All about Claque and Claquers in French Theatre
A claque represents a systematic body of professional applauders in French opera houses and theatres. The members of a claque are known as ‘claquers.’ In classical times, it was common to hire people to applaud dramatic performances. The word “claque” was acquired from the 16th-century French term “claquers,” that meant ‘to clap’. Individual members of the claque are referred to as a claqueur, and they were established basically through a significant window in the 19th and 20th century.
A 16th-century poet, Jean Daurat, was the first individual to expand the idea of making people cheer for his performances. He enlisted a bunch of friends to help his fan-following by giving free tickets to his plays, and in return, they had to cheer at the right times. From here, claquers gained popularity with playwrights, aspiring actors who wished to make a name for themselves, and the theatres decided to capitalize on this trend. In 1820 a professional claque service was started, the first in the world. This was almost closest to the one that was done by the poet in the mid-18th century where he used his friends to applaud for him. However, there is no evidence of this occurrence where Dorat allowed his friends for free into his shows and received applause.
In 1820 claques experienced serious systematization and this was when an agency in Paris opened to supply and manage claquers. By 1830, the claque became an institution. Thus, a theatre manager or an opera house manager would send an order for the number of claquers for a show. Now, these claquers were sent under a chef de claque, who was an expert in judging the efforts of the claquers. His work was to consider the claquers services and to initiate their approval. This took several forms where, Commissaries who would call the neighbors attention for its good points during the acts. Pleureurs were mostly women, who feigned tears and they held their handkerchiefs to their eyes, while Rieurs laughed loudly at jokes. Chatouilleurs were the ones who kept the audience in good humor, and bisseurs work was plain clapping.
As expected it did not take much time for people to understand that they too could work as claquers and supplement their income. In fact, they started threatening the theatres or actors to pay them and would literally turn up at each performance to create a catastrophe. This led to a secondary industry of claquers who extorted money in return so that the audiences stayed in favor of the performers. Professional claquers were popular up to the early 20th century, and their work became a bizarre sort of performance. This was because for instance, the women were made to sit in the front row and they were paid to faint, and the men were to rush heroically to their support at the crescendo of a performance. Usually, these neo-claquers were the aspiring actors who had an eye for free tickets to plays.