- 20, Nov 2015
- Parisian theatre
- Paisley Piasecki
I instantly felt a wave of relief as I was finally able to sit down in the large, cool theater, away from the heat of New York. I quickly put away my souvenir bag and program as the lights began to dim. The speaker on the sound system let us know it was time to turn off our cell phones, and as the room went dark, I could feel the grand and unique environment of the theater, like we were about to see something very special. I was right: Within the first five minutes of An American in Paris I found myself tearing up and whispering to my mother, “It’s just so beautiful.”
Outside of the fact that An American in Paris has many ties with French theatre, in reflection, I have found that this experience is a great example of exploring the differences between seeing shows in the United States and in France. This past summer when I saw An American in Paris, I was interning at a Broadway theatre company and was able to learn about New York theatre as both a professional and an audience member. Soon after, I moved to Paris for my semester abroad and found myself experiencing local French theatre firsthand while taking a class in Parisian popular culture and performing arts.
As part of the course we saw Et pendant ce temps Simone Veille and Oscar et la dame rose, which were both held at small theaters outside of the central theatre district in Paris. In the United States, these theaters would be the equivalent to a community theater or a blackbox with more seating.
A typical tourist may feel confused or doubtful since the theaters were not anything like La Comédie Française or the grand Opera—the venues that everyone dreams about. Even though they didn’t have the same magnificence or the royal architecture of the New York Palace Theatre, it felt special to be in a room of locals, seeing a French play in French…and without surtitles.
Of course, it would have been easier if I had the help of surtitles, even if I had already studied the plays in class. Sometimes I was completely lost due to the large amount of old and modern French slang used in both plays. But overall, it was a very authentic experience and I would encourage any tourist in Paris to visit a French play to see something interesting and to be exposed to a completely different experience (and with the help of Theatre in Paris, you can have surtitles to help you!). Unlike the States, local theatre in Paris is much more intimate, more casual and almost more old-fashioned. Ushers personally take you to your seats, a “real” person makes the opening announcement at the front of the house, you will not find souvenir stands, and everyone seems to be there for the artistry and the experience.
Though I love and miss the ambiance that comes with seeing American theatre in extravagant venues, having a cultural adventure off the beaten path will give you the best kind of welcome to a foreign country and make you feel like you’re really living like the locals.