Paris theatre fires its British artistic director in row over money and management style

One of the French capital's most important theatres has fired its British artistic director Ruth Mackenzie due to managerial and financial concerns, the theatre and sources said.

Paris theatre fires its British artistic director in row over money and management style
Ruth Mackenzie. Photo: AFP

Mackenzie confirmed she had been fired from the Theatre du Châtelet, but vehemently denied what she described as “false accusations” against her.

Mackenzie was appointed in 2017, just as the theatre prepared to close for nearly two and a half years for a €26.5-million refurbishment, and was given a mission to broaden the prestigious venue's appeal to include new audiences.

Speaking as the theatre reopened in November 2019, McKenzie told The Local that she was on a mission to shake things up and ensure that the theatre better reflected the diversity of Paris.

READ ALSO Meet the British woman on a mission to shake up French theatre

The theatre, one of the city's chief venues for classical music, opera, dance and also musicals, confirmed her departure in a short statement on Friday.

But a source said that the theatre's board had asked her to leave following complaints about her manner with staff and also handling of the finances of the theatre.

“There was a managerial problem with the staff and a financial problem due to an insufficient artistic season,” said a source with knowledge of the issue who asked not to be named.

“An independent audit was conducted which has led to her departure.

“The (issue) had been brewing for a long time and it is the board of directors who asked Ms Mackenzie to leave,” the source said.

Mackenzie confirmed to AFP she had been fired, saying she had received a letter on Thursday and her pay and email were cut with immediate effect.

“This was shocking, brutal and cruel… This was my dream job and somebody is hurling false accusations at me to justify their decision,” she said. 

She acknowledged there had been an inquiry into her management style, with staff apparently complaining that she did not say bonjour enough, but it “found me not guilty of any dismissable offence” while recommending management training and improving her French. She said she had “immediately” accepted this.

Some staff were “not sympathetic to my artistic vision” to find a new public, she said, adding that she would challenge her dismissal legally.

Mackenzie is a hugely prominent figure in the European arts scene.

She is known for running the Cultural Olympiad for the 2012 London Olympic Games, the Scottish Opera, the Manchester International Festival, and the Holland Festival until her appointment to the Theatre du Châtelet.

Her brief reign was marred by controversy, particularly a decision to host the immersive Dau project by Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, who faced accusations in the French press of exploiting his cast and having a guru-like hold over them.

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How to make the most of France’s ‘night of museums’ this weekend

More than 3,000 French museums will stay open long past their bedtimes on Saturday May 14th for the 18th Long Night of Museums.

How to make the most of France's 'night of museums' this weekend

The annual event takes place on the third Saturday in May each year in towns and cities across the whole of Europe. There are temporary exhibitions, themed guided visits, musical entertainment, lectures, concerts, food tasting, historical reconstructions and re-enactments, and film projections. Best news of all, almost everything is free. 

Here’s The Local’s guide to getting the most out of the night:

Plan, plan, then throwaway the plan

Consult the online programme and map out your route. A little preparation will make the night much easier – 3,000 museums will be open long into the night in France, and you don’t want to waste hours standing on a bridge arguing about where to go next. 

The site has suggestions for major cities, including Lyon, Dijon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseilles. And four museums that have been closed to the public for years – Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Musée de Valenciennes, the Forum antique de Bavay in Nord and the Musée départemental Albert-Khan in Boulogne-Billancourt – are reopening on the night.

So, decide where you’re going beforehand – then feel free to dump your carefully plotted plan in a bin when you overhear someone else talking about this extraordinary thing they have discovered and go with the flow.

Be patient

When you are consulting the official website, try not to scream. You have to navigate a map rather than a traditional programme format – though, at least, this year it’s broken down in to French regions, which is marginally less frustrating.

It is actually much easier if you know the specific museums you are interested in visiting, as they have individual programmes of events. But half the fun of a night like this is visiting somewhere you’ve never been before.

Wear comfortable shoes and travel light

Wear shoes for the long haul rather than the first impression. There will be distances to cover and you might even find yourself dancing in the middle of a museum. 

And blisters are never a good partner with great art. Leave your skateboard and shopping trolley at home, they will just prove a nuisance when you are going through security checks.

Come early – or late – to avoid endless queues

Arriving at the Louvre at 8pm is always going to mean a giant queue. And nothing ruins a night quicker than spending most of it standing in an unmoving line. Try to escape peak times at the major museums – but check they’re not doing something interesting that you don’t want to miss – hip hop dance classes in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, in the Louvre’s Richelieu wing, for example…

Go somewhere you’ve never been to before

Do a lucky dip. Pick somewhere you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. What about the Musée de Valenciennes, which reopens after years of being closed to the public, for example. Its giving visitors the chance to see its fine art under ultraviolet light – which will reveal things you wouldn’t normally see.

Or you could delve deep into the Aude Departmental Archives, in Carcassonne, and discover the amazing life stories of some of the region’s historical figures

Make it social

Gather the troops, this is a night for multi-generations of family and friends. Art, history and culture, is very much a shared experience and you can usually find something that everyone loves – or hates.

Plan a pitstop

You will always need refreshing and wouldn’t a night of culture be wonderfully enhanced by a delicious picnic on the banks of the Seine, if you’re in Paris. 

Your mind will need a little pause from all the intellectual overload. Find a spot, listen to the music (there’s always music from somewhere) and watch the Bateaux Mouches go by as you eat a baguette with some good local cheese and some saucisson.