Inside the Legendary Théâtre du Châtelet after its Reopening

Inside the Legendary Théâtre du Châtelet after its Reopening
Preparation For 30 months Paris’s beloved theater, Théâtre du Châtelet, home to so many performances and entertainments that were modern in their times, was closed for renovation. Under the new leadership of Co-Directors Thomas Lauriot dit Prévost and Ruth Mackenzie, the mission of the institution was examined, updated and reaffirmed; goals were clarified. Châtelet would continue to be the leader in performing arts for the people of Paris that it had been since its origins as a circus (then named Philip Astley) in 1780. In its sixth and current location on Place du Châtelet since 1862, it has been known as a center for ever-expanding forms of entertainment. A messenger of the avant garde since the turn into the 20th Century, the theater has welcomed people from all backgrounds, artistic interests and musical preferences. Although the institution has traditionally moved beyond its own walls to bring people to experiences that can inspire, delight, and educate them, an update of the original 1862 building was in order. Architects Philippe Pumain and Christian Laporte oversaw the massive restoration and renovation. Respect for historical integrity along with commitments to security, accessibility, inclusivity and beauty remained uppermost in their minds. Chatelet first opened in 1962 with a vision of uniting audiences from the Left Bank and the Right Bank, knowing that their sensibilities could enrich each other. Barron von Haussman, under whose auspices the theater was built, saw the banks of the Seine as a perfect location. And so it remains, just meters from the marker on the parvis of Notre Dame that indicates the center of Paris. The metro/RER stop Châtelet is among the most traversed in Paris; numerous bus lines stop within blocks of the theater; RER lines B and C deposit visitors a brief walk away. Today one can easily reach the theater on foot or scooter or bicycle. The theater has also chosen to reach out to people in Metropolitan Paris and invites them to participate in, learn from, and enjoy programs. The theater aims to be inclusive, welcoming to all; to be accessible, with bathrooms, wheelchair seating, and elevators for those with disabilities; to be affordable, with the addition of a section of seats for performances available at very reasonable prices; to be safe, with security for body and mind a major goal. The unobtrusive railings are most welcome! Procession to Parade Prior to the performance, much thought, planning and effort had brought the public into the picture. (See the article here.) On the weekend of the opening, children gathered to make Picasso-inspired costumes, to learn to balance on a beam or a ball, to jump through hoops, to juggle. Soon the giant marionettes arrived on the parvis of Hotel de Ville, along with a large corps of recruited amateur (and professional) drummers, all led by a Jean Cocteau-inspired-bicycling-machine. The contraption included an oversized typewriter with bottle-cap keys; it turned out pages and pages of printed passages from Cocteau’s writings. On one side smoke puffed out, representing the power for the machine; on the other a giant scissors snipped across the air. The smaller marionettes, still somewhat larger than humans, joined the procession. One made entirely of recycled plastics and cans sported a long train to her gown the followed her as she cavorted. She caught the imagination of countless children who jostled to talk to her, touch her transformed materials. People took photographs and videos, spoke respectfully to the handlers, waited turns to shake hands with a Marionette, as they all danced toward the center of the square in front of Hotel de Ville. Like the original Parade, the effect was “surrealistic”, the term coined by Apollinaire to describe the experience in 1917. With drummers drumming and fans and followers clapping and laughing, the machine led the strange papier maché group to the center of the parvis. There the Marionettes from Mozambique performed for the crowd, dancing with one another and then reaching out their long arms to shake hands with bystanders. The chief bicyclist on the machine pedaled to make long iron fingers type words; pages proved his productivity. The parade continued, along rue Victoria, across bd Sebastopol, to the very front of the refurbished Théâtre du Chatelet. Drummers and marionettes offered a final performance, and the doors to the theater were opened, welcoming inside those who had come to celebrate the historic moments. People of all ages and backgrounds, babies on shoulders, toddlers in strollers, small children chronicled the event with cameras. A few people in official “Securité” t-shirts assured that the crowd would make room for the dancing Marionettes to lead the crowd across the route; the Croix Rouge, the French branch of the International Red Cross, stood by in case a person needed help. Beyond these official sources of protection, the crowd – la grand publique – made its way sporting smiles and comments of delight with the whimsy being offered by the theater, announcing its renovation for the 21st century, focusing on accessibility, inclusivity, security and technological capability. Introduction to the Théâtre The two-story foyer of the theater featured three performers on elevated platforms. They were dressed as a devil, an angel/fairy, and a clown. They invited people to come inside and investigate the…

Lead photo credit : Théâtre du Châtelet's reopening festivities. Photo: David Griff

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Roni Beth Tower, author of the award-winning memoir "Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance", is a retired clinical, research and academic psychologist and a dedicated Francophile.