Show must return! Protesters occupy French theatres to decry COVID closures

Cultural sector workers occupy the Theatre de l'Odeon in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) – Dozens of show business workers are occupying theatres in at least nine cities in France to demand President Emmanuel Macron’s government reopen cultural venues and end a months-long halt to performances because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At the Odeon Theatre on the Left Bank in Paris, the sit-in entered its eighth day on Friday as protesters rejected an additional financial support for cultural venues and artists pledged by the government a day earlier.

Sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses and donated food are laid out in the 19th-century theatre’s ornate hall and velvet-lined balconies, while the 54 protesters share a single shower.

“We’ve got everything we need to sit tight for several days,” said comedian Jennifer Catelain.

“We started with polite petitions, then peaceful protests, we occupied venues for a day here and there, but we were not listened to. So we decided to step it up, stay a little longer in a place that is emblematic.”

Theatres, cinemas, art galleries and other cultural spaces have been shut since October when France was put into its second full lockdown. Much of the economy reopened in mid-December but cultural venues, like bars and restaurants, remained closed.

The protesters, among them actors, theatre workers and students, say there is no reason to keep cultural venues closed when social distancing measures can be imposed.

They have been demanding an opening date as well as an extension to special unemployment benefits for actors, musicians and other show business workers who work on short-term contracts, known collectively as “intermittents du spectacle”.

The government on Thursday promised an extra 30 million euros in financial aid and made sick leave and maternity leave more widely available for intermittents during the crisis.

However the protesters said the response did not go far enough – and for now the public appears on their side.

“They have no choice when it seems they have no other solution, said Paris resident Beatrice Philippe.

(Reporting by Yiming Woo; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)

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