The world of theater is meeting this week in Avignon for its big annual meeting but is already worried about the start of the school year, after a season where theaters have still not found their pre-pandemic audience.
The Avignon Festival and the “off” – the largest live performance market in France – start Thursday with a festive spirit, reviving the day before with the traditional parade, absent for two years.
“We are at 70% of sales, like last year”affirmed before the festival Olivier Py, its outgoing director, who will be succeeded by the Portuguese actor and director Tiago Rodrigues.
In 2021, despite reduced gauges, the fill rate was 85%, after a record year in 2019, at 95.5%. “Festivals are doing better than cinemas; release throughout the year has not been rebuilt”says Olivier Py.
For theaters, especially in Paris, it is indeed consternation, with a few exceptions. In February, the former Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot announced a 25% drop in attendance at live performance halls and cinemas.
“For us, it’s between 30 and 40% less. This season has been complicated, we’re not going to hide our faces”told AFP Nathalie Szewczyk, general administrator of the Théâtre Rive Gauche.
“Many of us thought that it was going to start very, very quickly. This is not at all the case. People have radically changed their habits”she regrets, referring to the effect of the closing of the rooms, the social distancing, the wearing of the mask, the health and vaccination passes. “And it’s not over”she said in reference to the current rebound in Covid contaminations and the measures taken to replace sick actors.
“In addition, we are already told of a complicated social return”, adds Nathalie Szewczyk. Not to mention inflation. “Coffee may go up in price, people will continue to buy it, but culture is falling by the wayside, people are thinking ‘we’ll watch Netflix'”.
His room had yet programmed Farewell Mr. Haffmanna successful drama and adapted to the cinema, but that was without taking into account a phenomenon that has been accentuated with the pandemic.
“People call us asking, ‘What do you have for a laugh? War, we don’t want it, we have that on TV'”, explains the administrator. “I can understand that but it’s worrying if we’re all going to have to do the same thing.”
“There is like a leveling by laughter, it is very difficult to get out of comedies”Marc Lesage
director of the Michodière, the Bouffes Parisiens and the Théâtre de Paris.
Its three theaters have been a bit of an exception to the rule with shows that have been a hit, including the musical The producers by Alexis Michalik or A magical couplethe new play by Laurent Ruquier with host Stéphane Plaza.“We did very well, but I know that as soon as we venture into somewhat risky terrain, we are weakened”, he said. “People want laughter and sure values”.
Almost all the theaters were able to last for two years thanks to unprecedented state aid, but with inflation – construction of sets increased by 20% according to Mr. Lesage – nothing is less certain.
Rising prices “will impact fixed costs when communities reduce their aid”recalls Nicolas Dubourg, president of the National Syndicate of artistic and cultural enterprises (Syndeac).
“More and more structures are talking about deficits and building the 2023 season with that is squaring the circle”he said.