Not everyone wants a facelift – especially La Comedie Italienne theatre

Not everyone wants a facelift – especially La Comedie Italienne theatre.

The “Comédie Italienne” (Italian Comedy) theatre in Rue de la Gaîté, Paris, in the 14th arrondissement is about to have an unwanted facelift – or, in this case, a façade-lift.

The Comédie Italienne is the only Italian theatre in France. It has a distinctive, eye-catching, cyan-blue baroque façade. It has previously been painted red, and also in the Harlequin colours of the famous character, but now it’s bright blue. The brilliant blue façade has a busy collection of paintings on it – from angels and antique Italian columns to sparkling gold borders – as well as a “Romeo and Juliet” balcony. 

Italian director Attilio Maggiulli, a former student of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and assistant at the Comédie Française, founded the theatre with his wife Hélène Lestrade in 1974. Their aim, that they have maintained throughout the years, is to only show plays by classical and contemporary Italian authors, although all works are performed in the French language.

The Comédie Italienne started its life in 1974 around the corner at 15 Rue du Maine, before relocating to its current site at 17 Rue de la Gaîté in 1980 – and this is why “since 1974” is displayed on the façade. It moved to Rue de la Gaîté because it is well-known as the “street of theatres” in Paris. 

Building number 17 Rue de la Gaîté was a former police station and number 19 was a sex shop. In 1980, Attilio Maggiulli renovated the police station as a 100-seat theatre, turning it into the Comédie Italienne. He painted the façade in 1993 and extended the theatre by including building number 19 after buying out the lease in 1991. 

Another sign on the façade says “cadtigat ridendo mores” which is Italian for “he corrects morality by ridicule.” Ridicule, in this case, is humour, comedy, farce, and satire. 

But farce has come to the façade. The building manager, Nexity, aims to renovate the façade – to give it a mighty facelift. The renovation was expected to begin in November 2021, but has not yet started due to petitions to stop the facelift.

Attilio Maggiulli never imagined that anyone would want to change the façade.

“When I created this decoration in 1993, the inhabitants of the building were delighted because I erased the trace of the sex shop.” 

Not only were the tenants on the upper floors delighted with the façade, so too was the City of Paris. In 1995, the City of Paris awarded the façade a diploma and prize in the “Competition for the most beautiful storefronts of shops and illuminated signs of Paris” in the “other category” section.   

Attilio Maggiulli says the building co-owners are “indifferent to originality.” Nexity and the building’s owners say that the unauthorised façade will be painted “in harmony with the rest of the floors” which are a “milky tone” and the first-floor windows will be re-opened.

On 15 November 2021, Attilio Maggiulli published a petition calling for support to stop the facelift. Five days after it went online, it had nearly 19,000 signatures. To prevent the construction of the scaffolding, he commissioned a lawyer.

“She has filed an official request with the Ministry of Culture to protect us as a cultural place.”

The ABF (Architectes des bâtiments de France), an organization that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of heritage buildings, is considering the case.

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