It is the choice of experience and notoriety that the town hall of Paris has made to direct the Théâtre du Châtelet, located in the heart of the capital. She asked the director Olivier Py, who has just left the head of the Festival d’Avignon, to reinvent the future of the famous Parisian scene. The cultural institution has been in fog and uncertainty since the dismissal, in August 2020, of the Briton Ruth Mackenzie and the departure, in July 2022, of her right arm Thomas Lauriot dit Prévost.
With this appointment, Olivier Py remains on the front of the stage and adds a new stage to an overflowing professional and artistic career. At the same time playwright, director of theater but also of about thirty operas, actor, singer, author of four novels and director of films on occasion, Olivier Py, hyperactive creative, has cultivated over the years a image of an institutional rebel, multiplying initiatives for the democratization of culture (in prisons, hospitals, etc.) and militant commitments against discrimination, while publicly assuming his homosexuality, his Christian faith and his interest in theology. First director of the National Dramatic Center of Orléans, he directed the Théâtre de l’Odéon (2007-2012), then the Festival d’Avignon between 2013 and 2022.
A highly deficit institution
The director, who plans to tackle the construction of the 2024-2025 season upon his arrival, will have to navigate in a difficult context, marked by a very deteriorated financial situation. The Théâtre du Châtelet has a deficit estimated between 4 and 6 million euros depending on the sources.
Olivier Py will also have to give a face to an institution whose image has blurred over the years, for lack of a clear artistic direction, partly linked to the hesitations of the Paris town hall. Owner of the building, the town hall finances it (via an annual subsidy of 15 million euros) without owning the theater directly. Reopened in 2019, after a complete restoration of 31 million euros, this great Parisian scene, born in 1862, has never regained its breath and its aura.
“I want to transform the Châtelet into an exceptional place, I want it to be a party, for people to say to each other that we want to go to the Châtelet, for everyone to feel welcome in this place located in a of the most beautiful places in Paris,” said Olivier Py following his nomination. The heritage of this house is music, operetta, musical comedy, dance, it’s an extraordinary heritage, I’m going to try to reinvent this identity and serve it. »
A contested choice
With this nomination, the town hall of Paris made the choice of security, but it left out two candidates who had been able to convince the selection committee: Valérie Chevalier, director of the Opéra de Montpellier, and Sandrina Martins, director Carreau du Temple, a Parisian cultural venue.
In a long tweet, the elected ecologist at the Paris Council Alice Coffin spoke out against the choice of Anne Hidalgo: “Two women with excellent records have been selected. A unanimous choice. The final choice should have been between them. But it was Olivier Py who was fished out. At the expense of records deemed better. It’s a scandal, and the exact illustration of how inter-self works within cultural institutions. All my solidarity with the women unfairly ousted. »
The wait-and-see attitude of the mayor of Paris will in any case have been detrimental to the Théâtre du Châtelet, whose torments have not ceased to be commented on in recent months. Especially since, at the same time and on the same square, its twin brother the Théâtre de la Ville is shut down. After an interminable restoration undertaken since 2016 – the construction site was initially supposed to last three years – it should reopen in the spring of 2023. The capital could then finally find its two artistic lungs.
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