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The Buzz, 4-20: Acting Up
Intermittents Overplay their Hand

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- When it comes to strike actions in this strike-happy country, the Intermittents du Spectacle, or freelance performing artists and technicians, find their liability (or Achilles heel) in their strength. Performance professionals are not shy when it comes to public protests, be they colorful street demonstrations or interrupting shows or broadcasts to make their point. But this same lack of inhibition can prompt them to overdo it and give in to their inclination for drama at the expense of effectiveness. This is what happened last night at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, when a surprise strike by technicians failed to stop the annual Molieres (the French equivalent of the Tonys), merely short-circuiting the ceremonies and possibly the Intermittents movement along with it.

As noted in today's editions of Le Monde, with Agence France Presse reports, the trouble started at about 8 p.m. last night, when thirty representatives from the Intermittents 'Coordination" group and their main union, the CGT, invaded the theater and urged the technicians working the show to strike. Despite the personal intervention of new culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres -- a hand's-on approach rarely evidenced by his unpopular predecessor -- the technicians voted 12 to 7 for the surprise strike, with 2 abstentions. (At about the same time, a separate group of Intermittents cornered the minister and chanted, "Abrogation, seule solution!," calling for their new unemployment insurance regime, which sharply reduces benefits and makes it harder to qualify for them, to be thrown out.) When the curtain was raised after this 45-minute delay and the strike decision announced, according to Le Monde and the AFP, an "indescribable cacophony erupted," with one actor, Philippe Khorsand, mounting the stage and excoriating the Intermittents, "You do do not understand anything, you are nuls. What you've done tonight is a scandal."

But the real surprise, Le Monde reports, came when the 1,900 guests refused to leave the theater, insisting that the show continue, even as the sound was cut when the technicians stopped working. (But then, ever since their boisterous response to the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky/Nijinsky's original "Rite of Spring," this theater's audience has not been known for taking perceived provocation lying down.)

All this came on a day when Donnedieu de Vabres had agreed that while changes in the Intermittents regime were necessary, there were problems with the new protocol, and after he had met with representatives of the cultural community in an attempt to begin to resolve the impasse, ahead of this spring and summer's festivals.

Most of last summer's festivals were cancelled, either because of strikes or strike threats, and by festival directors who were mostly sympathetic. But in considering whether the Intermittents and their union can force a second dark summer to press their case, the uknown has been whether they audience -- the artsgoing French public -- would put up with it. If the intransigent and even insulting attitude of the previous culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon made the public incline towards the artists, the newly cooperative government stance does not present such a contrast. By giving into histrionics just when the government was extending a conciliatory hand, the Intermittents' stagestruck representatives have only jeapordized their trump card -- the threat of festival cancellation -- and given the other side a new one: An audience that, apparently, has decided it's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore



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