Ah, Paris… oh, how I love you, and oh, how I love immersing myself completely in all you have to offer. I love theater and had always jumped at the chance to see shows in New York, London and Amsterdam, but they had something Paris didn’t when I moved here… they had shows in English.
After studying French, the day finally came when I felt comfortable enough with the language to understand conversations and express myself. It was far from perfect, but when opportunity presented itself, I didn’t hesitate to join my dear sweet French man and a group of his French friends to see a show. We had only been living in Paris a few months, and I was so excited to see the inside of French theater.
Here I was, living the dream. Paris, theater… what’s not to love? Well, about 45 seconds into the piece, I began to sweat. I looked around, and everyone seemed to be following along. The audience even began to laugh. I thought, Yep, it’s not the actors. It’s me! At first, I kept fixating on why I was having so much trouble understanding everything, but after about 40 minutes, I didn’t care or even bother to try to figure out what was being said. My brain was on overload. So much for my French!
I’m an optimist, so I tried to enjoy the fact that I was inside a French theater. I examined every detail of the décor, watched the expressive faces of the actors and the reactions of the audience. Eventually, my mind wandered off and I caught myself running through a list of things that I needed to do the next day. I know… shameful! I quickly brought my attention back to the show, and tried not to look so ridiculously lost.
Now, there is nothing worse than realizing all of the hours you spent studying hasn’t paid off… Oh wait, there is something worse. It’s when your boyfriend and his friends look over repeatedly during the show, with a kind but cringing half-smile, as they mouth the words, ça va? Of course, I nodded that all was great. I even added a big smile.
Who was I kidding? I knew in my heart that they had all realized that the vocabulary, play on words and speed in which the actors delivered their dialogue was as if I had never taken a class. So much for living the dream! I mean, really, what was I thinking? The French are masters of using tongue and cheek, and their dialogues are amazing. Did I actually think that the fact that I was just getting by with my French was enough? I still ordered 3 croissants instead of 1 because it was easier in French to say trois than to make a mistake using un when it was supposed to be une. I know, you’re wondering what happened to 2 croissants. Well, that wasn’t an option either because when I tried to pronounce it, it sounded like do or du, and it left the person serving me with a perplexed expression. Anyway, trois was easier…and as long as it was, my French was apparently not ready for theater in Paris.
Psychologically speaking, I think that this experience back in 2003 turned me off from even the possibility of seeing a show here, and the lack of confidence in my French remained. It didn’t matter that my current French accent is at times decent enough to fool even the French; I avoided French Paris theater as much as anchois in my Salade Niçoise.
That said, a few years ago I saw, How to Become Parisian in One Hour. Which, by the way, was a fabulous show… 100% in English! It’s a definite must, but it still didn’t satisfy my need to truly immerse myself into a real French show, with a French audience, while watching fabulous French actors.
Fast forward to 2018. I heard about a company called, Theatre in Paris that claimed to have a service that gives non-French speakers the opportunity to experience French theater. I did a little research and found out that they use a sort of English subtitling. I’m familiar with reading subtitles for films, but I couldn’t figure out how all of this would work for a live show.
I kept thinking about the concept. Could this really work? Would you be able to read and watch the show at the same time? Could I help my friends, family and readers avoid what happened to me? I decided to test out Theatre in Paris for myself. It would certainly help with the anxiety I had developed about Paris Theater, and I figured that it could help all of you if their service lived up to expectations.
A little further research, revealed that apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because Theatre in Paris began as a Parisian start-up back in 2014. Yes, 2014! Their English website makes ordering tickets easy, and their partnership with various theaters across Paris gives theater goers a chance to see a variety of shows: comedies, musicals, classical and more recent drama adaptations. Some of the shows are in English and others are 100% French.
I wanted to try to see one of the shows in a larger theater, with well-known French actors, and of course, it had to be 100% French. My heart did a little skip when I saw that Théâtre Edouard VII was on the list of theaters. It dates back to the early 1900s. Somewhere in this life (Quelque part dans cette vie) was playing there. Although I’m terrible with knowing the names of actors, I had actually heard of both Emmanuelle Devos and Pierre Arditi who star in this show. Perfect!
Upon arrival, Theatre in Paris greets their guests with an English speaking staff member and it’s all so very subtle. I was afraid of being pointed out like a fish out of water and was relieved not to see someone holding up a stick with a flag, yelling, Over here, you non-French speaking losers trying to fit in. I know, I’ve been told that I have an over active imagination.
We did a quick visit of the theater and discovered that we should have arrived earlier… what a place!
As my dear sweet man and I were shown to our seats, we were given a complete program of the show in English. It included a Synopsis, Notes on the play, Creative team member and actor biographies, as well as, a brief history of the theater.
Once seated, I was relieved at how painless and efficient this all was. In addition, I loved that there was nothing to distinguish us from the regular theater goers. Theatre in Paris had selected seats that were located in the center of the first row of the balcony. We had a perfect view of the stage and of the English subtitles which were projected on a black background above the stage directly in front of us. This made reading text and watching the scene as easy as possible. (Word of warning for tall folks… there wasn’t much leg room with these seats, but it was a perfect view).
I wanted to show you a photo of how the subtitles appear above the stage, but of course, my phone was off during the performance. I’m someone who can’t help following rules… no matter how hard I try! Luckily, Theatre in Paris came to my rescue and were kind enough to send me a photo of a different show at this theater. Below, you can see how easy it was to read the English text and watch the performance at the same time.
What a pleasure! Not only was the show fantastic, but Theatre in Paris has taken away the language barrier that has kept so many non-French speakers from enjoying Paris’s theater. They’ve made the whole process easy with a translation service that was great.
When I began this theater adventure, I had hoped that their service would help, but they’ve far exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to take my Mom to see her first show in Paris!
For more information about Theatre in Paris: