In 1875 he became a paid claqueur at the ComédieComedie FrançaiseFrancaise in Paris; presently he was employed there as a supernumerary, took evening classes in diction and recitation, and staged student productions, but he was denied admission to the acting course at the Conservatoire. In 1887 he organized the ThéâtreTheatre Libre for the purpose of producing new plays.
With the ThéâtreTheatre Libre, Antoine achieved distinction as a character actor, director, and manager, discovering new playwrights such as EugèneEugene Brieux, Georges de Porto-Riche, and FrançoisFrancois de Curel and introducing the masterpieces of European realistic drama to the French public. Although disinclined to commit himself exclusively to the naturalistic dramatists of the school of Zola, he was nevertheless the first to produce their works. Influenced by the Meiningen Company, which was famous for its realistic settings and mob scenes, he became an advocate of its techniques and carried stage realism further than anyone before him. He banished conventional painted backdrops and built solid, authentic scenery; employed lighting from above instead of footlights; stressed the playing of all roles in character, with natural speech and gestures; allowed the actor to turn his back to the audience when occasion arose; and abolished the actor's practice of stepping out of the stage background, posing for the audience, and making tableaux.
After losing control of the ThéâtreTheatre Libre, Antoine established the ThéâtreTheatre Antoine in 1897 and in 1906 moved to the state-subsidized Odéon.Odeon. He resigned from the OdéonOdeon shortly before the outbreak of World War I, but continued to influence the French theater as a drama critic.