In 1862, on the occasion of works undertaken by the Baron Haussmann, a Parisian theater located boulevard du Temple was moved to 3bis rue Papin, the Théâtre de la Gaîté Lyrique. Soon, with its new richly decorated 1800 seat hall, its majestic entrance, and its large public foyer, the theater became one of the jewels of the Parisian cultural scene.
During the 140 years that followed, directors followed one another -this includes Jacques Offenbach-, and so did designations (Théâtre de la Gaîté, Théâtre Lyrique, Opéra Populaire, Opéra Municipal de la Gaîté…), and last but not least the programming, which has always remained of the people while having high standards.
Few other Parisian venues can boast such a turbulent history: one of the capital’s theaters with the highest revenue during the Commune de Paris, celebrating Victor Hugo’s 70th birthday, sheltering Russian ballet troupes transiting through Paris in the 1920s… it was pillaged during the Occupation when the large chandelier installed by Offenbach disappeared along with the Emperor’s golden carriage stored in communal areas, lost ten times and recovered twenty times… In the 1970s, the venue hosted big theater hits such as Marivaux’s La Dispute, directed by Patrice Chéreau or Bob Wilson’s Le Regard du Sourd. After this, there was even a circus school led by Silvia Montfort and a circus tent in the square Chautemps!
At the start of the 1980s, under the threat of the majestic dome in the main hall collapsing, it was required to cover parts of the main hall with concrete. It was soon destroyed as part of the theme park project Planète Magique, imagined by cartoon creator Jean Chalopin. Technical difficulties hindered this park which only opened for a few weeks in 1989.
After this, la Gaîté Lyrique was dormant, dust progressively gathering in this central venue for Parisian cultural life. Up until 2002 when la Mairie de Paris decided to set up a new cultural establishment devoted to digital cultures and contemporary music.
A team led by Pierre Bongiovanni settled there and from October 2002 to April 2004 it implemented an events policy in the building and off-site. During the first Nuit Blanche, la Gaîté Lyrique is even visited by a giant, thanks to artist Samuel Rousseau’s video projectors.
In parallel, in December 2003, architect Manuelle Gautrand is entrusted with the project, following a call for applications by City Hall. The project, while staying innovative, respects the historical parts of the building (the façade, the entrance and the foyer are restored) and it intends to offer a building with equipments constituting a genuine “tool box”, modular, and in the service of the artists.
La Gaîté Lyrique such as it exists today has opened its doors in March of 2011. Since this reopening, numerous projects made la Gaîté’s contemporary history: Capitain futur, the kids-oriented-art project, has amazed young and old through its exhibitions and its shows; the band Phoenix has recorded its latest album “Ti Amo”; invited cities Johannesburg, Istanbul, Portland, Tangiers, and Berlin made their artists shine; festivals Loud & Proud and F.A.M.E. were born there, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke gave an intimate concert; Stefan Sagmeister’s happy show filled its visitors with enthusiasm; Suicide and The Fall played their last Paris gigs there; ARTE and Les Inrocks came to organize their festival, and shoulders were rubbed with digital creatures, ghosts, Christine & The Queens, skaters, performers, queers, tinkerers, researchers and an audience always curious and thirsty for discoveries.