In search of an English-speaking theatre scene in Paris?
For the last two years a new theatre festival and competition has been growing in the city thanks to expat thespians, writers and theatre-lovers. We chat with Chris Newens, one of the guys behind Montmartre Dionysia, to see what it’s all about.
What inspired the creation of Montmartre Dionysia ?
The first I heard of it was last September, the day I arrived back in Paris after 12 months in Australia. I went for a jetlagged drink with my friend Albert Alla who’d written a play and was talking about staging an event that would allow him to have it performed alongside a few others.
From there, things just started to grow. It was pretty clear that Albert couldn’t hold a whole theatre competition in his apartment! Nevertheless, he set a date for the event, and then he set out to find a venue.
Soon you’ll be working towards your third Theatre Festival – how does that work ?
Well, the Dionysia’s gone through a certain amount of evolution since our first outing. At it’s heart, though, it is, and has always been a competition between four 12-20 minute long plays. These can be of any genre and all we ask is that the plays are loosely based upon the festival’s theme, which changes every time – our most recent was “Of Honeyed Words but Evil Mind.”
When it comes to a performance space, the festival boasts a pretty unique theatre…
Yes, we’re on a boat! It’s undoubtedly one of the great selling points to the Dionysia. The festival atmosphere is important, so we needed a theatre space that could also double as a party venue – the after show party is a lot of fun! It was also key to find somewhere that was exactly the right size.
Our answer came in the form of the Alternat, a péniche usually moored outside of Paris in Juvisy. It was originally built in the 1930s, with the noble intent of bringing about world peace by fostering an international community of artists. Eighty years later and the Montmartre Dionysia is helping in its own small way toward those goals!
Of course, the Alternat is not the only venue for the Dionysia. Before the final performance each play also gets its own night in the Montmartre’s very own Petit Theatre du Bonheur.
Clinging to the side of one of Montmartre’s famous stairways, the PTB is a (very) intimate 24 seat theatre, which offers a really remarkable atmosphere where the crowd feel very much part of the show.
So here we are in Paris, and we want to discover the best literary hangouts. What are your suggestions ?
Well, in my own experience of the city, the centre of, at least the expat, literary scene still has to be Shakespeare & Co. As well as being a bookshop, it’s a sort of literary youth hostel and hangout. More practically, the shop hosts talks and discussions by writers of all nationalities and at all levels of the industry. It’s also home to the Other Writers Group, a writing feedback session open to all-comers for just six euros.
Then, there’s Spoken Word. Established by David Barnes (also the founder of Other Writers), this happens every Monday night, in the basement of a bar called Chat Noir in Oberkampf. Here, an international crowd of poets and writers gather to share their work in front of a crowd, talk about writing and poetry, and get drunk.
There’s more of the same to be found just down the road on Thursdays, at a night called Paris Lit Up, a splinter group from the original Spoken Word (poets will be poets), which takes place in Belleville at a bar called Culture Rapide.
So what’s next for the Montmartre Dionysia ?
I was chatting with Albert explicitly about this just a couple of nights ago. From the very beginning we’ve always been trying to work out ways that the festival can grow and how we can reach more people.
So far, every way that the festival has grown has felt quite organic and we don’t want to rush anything. Far more important is putting down roots, so that the Montmartre Dionysia becomes a fixture of the Paris Calendar for years to come.
Want to know more ? Check out montmartredionysia.com