Paris TheatreHow English Speakers Can Get a Taste of Fine French TheatreTheatre in Paris helps non-locals be locals for a night with productions of Grease and now Cyrano de Bergerac.
January 25, 2018
As the noble cavalier with the noticeable nose expounds upon his proboscis’ many uses in the play’s original French language, high above this production of Cyrano de Bergerac flash surtitles in English, offering Anglophones a chance to enjoy theatre in Paris without signing up for a class at Berlitz.
The English translation is provided by the appropriately named Theatre in Paris (TheatreinParis.com), which offers English speakers an opportunity to sample what French theatre has to offer.
Theatre—like Cyrano’s nose—“is a very big thing in Paris,” says Carl de Poncins, a co-founder of Theatre in Paris with Christophe Plotard and Romain Beytout. “There are more than 2 million Parisians,” but there are millions more tourists a year. From January through August 2017, Paris received 15.3 million visitors, according to the economics division of the Paris Tourist Office, among them 2.5 million English speakers.
“Paris is the largest theatre venue in the world that is not English-speaking,” de Poncins says. By comparison, he adds, many theatres in Berlin, Germany—which has a much smaller theatrical landscape—regularly offer English surtitles. He and his colleagues decided it was time to work with the city’s theatres “to let non-locals be locals for a night.”
Theatre in Paris began in February 2014, and in 2017 the company offered surtitles for a dozen plays and musicals. The offerings have expanded to include not only surtitled French works but also two shows all in English, and one with no words. Currently available with surtitles are a new production of the musical Grease, for which Theatre in Paris advised on the surtitles; Cyrano, the tale of the 17th-century swordsman, soldier, poet, and romantic; the Victor Hugo classic drama Ruy Blas; the musical I Love Piaf about the legendary French chanteuse; Somewhere in This Life, a contemporary comedy about a retired music teacher and his new housekeeper; music-magic-mime show Les Virtuoses; and English-language solo shows How to Become Parisian in One Hour and Oh My God She’s Parisian.
And coming next September will be fashion great Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show—a revue/fashion show based on his life at the Théâtre des Folies Bergère. Gaultier is the show’s writer, set designer, and director.
Ticket prices for the current shows range from $34 to $142, depending on the production, date, and location; seats are specially situated to provide the best view of the surtitles, which generally means they are in the front rows of the balcony (the first balcony, if there is more than one).
The venue for Cyrano, Rostand’s 1897 classic, is the more than 120-year-old, 300-seat Théâtre le Ranelagh. It’s a lovely small theatre, and from those front balcony seats the surtitles and the action are easy to see and to follow. Through Theatre in Paris de Poncins achieves his goal: to create “a bridge between the two languages. What I like is that we host people from all over the world, 50 different nationalities, to spend two hours in the theatre and provide a little tool to get people to know one another.”