new space could handle more plays, and more workshops were developed with American schools and universities. Finally, a new company was created called the Ubu Bilingual Company.
During its nearly twenty years of existence, the Ubu Repertory Theatre presented works by all of the big names in French playwriting from around the world. A host of playwrights, from the Caribbean to Africa, Quebec and France, made the voyage to New York, and many more had their plays presented there. This diverse group of playwrights includes, among others, Jean Anouilh, Reine Bartève, Daniel Besnehard, Jean-Marie Besset, Denise Bonal, Michel-Marc Bouchard, Albert Camus, Aimé Césaire, Maryse Condé, Copi, Enzo Cormann, Michel Deutsch, René-Daniel Dubois, Marguerite Duras, Xavier Durringer, Fatima Gallaire, Jean-Claude Grumberg, Victor Haïm, Eugène Ionesco, Koffi Kwahulé, Sony Labou Tansi, Robert Pinget, Nathalie Sarraute, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Schwartz-Bart, Leïla Sebbar, Coline Serreau, Jean Tardieu, Tilly, Michel Tremblay, Anca Visdei, Jean-Paul Wenzel, Kateb Yacine, etc.
The Ubu Repertory Theatre promoted a total of a hundred and forty plays, sixty of which they staged. Over a hundred plays were translated and twelve anthologies published by the translating-publishing department. The prestigious translators working on these publications, overseen by Catherine Temerson, include Michael Feingold, Richard Miller, and Matthew Ward. And the work is not lost, because the TCG will continue to circulate the books, which are on consultation at the Bobst Library in New York as well as at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. And before turning the page let's not forget Ubu's most impressive achievement - that of promoting French playwriting in a city where it was mostly unknown, and of extending it further still, since some of the plays presented by Françoise Kourilsky were subsequently performed in other venues in the United States. So farewell, Ubu, and thank you.