Tuesday, January 10, 2017

20 French Instagrammers to Follow

Instagram is loaded with gorgeous photos of Provence. Here are 19 local accounts you might enjoy following...plus one I love in Paris. Feel free to share your favorite French IG accounts--or your own--by leaving the info under comments, at the bottom of this post. 

A photo posted by ProvenceGuide (@provenceguide) on

A photo posted by La Provence (@laprovence) on

A photo posted by provence (@provence) on

A photo posted by @myprovenceofficiel on

A photo posted by VuTheara Kham (@vutheara) on
And last but not least...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Curtain Up! A Theater Debuts in Avignon

A new, 50-seat theater will open in mid-January in the heart of Avignon, in an 1875 hotel particulier just behind the Opera House, just off the Place Horloge.

Called Theatre Le 9 Avignon, the venue will host a range of performances including classical music, cabaret, comedy and small-cast plays. Arnaud Lanez, communications director of the Avignon Opera, has signed on as the “conseiller artistique.”

The first, “toe-in-the-water” season launches January 12 with a free performance of Les Notes et Des Mots, a three-person evening of music, song and poetry by Tatiana Probst, Barbara Probst and Francois Lambret. The schedule then continues until July--when the space will be rented out for the Avignon Theater Festival--and starts up again in fall.

To call the Theatre Le 9 a very-personal labor of love would be a wild understatement. Owner/director Hilary Lemaire conceived the project and chooses all the shows; her husband Jean-Pierre Lemaire, literally built the theater and the beautiful home that surrounds it.  “I always loved the idea of living above the shop!” Hilary says. When you arrive for a performance, don’t be surprised if it’s Hilary or Jean-Pierre who greet you at the door, take your coat and usher you into your red-velvet seat.

For Hilary, the theater is the culmination of a life spent in theater, both on the stage and behind the scenes.

For Jean-Pierre, an “idea guy” and an experienced master builder, this was an important renovation project for his most-important client yet: his wife.

Hilary calls herself London Irish: “born in London but proud of my Irish heritage.” She trained in theatre at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance (London) and went on to marry a jazz musician. “It was a cool but not very lucrative career,” she says, “and one of us had to pay the rent.” Hilary found work as a teacher but the marriage didn’t last; she transitioned into journalism and became features editor of Campaign, a journal for the advertising industry. There she met her second husband and together they embarked on what Hilary calls “an amazing adventure,” which, thanks to his job with Heinz, gave them ten wonderful years in Asia.

In Japan, Hilary rekindled her theater career, working for--and eventually running--Tokyo Theatre for Children. She was also involved in community theater, as both an actor and a director.  

After four years the couple moved to Hong Kong, where Hilary performed in a professional, English-speaking theatre company and eventually created her own company, presenting cabaret performances. She also wrote a series of touring murder-mystery shows.

When retirement beckoned, the couple settled in Antibes on the French Riviera, which they had always loved. There Hilary created The Red Pear Theatre, presenting more than 150 shows with artists drawn from London, Dublin and the US. She also designed and led a workshop program that brought actors into the classrooms of five local international schools.  Actors were in and out of their home constantly, with Hilary often donating proceeds from their performances to Educating Cambodia, an organization she still supports. 

After a long illness, Hilary’s husband passed away in 2010. “There was a period of adjustment,” she says, “and then it was time to turn the page.”

Hilary met Jean-Pierre in Antibes when a friend sent him over to help her with an electrical problem. “He rang the bell and it was a coup de foudre,” she told me. Eventually the couple decided to move to Avignon and set out to find the perfect building, one that would lend itself to the unusual combination of home and theater. “The estate agent showed us everything he thought would appeal,” she recalls, “but nothing did, of course. Then he mentioned a house that had just come on the market but needed way too much work. Jean-Pierre was looking for a challenge, wanting to create something very special. He looked at the rabbit warren of tiny rooms, the pigeons, the mess and then at me; he saw me smiling and we both said, ‘yep, this is it.’”

The house had gorgeous bones and a fine pedigree but was a total ruin. While Jean-Pierre isn’t exactly an architect, engineer or contractor, he does all those things and more: electrical, woodworking, cabinetmaking, plumbing. (Hilary calls him “a creator of buildings who has the ideas and the skills to realize them.”) And so he set to work making Hilary’s dream house. He evacuated 265 tons of rubble and 40 tons of wood...and built an entirely new house within the old walls. Wiring the building took nine kilometres of cable; he went through 400 sacks of plaster at 30 kilos each.

“And I did it all with 20 tons of amour,” he says.

Today the house has reception rooms and the jewel-box of a theater on the ground floor, with living areas above. In the reception rooms, Hilary will be showing artwork, clothing and jewelry from artisans she loves. A large, terraced courtyard garden will be used for drinks at intermission and post-show mingling with performers.

“The goal was to restore the home to what it had been...but with modern ideas,” Hilary says. “For example, I wanted the garden to have a Japanese element.  I lived in Asia ten years and loved the contrapunto idea of blending modern, classic and Aisan influences. Some of my furniture comes from those years and I wanted the garden to be a zen experience.”

A private launch party on December 20, with three performances, built the buzz around town and gave Hilary the chance to test her sound and lighting in front of a packed house. “Arnaud from the Opera proclaimed the acoustics ‘perfect,’ she says proudly.

Performances will be international...some in French, others in English. Hilary says her years with Red Pear in Antibes “will bear fruit” while many of her heavy-weight London theatre-world friends have agreed to perform as well. To draw younger performers and theatre-goers, there will be a Master Class program and connections are being forged with local universities. Certain performances will be fundraisers for Educating Cambodia.

So what’s on? The debut season launches with Les Notes et Des Mots, for one night only, on January 12. Tickets are free (limit two per person) and can be reserved by email or phone (see contact info below).

On Monday Feb 13, Hilary presents Love Letters, with Anne Reid and James Bolam. Reid is an English stage, film and TV actress known for the soap opera Coronation Street (1961–71); the sitcom Dinnerladies (1998–2000), and her BAFTA-nominated role as Celia Dawson in Last Tango in Halifax (2012–16).

The next night (Feb 14), Reid will perform My Funny Valentine, a cabaret show in English created for this venue with Jason Carr, a two-time Tony Award-nominated pianist. “Anne came to Antibes and happened to mention that all she’d ever really wanted to do is cabaret,” Hilary explains. “I said ‘just give me a date!’ She went back to London, found a musical director and returned a year later with her first cabaret show. Since then she’s done cabaret in New York and London...she absolutely loves it. It means so much to me that me that she’s coming!”

On Friday March 24, there will be a concert of arias with soprano Julie Roset and pianist Helene Blanic. Roset recently won a competition sponsored by the Avignon Opera and as part of her prize, Hilary provided funding to continue her studies. This concert is her thank you. “Julie is delightfully expressive and has an infectious personality,” Hilary reports. “Having that in this intimate setting will be wonderful. I can’t wait to have her on our stage!”

On Friday April 28, look for a concert by the eight students of a one-week Master Class with soprano Francoise Pollet. (“Francoise is the diva,” Hilary proclaims. “To her, you bow down.”) The performance will be the culmination of the students’ week-long training.

Friday May 26 there will be a two-person dramatic evening with Pierre Rochefort and another actor to be named soon.

On June 29 and 30, the first season wraps with Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer, a one-man show in English, written and perfomed by Adrian Dooley. Crean was the only member of Shackleton’s crew to go with him three times to the South Pole; Hilary describes the work as “pure magic...the best one- man show I’ve ever presented.” 

Theatre Le 9 is located at 9, rue Racine, just off the Place Horloge. The website is still under construction but info on all performances is on the Facebook page here. For info and reservations: +33 (0)4 84 14 27 28, le9theatreavignon@gmail.com.

Photos: (1) Jean-Pierre and Hilary, during construction. (2) The theater takes it's name from the address, at 9 rue Racine. (3, 4) The theater itself, before and after. (5) Anne Reid will perform February 13 and 14. (6) Reception area for pre- and post-show mingling. (7) Part of the couple's lovely kitchen, upstairs of the theater.