Jean-Baptiste Nicolet (1710-1796) and his company performed here from 1760. As a stallholder’s son, puppeteer himself, he started in a little shack at Saint-Laurent fairs (current 10th arrondissement).
From August to September, it was the biggest meeting place for fair artists! Our Jean-Baptiste performed animals training and tightrope walker acts. Whoa, amazing! One of Jean’s artists danced on a rope with eggs tied under his feet, without breaking them!
But enough was enough! He raised a small theatre, the Nicolet auditorium. But the construction wasn’t easy, because of the soil’s irregularity, of the medieval rampart which used to be here… and because of a sewer.
Then in 1772, it was the ultimate test: a performance in Choisy castle, near Paris, in front of the court. The company won their bet! Louis XV’s mistress, Mrs du Barry, adored them.
Jean-Baptiste was even allowed to name his Parisian theatre "théâtre des Grands Danseurs du Roi"! When the Revolution came, they named it theatre de la Gaité… In short! Jean-Baptiste’s shows, in la Gaité, became very popular: bawdy plays, arlequinades...
The other King’s actors were soon jealous of Nicolet’s troop success. What about their privilege to take the name of king’s dancers? They forbade Nicolet’s company to speak and sing.
But our Jean-Baptiste didn’t let things get them down! His success increased when he started to perform mime shows. You know what? The Parisian smart set turned up to see the shows performed by Turco, the monkey.
The book Nouvelle biographie générale, volume 37 to 38 (Firmin-Didot, 1863), says that the Parisians’ favourite actor, Molé from the Comédie-Française, fell ill. The upper crust panicked, worried.
Jean-Baptiste took advantage of these outbursts (ridiculous, according to him) and laughed at him: he bunged a nightcap, a bathrobe and slippers to his monkey, and made it take the part of the sick actor who complained and coughed. Well, Parisians laughed fit to burst!