French master showman of the shadow theatre or Ombres Chinoises. At the age of 23, Séraphin opened a theatre at the back of an inn in the Lannion Garden of Versailles. There, his “Ombres à scènes changeantes” (Shadows in changing scenery) were very successful both with the aristocrats and the common people. Asked to play for the Court three times a week during carnival, his presentations were awarded the title of “Shows for the Children of France”. Encouraged by this honour, he left Versailles in 1784 and settled in Paris in the newly completed galleries of the Palais-Royal. The venue became known as the Théâtre des Ombres Chinoises, and Séraphin’s popularity increased so that for a long time the name “Ombres Chinoises” was synonymous with all shadow shows.
Séraphin’s repertoire was varied and good-humoured in tone. Le Pont cassé (The Broken Bridge), Le Bois dangereux ou les Deux Voleurs (The Dangerous Wood, or the Two Thieves), Arlequin corsaire (Harlequin the Pirate), Le Cabriolet renversé (The Overturned Carriage), Les Caquets du matin (The Morning’s Prattle), all written by Dorvigny; or La Chasse aux canards (The Duck Hunt), Le Gagne-petit (literally, The Low Earner), L’Écrivain public (The Public Scribe), La Mort tragique du Mardi-Gras (The Tragic Death of Mardi-Gras), written by Guillemain; adaptations of fairy tales: Le Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb), Cendrillon (Cinderella); and myths such as L’Enlèvement de Proserpine (The Abduction of Proserpine) were enjoyed by all, until the Revolution.
The political changes then forced Séraphin to swear Republican allegiance. He presented La Démonseigneurisation (roughly, Bringing Down the Aristocrat, 1790), La Fédération nationale (The National Federation, 1793). The arrival of the new governance of the Consulate in 1799 freed him to return to his earlier repertoire. After his death, his descendants continued the Séraphin tradition until 1870, the theatre moving to the Passage Jouffroy in 1859.