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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Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?