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Social Distancing Innovation: Movie Theater on River Seine in Paris

Social Distancing Innovation Movie Theater on River Seine
By Liam Klenk

The re-birth of drive-in movie theaters has officially begun. When it comes to social distancing, what could be safer than enjoying a good bit of evening entertainment in the safety of your own car? Paris is taking this revival a step further. They are hosting a innovative movie theater experience of the aquatic kind on the River Seine.

They opened on Saturday, July 18 2020. The first movie shown was a free screening of the 2018 French comedy Le Grand Bain (Sink or Swim). A charming comedy about a group of men who form a synchronized swimming team.

This feel-good movie was the perfect start to Paris Plages, an annual event that transforms sections along the river Seine into artificial beaches for the duration of the summer.

A large screen was built on the riverbank. For the next few weeks, the organizers provide 38 boats with room for 4-6 people each. This makes a total of 228 available seats on the water.

The idea of the innovative movie theater on the river Seine is that families or small group of friends who are comfortable experiencing entertainment at close quarters can book one boat together.

They can enjoy the communal experience whilst at the same time being enough socially distant from strangers.

The organizers made sure the boats are in full compliance with current physical distancing guidelines.

In addition to the seats on the comfortable boats, 150 people can watch from deck chairs on the opposite river bank. The chairs are spaced far enough apart to guarantee the safety of each movie aficionado.

Whilst being an innovative solution to current physical distancing challenges, “Le Cinema sur l’Eau” also celebrates the reopening of French cinemas at the end of June 2020. However, all regular venues are running at only 50% capacity. And, so far, audiences are even sparser than that. Since even the strongest cinephiles are still cautious about whom they spend two hours in relatively close quarters with.

As Paris takes to the water, I can’t help but wonder if the concept of “Le Cinema sur l’Eau” can’t be implemented for compatible venues and productions throughout the entertainment industry?

It is, of course, a question of weather, season, and climate. But their innovative idea could potentially be used for live entertainment, too.

Theater summer festivals like the internationally acclaimed Bregenz Festival have been held at the lake for decades. The audience is seated in a temporary auditorium of 7’000 seats, built on shore. The stage is built into the lake.

Why not turn these prerequisites around and instead build the stage on land? And provide hundreds of boats for the audience from where they can watch the theatrical performance in safety?

We might not reach a capacity of 7’000. But it will still be an impressive number.

Zurich, to use another example, has its annual Theater Spectacle. It boasts up to a dozen separate stages built right next to the lake. Their festival will go ahead this year in August as usual. Aiming to invite thousands of visitors during the 2-week performance period. However, numbers will have to be reduced in comparison with prior years, due to Swiss social distancing regulations.

What if some of the stages were built right at the water’s edge? With audiences floating comfortably on small barges or boats?

It is entirely possible and, with protective roofs in place, as seen in Paris, theater audiences will be sheltered from the often cold and temperamental Swiss weather.

From my personal experience nothing will keep Swiss audiences from enjoying open air entertainment anyways, even with additional Covid19 complications.

I have often experienced whole movies and live performances outdoors in Zurich when all of a sudden all hell broke lose and torrential, ice-cold rain showers drenched us.

Most Swiss people didn’t even bat an eyelid. They simply rummaged in their bags, pulled out a rain balaclava and settled in for the duration.

But especially in warm climates, or during the summer, taking to the water might open up, metaphorically and literally, fresh opportunities for many smaller entertainment companies which are now struggling as well. I am thinking of theater and circus companies, as well as musical performances from classical concerts to rock bands.

Imagine listening to a Beethoven sonata whilst floating on a river or lake, underneath the stars…

Or, can you imagine a circus performance on a small piazza in Venice, with dozens of gondolas in the surrounding canals, couples watching, enjoying an unforgettable evening performance whilst staying safe in times of Covid19.

Paris might well have founded a new trend here, which will help us keep the entertainment industry, and thus muse and magic, alive.

More from Liam Klenk:

Don’t Wear That Hat: Theatre Superstitions & their Origins

Entertainment with A Splash: A History of Aquatic Shows

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