Swelling COVID-19 Protest Movement Takes Over French Theaters

After aviation, Europe’s cultural and creative sector has been hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, losing nearly $240 billion, according to a recent study by an accounting firm. Now as France weathers its third lockdown in a year, the creative arts industry is pushing back, with a growing protest movement now occupying dozens of theaters nationwide.It’s been months since the Odeon theater was last open. But these days, Parisians can listen to a bit of live jazz at this Paris Left Bank landmark. Some were dancing on a recent afternoon, despite a chilly rain.A jazz band previews Odeon theatre’s afternoon assembly by occupation protesters. (VOA/Lisa Bryant)This was just a preview to the main act. The Odeon has been holding daily public assemblies— ever since a group of protesters took over the theater earlier this month.  They listed the latest tally of other occupied theaters across France—now about 70 and growing. The occupation movement began with demands the government reopen cultural venues—shuttered for months under coronavirus restrictions.  They also want benefits extended for out-of-work artists and the repeal of an unpopular unemployment reform.  Opera singer Aurelie Magnier, who attended the assembly, says she has been out of work for months. Luckily, she says, her partner has a steady job. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.  Also here is Monique Pedron, a member of the yellow vest protest movement that sparked a political crisis in France a couple years back. Its presence at the Odeon shows how this latest protest movement is spreading to include students and others hard hit by the pandemic’s fallout.  Pedron says she misses culture, and she’s had it with COVID-19 restrictions. It’s more dangerous to take the metro, she says, than to attend a play. She hopes other French will join the occupation movement.  Europe-wide, revenues from the cultural and creative industries dropped nearly a third last year from 2019, accounting firm EY reported recently. Banners at the Odeon proclaim “Culture Sacrificed” and “Power to the People.”Protesters gather at the Odean theater, which started the nationwide theater protest movement. (VOA/Lisa Byrant)That was also the message at France’s Cesar film awards ceremony, where actress Corinne Masiero stripped naked to demand more government support. She’d written “no culture, no future” on her torso.   Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot visited the Odeon. She says she understands the artists’ concerns but calls the occupations of the theaters useless and dangerous. It’s not clear, however, whether anyone here or elsewhere is listening.  

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