When I first arrived in Paris over a decade ago, finding theatre in English was as difficult as finding good peanut butter… or maybe even harder! Over the years I’ve been pleased to see English theatre and comedy initiatives increase, so it was with great pleasure that I learn about the first edition of the Paris Fringe Festival. Showcasing “smaller” theatre productions, the first fringe festival debuted Edinburgh in 1947. Today that festival draws people the world over and now there are dozens of similar festivals taking place around the world. Here in Paris the festival will be taking place in the 9th arrondissement from May 23rd-29th with an exciting program featuring over 20 English language shows coming from around the world including theatre, comedy, musicals, mime and more. We speak to Reka Polonyi, one of its co-founders to learn more about the festival. Read on and save the dates!
Paris Fringe #1 – An Interview with Reka Polonyi
Tell us a little about yourselves.
Reka: We both arrived to Paris three years ago. Dom is a British playwright. I am a French-American-Hungarian director. He’s a good listener, I’m a chatterbox.
How did the Paris version of the festival come about?
Reka: There are various international theatre artists residing in Paris who have found it challenging to find a local platform to work on. Dom and I had been previously involved with Montmartre Dionysia, an English speaking theatre community here. We decided to open up and create a platform for both a French and international community of theatre lovers wishing to learn from each other and to experience the artform in a cross-cultural festival.
How does the Paris festival differ from the others?
It started in a very impromptu fashion. We had only launched the site this year, and were not expecting such a wide response. We thought we’d start this edition with a small handful of plays. Instead, we received almost a hundred applications from different corners of the world! It has sky-rocketed pretty fast, and we’re doing our best to keep up.
We have no funding, and rely entirely on a dedicated team of volunteers and partnerships. At this stage, we also differ in our structure: we have limited space, organising and administrative capacity, and so we select shows through a curated model rather than a open-to-all model.
Were there any challenges in setting up here (i.e. tricky French bureaucracy)?
As mentioned above, we have no funding, public or otherwise. From a French perspective, we’ve been utterly crazy to set this up without having first gone through institutional backing. The Mairie has only just heard of us. This is not a typical start to a festival here!
From an anglophone perspective, we acted as any independent enthusiast : we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. And only then did we start introducing ourselves to public bodies. This is simply a cultural difference. Both have its benefits and drawbacks.
Will the shows be in both English and French?
All shows are either in English, in bilingual English-French, or do not require either language skills. The audience will be able to select a show according to the level of English required, specified on our programme.
Can you give us a few highlights of the festival? What shows can’t be missed?
Hard to say – I’ve been communicating with all companies but haven’t seen their shows yet! We certainly have something for everyone. Want a cabaret show on gender inequality? A moving testimony of a homosexual refugee? An immersive murder piece in an old basketball court?
For those looking for free events, check out our Dirty Laundry nights in a Laundromat.
For those wanting to learn some improv, musical or interactive theatre, I recommend catching one of our workshops by visiting artists in a basement.
Choose one word to describe the festival:
Merci beaucoup Reka! We can’t wait to attend some of the shows.
You can find full information and the program on their site here. Lastly they need volunteers, extra hands, during the festival! So if you want to get involved with their dynamic team for a week (and catch a free show), get in touch : volunteer[@]parisfringe.org