One of Paris's most overlooked, but best sources of entertainment for expats and tourists is the city's booming theatre scene. While the locals flock to the 300 or so venues, they are largely un-visited by tourists and expats because one of the main requirements for a visit is a good knowledge of French.
At least that's what Carl de Poncins says. He quit his job as the marketing director of a multinational company last year to focus on making theatre accessible for English speakers by introducing surtitles (yes, surtitles – they're on top of the stage, not below).
“Tourists are bored during the evenings in Paris,” he tells The Local.
“They've already walked around all day, checked out the Louvre, visited Versailles, climbed the Eiffel Tower… and then what do they do at night? Cabaret? Frankly, that's a pity.”
De Poncins is the co-founder of the company Theatre in Paris, which has been tearing down language and cultural barriers in an attempt to get non-French speakers into theatres.
Customers get premium treatment, including the seats with most advantageous view, a “dedicated host” to seat them, and often the chance to meet the cast afterwards.
(Co-founder Carl de Poncins. Photo: Theatreinparis.com)
And it's going well for the company, says De Poncins, with the locals even giving it the thumbs up.
“Some French theatre goers have told us they'd appreciate surtitles in French. Sometimes the language can be almost too quick to understand – even for the French,” he laughs.
De Poncins himself is from Normandy, northern France, but considers himself a serial expat after living in the UK, Germany, Italy, and even Zimbabwe.
He says it was another expat from Australia who was the catalyst for bringing the idea to Paris after he complained to De Poncins about the “forbidden Paris” that was only available to French speakers.
De Poncins realized that the theatres, at least, could be made more accessible after he saw similar operations in Germany.
So what next for the surtitles?
De Poncins has grand plans to take French shows on the road, along with English surtitles meaning that people in a host of countries are able to watch some genuine Paris theatre. More immediately, the company will add the oak-carved Ranelagh theatre, in the chic 16th arrondissement, to its list of venues next month. It's one of the “most breath-taking theatres in the country”, De Poncins says.
But for now, the Frenchman has a lot on his plate.
“When people think evening entertainment in Paris they think cabaret. There are six cabaret clubs in Paris and 300 theatres. We have a lot of work to do.”