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France occupied more than a hundred theaters

Red and black banners hang from the rooftops of Théâtre de l’Odéon.

One of them says “Odeon has been silenced!”

On the other hand, “culture is sacrificed!”

Almost two months ago – since March 4 – this patriotic stage was occupied in Paris.

There is a tense “compatibility” between the occupiers and the security guards of the theater administration, and it takes a few hours before a DN transmitter is allowed in.

There were some physical clashes with the guards at the beginning. This was not what we wanted, but it happens sometimes in revolutions, says occupier Val Messadian, as she appears to us in the neighborhood.

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Signage work is underway in the theater foyer.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Dancer and actor Sebastian Piroque prepares for a new demonstration.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel


In the foyer, we are greeted by newly painted people Banners lying on dryer. Food and toiletries are stacked on the columns decorated with gold. Cleaning schedules are set up on the front doors.

The occupiers are clearly here to stay.

We have an external network that supports us with purchases and more. If any of us need to go out, someone else has to come. Otherwise, we would lose one person here, according to the agreement we now have with the theater management. And we don’t want to be less – there is really a lot to stand here, says Val Messadian, who works as a filmmaker on a daily basis.

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Director Val Messadian is in the middle of the parade train.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel


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The 45 occupants are not exclusively theater workers, but most of them have some connection with the performing arts. And they have active support from the CGT Spectacle Theater Association.

Since the Odeon was captured in early March, more than a hundred theaters and other cultural centers have been occupied throughout France. Something’s been moved.

On a balcony inside the theater auditorium, 26-year-old Alessandra Aldana is recovering. She sat last night and drew signs in the wee hours, explaining a little sorry when she sat on the sofa.

It is very difficult to sleep here, the light is constantly on. You should take advantage of all moments of peace.

Alessandra Aldana sleeps in a box at the Odeon Theater in Paris.

Alessandra Aldana sleeps in a box at the Odeon Theater in Paris.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

This is her 50th day. She made new friends during the occupation, but also realized the great challenge of the mission: everything is practical in everyday life.

– At first we didn’t take a shower. “We’ve got it arranged now,” says Alessandra Aldana, but the bathroom has to be shared by 45 people, and that’s not entirely easy.

Sleeping bags are spread between the rows of seats. In the side rooms of the theater, different working groups are discussing the shows and this week’s menu. Large meetings are held twice a day: 9 and 19 in the morning.

Almost all of my friends who work in the cultural sector are unemployed. We understand that we must reduce the risk of contagion, but if France now moves towards an opening, the government must realize that it will not be what it was before. Many small pallets will need tremendous support, for example if empty chairs are needed between each end, says Alessandra Aldana.

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel


Behind her, red flags flutter from the statues in the hallway. It’s easy to relate to the spring of 1968, when the Théâtre de l’Odéon was occupied by far-left students and theater workers.

But the occupation today is another thing – even if the somewhat left-wing character remains. About 6,000 Covid patients are being taken care of in French intensive care units and more than 100,000 have died from the disease in the past year. Off-stage, most things are clogged up, and any left wave is hard to discern, to say the least. There is a curfew between 19 and 6 o’clock.

It is an almost existential vulnerable situation in which we live. Everyone here has someone fairly close who died on covid-19. But most of them have also been unemployed for a little over a year. Actress Renata Antuntant says the important thing now is that we meet, rally and work together, because the way the government has handled this crisis is subject to all criticism.

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Actress Renata Antunant.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel


In France, cultural workers must work 507 hours per calendar year to receive unemployment benefits. This corresponds to approximately three months of full-time employment.

After the first wave of Covid-19, the French government decided to grant a one-year exemption – the so-called “white” year – which made it possible to continue living on unemployment benefits. Negotiations are underway to extend the exemption for another year.

It is important to us as cultural agents, because otherwise nobody knows what will happen when the system returns to normal in August. But this is not just about us. Renata Antuntant says the government reform affects all fixed-term employees, many of them very strict.

The government claims it The reform is necessary to correct imbalances in the system, and it refers to an extension of the compensation period by an average of three months. But unions warn that more than a million unemployed will receive lower unemployment benefits than before (average compensation is 17 percent lower, according to the newspaper. the world).

Activists are also calling for an increase in direct support to the cultural sector. In March, the government promised to provide an additional 97 million euros (nearly a billion kronor) to support the cultural sphere, but the unions want to increase this number five times to give the culture a real boost after the opening.

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Street demonstration on April 23 in Paris.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Photography: Mehdi Shebel

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Eric de la Regera and Mehdi Chebel.

Photography: Mehdi Shebel


When France closed its doors for the third time last winter, the government also tried to cater to the cultural sector by giving libraries a place as “must-have” stores – resulting in libraries being allowed to remain open, alongside grocery stores and pharmacies.

There are several indications that museums and theaters will be allowed to open at the same time as large commercial buildings when contagion diminishes, in this case a concession on the part of Emmanuel Macron. In the fall, as in Sweden, the government was severely criticized for keeping shopping malls open, while cultural centers, museums and well-ventilated theaters were forced to close again.

However, there are some question marks over the rules that will come into effect this summer. There is talk of special health certificates and vaccinations that could make it possible to welcome a larger audience. But like last year, many festivals run the risk of being canceled due to audience limits.

France is in danger Cultural life – which has benefited from massive government support since the late 1960s – will not be the same after the pandemic. There are reports that a large number of independent theater troupes are on the verge of collapse.

Discontent in the cultural sector is also growing in other parts of Europe. In Belgium, theaters intend to open their doors to the public as early as May 1, regardless of restrictions that apply at the time. It is not uncommon for protests to be led by young, freshly graduated cultural workers who have not had time to establish themselves in the labor market, and who find it difficult to qualify for unemployment insurance or surplus support.

Sasha Negevirgen is active in a small dance company in Lille, northern France. Witnessing how difficult it is for her young dancers to survive, she receives applause when she tells in a fiery speech outside Odéonteatern that they took part in a theater occupation in Lille.

A: It’s not that we stop working, because we repeat and iterate and iterate … It’s just that we no longer get paid. You can’t go on like this! Sasha Negiverny shouts in front of the theater building.