What's the theatre and culture like in your area in France?

Yesterday, (Sunday morning), I left my house a bit before 8:00 am, I then spent 7 hours queuing and no, it wasn't for an Apple iPhone 5 … it was for tickets at my nearest local theatre, Le Channel on the outskirts of Calais … it's madness! Yesterday, Sunday, all the tickets went on sale for all the shows for the coming season, which starts in October and goes onto next June. The tickets are sold on a first come, first served basis. It is the same every year. Today, Monday they go on sale via the phone etc, but it is already too late … lots of the shows are already sold out and there is always a full house on the night of every show. It is incredibly popular.

I arrived at 8:00 am and I was 131st in the queue. People had been there since 6:00 am. It gets worse every year. Last year, I came a little later, but was higher up in the queue. The box office opens at 10:00 am and they can handle about 25-30 people between them in an hour. I didn't get served until 3:00 pm, but, by midday, already some of the shows were sold out. I know I could get my numbered sales sheet for the queue and then go back home and come back later about the time which I think my number will be called (a lot of people do), but I can't be bothered … the café is open for food and sandwiches … morning coffee is free and I take a book to read!

I really like the theatre and when I left London to live full-time in France, I thought that it would be one of the things that I would really miss, (not that I went that much, what with the price of theatre tickets in the West End and the cost of a taxi home). However, over here, I live within driving distance of what I think must be one of the best cultural centres in France, Le Channel. It is an incredible theatre. Based in the grounds of an old, disused abbatoir, it has two theatres, a large exhibition hall, four separate buildings for use as rehearsal rooms and set construction etc, a permanent circus big top, a restaurant, two bars, a mini ‘hotel’ for visiting performers, a fully fledged bookshop etc.

Over the years, I have seen some of the best theatre/concerts/dance performances at Le Channel that I have ever seen. Too many to name! And some of the month long theatre festivals which they hold every March have made that month for me!

However, it is also the friendly, welcoming, informal atmosphere and philosophy behind the theatre which makes it special for me. Among other things, the maximum price for any of the shows is 6 euros. The pricing policy is to keep the theatre within the reach of everybody, especially families, and children are actively encouraged to attend shows, which they do. Le Channel does a lot of work in conjunction with the local schools; they have workshops for schools and, of course, a circus school for kids. It really is a community theatre.

I am curious, though. Is Le Channel the exception to the rule in France or does anybody else have a similar cultural/arts centre near to them? I know that I feel lucky to live so near to such a cultural artistic resource, to which I can actually afford to go.

Le Channel certainly isn't trendy or stuffy or avant-garde, Terry. There is a big emphasis on humour and I have seen some incredibly funny shows there, you can't help but laugh! Likewise I've been to some great concerts there and, until I started going to Le Channel, I'd never been to a contemporary dance theatre before, but some of the dance performances put on by visiting dance companies have been amazing too. Some of the best shows in the past have been staged by one or two visiting companies who combine cuisine with entertainment. The performers are both artists and chefs and the performances between dishes are again very funny and, let's face it, to have a superb three course meal with wine and an evening's entertainment all for 6 euros can't be bad!

To be honest, I book seats for every show indiscriminately because some of the most unlikely sounding shows have often turned out to be some of the best. For instance, I once went to a show given by a troupe of Moroccan acrobats. I thought what the hell! However, the evening turned out to be both eye-opening and very funny. Or 'Musica Nuda', an Italian girl singer accompanied only by a double bass player! I was curious to see how that could possibly work, but, if you ever get a chance to see Musica Nuda, go, they are superb! I could go on! I have been going to Le Channel for years now and it helps me get through the Winter, that's for sure!

As well as the theatre, Calais has an art cinema, the Alhambra, which shows more than just the usual blockbusters (we have a local Gaumont multiplex too). The Alhambra, though, screens foreign films in their original language with French subtitles, which, for someone like me, who hates dubbed movies, is brilliant. I get to see English language movies in France in English!

Around my area, Barbara, there are also the usual events which you mentioned too, circuses, funfairs, exhibitions etc and there is the Municipal Theatre in Calais, which is a more traditional theatre. We also have a Music College, which stages shows with established visiting artistes as well as student concerts and, if you are young, there is the Centre Gérard Philippe in Calais, which puts on regular concerts that range from hi-hop to heavy metal, although it does have a Blues Festival every year. And, of course, down the road is Boulogne-sur-Mer, which is a big art centre as well.

In the blog post currently running about where one lives or would like to live in France, I get the feeling that the landscape environment comes high in the order of people's priorities followed by the climate. Obviously, the South is always going to win in terms of beauty and sunshine, though I am surprised at the number of people talking about their hard Winters. However, not many people seemed to mention the cultural aspect of their local areas. I have very little experience of the 'every day' cultural scene outside the part of France where I live, which is why I am curious about what is available to everyone else.

We have a thing called the Theatre de la Mauvaise Tete in the neighbouring town. Went once. Never again. Terribly trendy and avant-garde and utterly boring.

No Theatres here along the river.

But sometimes we have classical music and fantastic dance/

music/circus type happenings in nearby chateaux and extensive grounds.

Or a Flamenco evening or wine events to celebrate the season, the vandage

or whatever.

In London I was never a theatre person. Apart from sitting still for so long It was

not my thing. I prefered musicals but had not enjoyed the music/songs or

the style of dance..Andrew Lloyd Webber is talented but I am not a fan.

So in our village of Gensac we have no exciting events.

Maybe I will try to plan one.

Theatre? Where? None of those in this part of the world. Culture is usually open air and free, whatever culture is in the popular mind hereabouts.