La Scala. A New Theatre in Paris?
In September 2018 a new 550 seat theatre, La Scala opened in the traditional theatre district of Paris, the 10th arrondissement. It has been privately developed by Mélanie and Frédéric Biessy and is dedicated to the performing arts, music and visual arts. However it is a theatre more than 230 years in the making. Visiting Paris each year I have watched (and heard) its development for it is in the basement of our apartment building at 13 Boulevard de Strasbourg. This in brief is it’s story in four parts. The lessons for Australia or perhaps anyone building a theatre.
- You need dedication and passion. It is a long process with many challenges
- Plan for flexible spaces to allow for flexible and varied programming
- Create a sense of place that reflects its community
- Look to the private as well as public sector
La Scala, Always Entertaining
In 1787, a Mr. Gauthier opened an inn at this address with the sign of Cheval Blanc. It later became a guinguette, with tables and chairs installed outdoors, under arbours, and an orchestra perched on trestles, consisting of two violins, a bass and a flute. The 1750 Dictionnaire de la langue française, defines Guinguette as a "Small cabaret in the suburbs and the surrounds of Paris, where craftsmen drink in the summer and on Sundays and on Festival days. In 1857, the Cheval Blanc became a café-chantant. The café chantant was originally an outdoor café where small groups of performers and singers performed popular music for the public. The music was generally light-hearted, sometimes risqué, even bawdy but, as opposed to the cabaret tradition, not particularly political or confrontational.
In 1874, blown away by La Scala of Milan, Marie-Reine Rameau, widow of Roisin the owner of the ball of the Élysée Montmartre, had La Scala theatre built on the site. It was a classical copy with 1400 seats surmounted by a removable glass dome, long since gone. It was never to reach the dizzy heights of Milan. However it continued its life as a popular music hall until 1936 when La Scala was transformed into a 1,000-seat cinema in the classic Art Deco style. The photos of the time show it to be stunning. However in 1977, the space was divided into five rooms devoted to porn. It continued this role until 1999 when it closed, a victim of the DVD
It was bought by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to make it a place of worship, but opposition from the community lead the Mayor of Paris to refused planning consent. Various proposals were considered including an art cinema but it remained a vacant space until 2016 when its purchase by Mélanie and Frédéric Biessy who began its current transformation.