‘Paris needs a home for English-language theatre’

As a UK troupe prepares to put on a festival of British theatre in Paris, there have been renewed calls for English-language productions to be given a permanent home amid the French capital's Gallic-dominated arts scene.

'Paris needs a home for English-language theatre'
Is it time for Paris to play host to English-language theatre on a regular basis? Photo: Rach/Flickr
Starting on Friday, fans of English-language theatre are in for a treat as the folks from UK-based company Bred in the Bone put on "Dreams Before Dawn – A Festival of British Theatre" in Paris. 
It will mark the first time the troupe performs the shows in Paris, with the Artistic Director Matthieu Bellon promising a "new generation" of theatre – including fresh takes on classics like Orpheus and Beowulf.
"This is the sort of thing you'd see at a very good fringe festival, a new generation of actors fresh from the best drama schools. A lot of writing from young people. And it's very much in English – it's our attempt to bring English theatre to French audiences," he told The Local.
The Parisian has spent the past 15 to 20 years working across the UK and in Europe, and says it's time for the French to appreciate what English theatre has to offer – even though it's of a different breed to what's available in France. 

(Scenes from one of the shows. Photo: Bred in the Bone)
"There's a certain fear among the French that they won't be able to appreciate theatre in English. In fact, the French are quite closed to anything that's not in French. But they're curious. They want to know what's going on across the channel. Even though sometimes it feels more like an ocean than a channel."
If all goes well with the show, Bellon hopes that within a few years it could result in a permanent fixture – in English – on the French theatre scene. 
English-speaking theatre-lovers have little choice in Paris besides the French shows featuring English surtitles, a concept The Local featured in its "Les entrepreneurs" series last week. 
Rose Romain, a British theatre producer in Paris, is another one who's calling for a permanent venue for English-language theatre. 

(Scenes from one of the shows. Photo: Bred in the Bone)
She queries why a city like Paris, which has the third biggest theatre scene in the world after New York and London, can't have permanent English language offerings like they have in Vienna and Frankfurt.
"The English-theatre scene in Paris has an almost elite feel to it. There's no venue exploring younger people's voices like you'd find on the fringe scene in London. It means there's a whole generation of theatre that's slightly dying," she tells The Local.  
"I feel like not enough people are creating the kind of work that brings in a younger generation of audience… the work I've seen here is often things like Shakespeare – the classics – not new work from edgy writers. And it's a shame, it's not bringing up the standard."
And she thinks the French audience could just lap it up too.
"People who've been here longer than me tell me that the French people only want to see the old texts, but I don't know if they've been given the opportunity to enjoy it on a different level," she says.
"To be honest, I think it's exciting that we're even having a conversation about it. A lot of people think it wouldn't work, but you never know. When a conversation starts bubbling, then there can be a future for English theatre in Paris."
"Dreams Before Dawn" will run at the Theatre de Menimontant, in the 20th arrondissment, from Friday February 27th to Sunday March 1st. Tickets are available here.

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Top Paris theatre reopens as Covid occupy movement ends

French actors, stage technicians and other members of the performing arts ended a more-than-two-month occupation of the famous Odéon theatre in Paris on Sunday, allowing the show to go on after this week's easing of Covid-19 curbs.

Top Paris theatre reopens as Covid occupy movement ends
A picture taken on January 26, 2011 in Paris shows the facade of the Odéon theatre. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

The protesters took down the banners they had slung across the facade of the venue in the Left Bank as they left at dawn, leaving just one inscribed “See you soon”.

“We’re reopening!,” theatre director Stéphane Braunschweig exclaimed on the venue’s website, adding that it was “a relief and a great joy to be able to finally celebrate the reunion of the artists with the public.”

The Odéon, one of France’s six national theatres, was one of around 100 venues that were occupied in recent weeks by people working in arts and entertainment.

The protesters are demanding that the government extend a special Covid relief programme for “intermittents” — performers, musicians, technicians and other people who live from contract to contract in arts and entertainment.

READ ALSO: Protesters occupy French theatres to demand an end to closure of cultural spaces

With theatres shut since October due to the pandemic, the occupations had gone largely unnoticed by the general public until this week when cultural venues were finally cleared to reopen.

The Odéon, which was inaugurated by Marie-Antoinette in 1782, had planned to mark the reopening in style, by staging Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece “The Glass Menagerie”, with cinema star Isabelle Huppert as a former southern belle mourning the comforts of her youth.

But the protests scuppered the first five performances, with management saying the venue was blocked — a claim the protesters denied.

“What we wanted was for it (the performance) to go ahead, along with an occupation allowing us to speak out and hang our banners. We don’t want to stop the show,” Denis Gravouil, head of the performing arts chapter of the militant CGT union, said on Sunday.

Two other major theatres — the Colline theatre in eastern Paris and the National Theatre of Strasbourg — have also been affected by the protests.
France has one of the world’s most generous support systems for self-employed people in the arts and media, providing unemployment benefit to those who can prove they have worked at least 507 hours over the past 12 months.

But with venues closed for nearly seven months, and strict capacity limits imposed on those that reopened this week, the “intermittents” complained they could not make up their hours.

The government had already extended a year-long deadline for them to return to work by four months.

The “intermittents” are pushing for a year-long extension instead.