Paris has a new digital arts centre – La Gaîté Lyrique – in an amazing, huge converted theatre from the late 1800s

After years and years of work (a decade, since the planning stage!), an incredible new venue has just opened in Paris, perhaps the most ambitious and exciting arts project the city has seen in a long, long time…

photos : JasonW

The story behind the Gaîté Lyrique is remarkable, almost unbelievable. The building dates from 1862, Offenbach became the manager in 1872, and it naturally became specialised in operettas. At the beginning of the 20th century a few ballets were put on, then – after WWII – the program turned to plays before the space became… a circus school. The ‘historic’ foyer and the facade give an idea of how splendid the building must have been in its heyday.Since then, the building has been regularly and severely abused. At the end of the 1980s the theatre had gone bust, and the building was bought by the creator of Inspector Gadget, who decided to turn it into a theme park (of all things). With no respect for the architecture, the main auditorium and its 1,500 seats were destroyed to make way for a rollercoaster.

However, the theme park opened before all the work was finished, and it was a fiasco; nobody came, the rides broke down. After 12 days, they closed, only to reopen a year later. Even then, there were problems. It was impossible to get enough people through quickly enough to pay all the bills. In June 1991, after six months, the place closed. Permanently. Ad for a long time it was just left to rot. A couple of films on the web give an idea of what it looked like…

Eventually, the building was bought by the Paris council, who decided to turn it into a centre for the digital arts (performance, music, video games, concerts, films….). Several multi-purpose spaces have been created and installed with the latest technology, whilst respecting what was left of the original architecture. It’s amazing that any of the building survived.

For the opening of the new Gaîté Lyrique, the basement exhibition space has been invested by English collective UVA. On this level there is also a small multi-purpose space with a floor made up of 21 squares that can be individually raised up to 1.8m high if necessary…On the first floor is the video games area and the documentation centre with books, magazines and interactive screens…Upstairs again is the biggest space (300 people sitting, 750 standing, but we didn’t get to see it) with a reception area in front that separates it from the historic foyer……and there’s more! A ‘sound room’, an auditorium, a rehearsal or filming studio, three multimedia studios, a cafe just under the roof (with nine video projectors)… we didn’t get to see all that (some spaces are reserved for the artists in residence or not yet open), but we did visit the next door shop – Amusement – stuffed full of geek toys and gadgets!In all there are 9,500 m² spread over five levels. It’s huge! Here’s the report that the Paris council has made about the opening (in French only).

However, La Gaîté Lyrique isn’t just for plugged in 15 to 35 year-olds. The idea is to show everyone that technology isn’s scary, that electronic music isn’t noise, and that everyone can get something out of it. The program has a wide range of events on offer, and the space – a mix of old and ultra new – seems extremely well thought out. All the spaces intercommunicate, meaning that sound and image can be transmitted to all of them at the same time if required.

Check out their site for more info. It’s all been translated into English (even the films are subtitled). Or, you can check out their Facebook page. Or follow their Twitter feed!

La Gaîté Lyrique (here) is open every day except Mondays. Check it out!

To see our complete gallery for La Gaîté Lyrique, click the play button below, then click the four little arrows bottom right to go into fullscreen mode.

BONUS! Our little film…