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Broadcasting in France: Between fragility and resilience

How can Quebec's live arts be disseminated in the current context of the French market crisis? A portrait of a period as troubled as it is forward-looking.

Pandemic, war, energy crisis, inflation: since 2020, Europe has faced critical challenges, directly affecting France and, consequently, constantly requiring French venues to revise their practices. Although the situation seemed less dramatic post-pandemic, the convergence of crises has exacerbated difficulties and created new ones. Since Quebec is privileged to be a close cultural partner of France, it is important to stay informed about the evolving situation to properly position our artists in this questioning market. Through its missions, partnerships, and the feedback from its touring artists, CAPAS has been able to sketch observations about the state of affairs—enhanced by interviews with Victor Leclère, Co-director of Production, Distribution, and International Development at La Magnanerie, and Thomas Ress, Director of Espace 110 - Centre culturel d'Illzach.

These experts will join us for the training session Les réseaux de diffusion en France organised by "La danse sur les routes du Québec", to share more on the subject. Here are the tip of the icebergs we have identified.

COVID: Different approach, similar outcome

Restrictions on the arts were more lenient in France than in Quebec, allowing most venues to decide to remain open and continue broadcasting their shows in various creative ways: reduced capacities, transposing performances to the outdoor summer season, etc. While this flexibility should have allowed programming to be presented normally, hoping to avoid a post-pandemic congestion, the opposite choice by some venues—which, due to lack of resources or legitimate fear of the pandemic, preferred to cancel or postpone shows—created, if not a bottleneck, at least a slowdown in the turnover of venues to accommodate new proposals. The initial excitement of resuming, where up to 350 shows per year were sometimes planned, has slowly been replaced by uncertainty, leading to nearly 100 fewer performances per year by the start of the 2nd official year of relaunch.

Energy crisis: Exploding costs and temporary closures

With the war in Ukraine and the energy blockade against Russia, France—barely recovering from the pandemic—faced a sharp increase in the cost of gas and oil. As a result, transportation and heating became among the most costly expenses, especially for the arts sector, which needs to move artists and sets from city to city and host hundreds of people in huge venues that require heating (especially in winter). Fortunately, government levels quickly raised shields to protect French stages, taking on most of the energy expenses in many cases. But when this is not possible, venues must make a choice: heat their space at costs sometimes exceeding their profits (up to €250,000 in heating per year for some buildings making around €200,000/year), present works without heating and compromise the audience's comfort, or simply shut down for a few months. Faced with this dilemma, more shows postponed or canceled add to those already cut during COVID, contributing to an increasingly large congestion of seasons that sometimes struggle to break even.

Inflation: Reduced purchasing power

These costs are all the more difficult to cover as audiences are less present than usual, impacted by general inflation in the West. The rise in the cost of living requires spectators to make choices in what they consume both at the grocery store and in culture. Purchasing decisions are either made thoughtfully or on the last-minute impulse of an unexpected surplus in the monthly budget. Some venues even controversially decide to cancel shows that will not be profitable due to lack of ticket sales. Venues presenting live art works focused on research, exploration, and innovation pay a particularly high price, as the public currently turns towards comforting propositions which, because they can sometimes cost more, limit their ability to attend more challenging programs. Thus, venues committed to their mission of fostering critical thinking find themselves particularly isolated, facing both a wary public and an economy that does not support their business model.

Thus, a reduction of between 15% and 30% in the number of works presented both on national stages and in independent venues is observed. While some companies manage to succeed, most artists suffer the repercussions of sharp cuts in programming, seeing some tours drop from 150 performances to less than 30, sometimes even questioning the creators' ability to request intermittent show status. Among the works that fare best are notably children's shows (often less costly, with less technical requirement, and still attracting family interest) and more prominent artists (celebrities, established artists).

Reinventing practices: Our recommendations

In this turbulent context, artists and artistic director of theater must revisit their methods of programming. By finding ways to navigate these constraints, Quebec companies can facilitate their (re)insertion into the French market over the medium to long term while helping to strengthen the overall ecosystem of live art.


The ability of each company to adapt its artistic proposals to realities on the ground will determine their ability to fit into upcoming programs. Thus, defining alternative forms of a work with fewer performers, simplified scenography, or a reduced technical rider allows for adjusting the work according to the hosting capacity of a venue.


This flexibility also contributes to the ecological and economic sustainability of the work: creating a more compact set offers more touring possibilities in venues of different sizes, allowing the same creation to circulate more instead of having to discard a set after one or two uses because it does not fit in other venues. Bringing fewer artists on tour also reduces the carbon footprint of a show, contributing to making culture a greener environment in the long term. As environmental imperatives press on and funders implement constraints within their grants, keeping sustainability in mind becomes a way to advance both the planet and one's career.


While the time may not be right for export, it could be for import. As scenes are saturated or closed in France, the Quebec public is eager to connect with exceptional works from abroad. Building ties with French institutions and artistic companies then allows imagining projects of reciprocity. Quebec programmers can thus take advantage of the availability of certain artists to schedule exceptional French works. Artists, in turn, can mobilize their production or distribution partners to envision co-production projects that will later facilitate sustainable circulation of works between continents. Thus, these international receptions become opportunities to deepen relationships with institutions from the old continent and offer a breath of fresh air to our overseas partners while promoting a prime place for Quebec works in the French cultural landscape when the situation improves.

While the current situation in France presents significant challenges for the dissemination of Quebec works, it also represents an opportunity to prepare and embrace forms of circulation that involve all spheres of culture: from the artist to the venue. While art should never be distorted by a crisis—does art not then become our last bastion for freedom and emancipation from reality?—it is important to understand the socio-economic context in which today's works are set to ensure that art can reach its audience. To do this, it is necessary to adapt to the imperatives of the venues that distribute the works and understand the behavior of the French population in terms of cultural choices. Thus, a real dialogue opens between creation and the world it tries to question.


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