Amongst those who don’t speak French, the Parisian evening entertainment scene has never been acclaimed for its variety. Once tickets to the opera, the cabaret, and the ballet have been printed, scanned, and ripped along their perforated edges, there’s little left for Anglophones to do.
Well, that was the rather sad case, until Theatre in Paris a vu le jour last year. Inspired by an Australian expat friend complaining in line with the above, the three French co-founders of this small company realised that the diverse and vibrant Parisian theatre scene could be quite easily opened up to international audiences. By simply projecting a real-time, English translation onto a screen above the stage, the start-up has allowed guests of over 50 nationalities to watch and fully understand a variety of French plays.
The company sells its experience from the fashionable ‘seeing a place like the natives’ angle. This couldn’t be truer, as guests sit amongst the Parisian audience, feeling included when able to laugh along with the locals. Considering the presence of over 300 playhouses across the city, it is surprising that such a venture has never been attempted in Paris before.
Some journalists have questioned whether these English surtitles (not subtitles, we’re reminded) are a symbol of the French, traditionally fiercely protective of their language, succumbing to a dominance of another. Yet Carl de Poncins, CEO of Theatre in Paris, explains that it’s quite the opposite.
“Not only are we bringing in a larger, paying audience to the city’s venues, but we’re ensuring the survival of French theatre by allowing non-French speakers to enjoy the productions in their original language. This is a celebration of cultural diversity at its best.”
With the rentrée this September, the ever-expanding company widened its offering from two productions to four – a sign that the English surtitling phenomenon really is winning over more and more theatre directors.
One of the newest additions to the repertoire is ‘The Lie’ at Théâtre Édouard VII. One of the most highly anticipated productions of the year, it stars French acting maestro Pierre Arditi and his real-life wife, Évelyne Bouix. A true ‘comédie de boulevard’, it follows a bourgeois couple and their grappling with the age-old dilemma of whether honesty really is the best policy in marriage. Brilliantly clever and highly amusing, the play leaves audience members scratching their heads as the curtain falls. For the more jazz-hands inclined, ‘Irma la Douce’ also opened in September. With Edith Piaff-esque melodies, lyrics that take you all over Paris, and a smattering of the accordion, this is possibly the most typically French musical imaginable.
Returning for the new season is the infamous ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. Edmond Rostand’s romantic classic is full of colourful costumes, big noses and beautiful French that even non-French speakers can appreciate for its poetry. Finally, Theatre in Paris is continuing its surtitling service for ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at Théâtre du Splendid – a slapstick, comical adaption of Jules Vernes’ novel, which has been running for nine years straight in Paris.
Theatre may not be the first thing you associate with Paris, but chances are, if you enjoy live acting in your own country, you’ll be keen to see how they approach it on international stages. As the word spreads about English surtitling, it seems that the words ‘Theatre’, ‘in’, and ‘Paris’ may soon be natural formations on the lips of Anglophones.
Find out more on the website: www.theatreinparis.com