National News

Micheline Rozan, Hidden Force Behind a Theater Master, Dies at 89

Posted September 19, 2018 9:25 p.m. EDT

Micheline Rozan, a behind-the-scenes force who helped director Peter Brook found the renowned International Center for Theater Research in Paris and produced many of its trailblazing productions, died Sept. 7 in Paris. She was 89.

The Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, the historic Paris theater where Brook and Rozan set up shop in the 1970s, announced her death on its Facebook page. The cause was not given.

To a large extent, from 1970 on, it was Rozan who enabled Brook, one of the 20th century’s greatest theater directors, to follow his creative instincts wherever they led. She found the money, ironed out the logistics and ran the interference necessary to allow him to stage memorable works like “The Mahabharata,” a nine-hour epic based on a Hindu poem, and “La Tragédie de Carmen,” a version of the Bizet opera that played Broadway in 1983.

“Micheline lives and functions game by game,” Brook wrote in “Threads of Time: Recollections,” his 1998 memoir. “Impatient and sharply intelligent, she is bored by long-term planning, and even success is not particularly rewarding. But she is like a general: Give her a crisis or even a disaster and at once her very best qualities come into play. Whether the problem comes from human friction, lack of funding or illness, a simple phone call and she is on the spot, mobilized, mobilizing, finding solutions.”

Rozan was born on Sept. 11, 1928, in Paris. Her family was of Jewish heritage but had converted to Roman Catholicism. Yet they were detained during World War II and her father died in Auschwitz, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Rozan learned the ins and outs of theater working under Jean Vilar when he ran the Théâtre National Populaire in Paris in the mid-1950s. She then became an agent, representing actors like Jeanne Moreau.

In his book, Brook recalled his first encounter with Rozan. In 1956 he had staged Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Antoine Theater in Paris with Moreau as Maggie, to a mixed reception. Simone Berriau, the theater’s artistic director, nonetheless asked him to return to direct Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge,” which he had staged in London.

“I was very reluctant to repeat work that was already in the past, and despite all the emotional pressure she brought, I refused,” Brook wrote. “Then a forceful young woman who was just beginning her career as an agent came to see me in my Paris hotel. ‘Don’t be under any illusion,’ she began bluntly. ‘Your work hasn’t made a good impression here. If you want to work again in Paris, do “A View From the Bridge.” It can’t fail to be a big hit.’ Her name was Micheline Rozan, and her frankness so impressed me that I listened.”

Throughout the 1960s Rozan continued to work as an agent and producer in her own right, including serving as a producer of “The Immortal Story,” a 1968 film directed for French television by Orson Welles and starring him and Moreau.

In 1970, though, Rozan and Brook formally joined forces in creating the International Center for Theater Research, which sought not only to stage productions but also to inquire into the purposes of theater and how best to achieve them.

For the first few years the theater group traveled internationally, but Brook and Rozan then began to search for a permanent home. In his book, Brook said it was Rozan who first heard about the Bouffes du Nord, which opened in the 1870s but had fallen into disrepair and was boarded up.

“So one day she and I crawled through a hoarding on hands and knees,” he wrote, “and when we stood up, we found ourselves contemplating a forgotten, battered shell within which was a space that fulfilled all the requirements.”

“The minister of culture at the time told us it would take two years and a vast budget to reopen it,” he continued. “'Very well,’ said Micheline, ‘we will do the minimum in three months for a quarter of the sum.'”

Overseeing the restoration, Rozan often grew exasperated as the date for their opening approached, Brook wrote.

“One day I saw her hurl a plank across the scarred concrete floor of the theater in anger and frustration over some postponement,” he wrote. “But she kept her promise, and right on the dot this theater that would become renowned for its uncomfortable seats but loved for its ruined splendor was ready to open with ‘Timon of Athens.'”

That was in 1974. Among their many collaborations since, “Carmen” — Brook’s first foray into opera in years — was one of the most challenging, especially in the casting.

“We had to fly people in and out of Paris from everywhere,” Rozan recalled in a 1983 interview with The New York Times, partly because of the technical demands on the singers and partly because they needed performers who were open to experimentation and could adapt to Brook’s unconventional methods.

Rozan was a producer on a 1983 film version of the work as well. Two years later came “The Mahabharata,” which went on to tour the United States. In October 1987 it was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Rozan and Brook both stepped down from the Bouffes du Nord in 2010, though Brook has continued to work with the theater.

Information about Rozan’s survivors was not immediately available. In “Peter Brook: A Biography” (2014), author Michael Kustow quotes writer and actor Jean-Claude Carrière, another frequent Brook collaborator, on the relationship between the director and Rozan.

“He could never have done what he has without her,” Carrière said. “She didn’t always like Peter’s shows, but she’s been miraculously well placed to help him, and together they made a moment of theater history.”