June 7, 2023


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Passy, ​​13th Art, Daunou… These theaters that braved the crisis

A health crisis? It would take a lot more to push back these new theater owners. Long-time entertainment professionals or neophytes but passionate about boards, they did not hesitate to break the bank in the middle of Covid for the love of art, when others lamented reduced gauges or canceled tours. Who are these curtain-raiser resistance fighters, buying, creating or transforming Parisian cinemas at the height of the pandemic and confinements?

The 13th Art, hidden in the Italie2 shopping center

On November 26, a standing ovation, unthinkable in the days of Omnicron, welcomed the poetic show “Pixel” by choreographer Mourad Merzouki. A great revenge for the gang of friends, all seasoned professionals, mobilized for months to save the theater 13and Art of the predicted shipwreck. This old cinema in the Italy 2 mallin the XIIIand arrondissement of Paris, had barely been transformed into a theater, when it found itself after its inauguration on September 26, 2017, a collateral victim of the accusations of sexual assault brought against its owner, Quebecer Gilbert Rozon.

Struck down, the entertainment emperor was forced to sell his Just for Laughs group in March 2018, with a soaring turnover of 120 million Canadian dollars, to the American ICM Partners, with in the basket this 13and Art in which he had invested 5 million alongside Hammerson, the operator of the Italy 2 center, who had spent 13 others. The price to create this complex of two rooms, with 900 and 130 seats, with perfect visibility and acoustics, which can be converted into a TV studio and a rehearsal space.

“The buyer wanted to settle for renting the site and the 13th Art only survived thanks to the Théâtre de la Ville, which was looking for a place for its 2019-20 season”, recount Olivier Peyronnaud, who resigned from management in June 2018 to form a fundraiser. The latter wants to buy the equipment which he has no doubt of the potential, in the heart of this shopping center frequented by 13 million visitors a year and equipped with a free car park with 2,000 places. “There are 750,000 inhabitants within a radius of twenty minutes on foot; the nearest venue is Bercy to the south and Bobino to the west. It’s as if a city the size of Strasbourg didn’t have a theatre! » hammers the one who directed for seventeen years the House of Culture of Nevers Agglomeration.

With a capacity of 900 seats, the completely refurbished large 13th Art room can accommodate all kinds of events.

He convinces Denis Thominetpresident of the family business which owns the Société d’Exploitation du Palais des Sports with Viparis (exhibition parks) to take 50% of the consortium, then the big Lille show producer Luc Gaurichon (Caramba) and the Reims turner Herve Carvalhosa (Visuel Productions) to each take 20% of the shares. Finally Olivier Peyronnaud himself is involved in the capital. On June 30, 2021, the four musketeers bought the 13and Art. “ I had to find solid and complementary partners, to rethink the model because, initially, Just for Laughs, with its comedy festivals, its musicals, made it possible to present around 80 productions per year, already amortized” explains Olivier Peyronnaud, once again the director of the place.

“Our association of players based in Paris and in the regions who discuss risks together is unprecedented”, insists Denis Thominet. “It’s not a simple financial alliance but rather a grouping at the service of our artists who love the room like Grand Corps Malade who came to repeat their tour” adds Hervé Carvalhosa who has been producing a wide range of shows for forty years, from Breton festivals to film concerts by the Japanese musician Naruto, including plays with Francis Huster. “I produced the Slava Snow show here and discovered this stage, one of the largest in Paris, which allows all kinds of events. As I have always been a developer, this seduced me! » points out for his part Luc Gaurichon, happy to diversify at a time when labels are making 360 degree offers to its artists.

If 1.5 million euros has already been spent on the redevelopment of the theater (in addition to the purchase price, “interesting given the context”), other investments are to be made in order to automatically preset the sound and lighting of the three daily shows essential to reach 100,000 to 150,000 spectators per season and to amortize the annual operating cost estimated at between 2 and 3 million euros. . The profitability is not expected before the fourth yearthe time to install the brand, even if the partners will pool their experience in communication, their mastery of ticketing, their network for tours in the region and abroad.

The ambition is to make 13and Art a place “popular, demanding and transgenerational”, rich in creations and covers, exploited between six and seven weeks, against usually several months in the private sector. The theater, which also hosts shows from elsewhere, especially from Asia, in this favorite district of the Chinese community, no longer has a free date by June 30.

In Passy, ​​nestled in a lighting store

The founders of young Theater of Passy had hollow noses: the show “Josephine B.”, chosen before Josephine Baker entered the Pantheon, resonated with current events, carried by a duo of outstanding actors who revive the story of the black Venus in big heart. The room remained full at the height of the epidemic. And the tandem is playing overtime.

Like his colleague from XIIIand arrondissement, the Théâtre de Passy is located in a culturally poor but commercially exceptional district, on the edge of one of the liveliest streets in the 16th century.and. This modest setting of 200 seats must also schedule three shows a day to save money on artistic direction, reception, management, because the theater in working order costs 5,000-6,000 euros per day. Not enough to scare the owners who have already completed an obstacle course to build this room. “It was a lighting store until 2018 and before that, from 1932 to 1985 a cinema. We had to destroy everything” indicated Michel Dumosoisone of the associates, who changed his life to meet the challenge.

“Classic” atmosphere for the Passy theater with its red velvet armchairs.

This ex-executive of Azelis, leader in the distribution of chemical specialties, was always between two planes. ” When I left the group to buy a theater, my colleagues did not understand anything! » he laughs. Everyone was unaware that he was a singer, pianist, director in his spare time and an ardent defender of the musical repertoire of Offenbach in the Roaring Twenties. Reading an advertisement published on a theater site, Michel Dumosois discovered that Jean-Georges Tharaud, the former boss of the Comédie de Paris, is looking for a funder. Between the two natives of Saint-Brieuc, the current passes. “I have been in the business since the age of 19, I started as a young turner in the 1990s and I bought the Galas Karsenty with a partner in 1996 while directing the Comédie de Paris” , explains Jean-Georges Tharaud to his future partner. In this 182-seat hall, he produced 200 shows, classic plays, more contemporary works, one man show, café-theatre…

with the architect Francois Dancette, who remained a minority partner, Jean-Georges Tharaud had found this place in 2018 but had to negotiate the takeover of the lease for a year, in competition with a sports brand. The last occupant, the lighting store, having filled the sloping volume of the cinema with concrete, it was necessary to obtain a complicated administrative authorization to disburse. “The Covid arrived when we had demolished everything. We were missing 400,000 euros to finish, which the bank had promised us by email before retracting with the crisis! Hence my urgent search for a third partner » he continues.

The space, optimized by the architect, made it possible to fit out a stage, a hall-bar with red velvet benches and bistro tables, three artists’ dressing rooms, and a relaxation area. “A hall with 200 seats is a good compromise, there are few of this size in Paris. Of course, you need a program in line with the place and the neighborhood, neither too boulevard nor too intellectual”, comments Jean-Georges Tharaud. The duo relies on auteur comedies, operettas, musical formations, cabaret and family shows. With promising first posters.

The Daunou, the blue and gold UFO

It is not every day that you are offered to take over a historic jewel of 420 seats, a stone’s throw from the Opéra Garnier: the Daunou Theater. Yet such is the gift that Caroline Verdu has been offered, she who already manages with talent, a few streets away, the theater of La Pépinière. So the Art Deco jewel from 1921, decorated by Jeanne Lanvin, padded with blue and gold, you can’t refuse! “When the company 6and Sens Immobilier acquired the building in which the theater is located, its director Damien Bertuli, a heritage lover, did not know what to do and came to find us », says Caroline Verdu. For a year, they have been working to renovate this scene, which has been stopped since the first confinement.

And it’s not an easy task because both the room and the facade are classified. “We do not plan to reopen before September 2023” , she continues. Associate, with Pierre-Alain Leleuhis accomplice Nurseryin an operating company whose promoter holds 70%, she hopes for this rehabilitation at 3 million euros, to receive some public subsidies.

In 2019, it has already renovated, according to the rules of the art, La Pépinière, this 350-seat room invested by Arletty in the 1920s. It has left its mark there, that of a theater of creation, “popular intellectual around contemporary authors and directors. But at the Daunou theater, temple of operetta of the Roaring Twenties, then of the comic repertoire with sacred monsters like de Funès, Brialy, Lamoureux, there was no question of duplicating. “It is part, like La Michodière, Les Variétés, or Les Nouveaux, of these very typical ‘boulevard’ scenes. So we will have to stay in the comedy; but that does not prevent us from offering well-made entertainment, music hall, cabaret” says this former student of Cours Florent.

At La Pépinière, Caroline Verdu juggles theater lessons, rentals, tours, to balance. She wants the Daunou theater to benefit from her file of 80,000 regular customers. Because in private, it is impossible to build customer loyalty with subscriptions since the plays often remain on display as long as they are successful: “Intra Muros” by Alexis Michalik has been at La Pépinière for four years.

All do not hide that it took them a good dose of courage and recklessness in these troubled times, to hold the bar firmly. And the challenge remains between teleworking which scares Parisians away and the difficulties of access to the capital. Changes in habits that are all the more detrimental as “Paris is the city where there are the most theaters in the world, three times more than in London or New York, offering much more diversity. So fill it out! » exclaims Jean-Georges Tharaud.