Atlanta’s French culture connection

“France-Atlanta: Together Towards Innovation 2010,” which drew more than 3,500 people for a series of 20 French-American science, business and cultural events, was such a success that a second edition for late this year will be detailed at a reception Tuesday night.

Yet, considering the number of French cultural events going on in the metro area in coming weeks, it’s hard not to believe that “France-Atlanta 2011” isn’t already under way. For starters, there are two major High Museum of Art exhibits, the Francophonie Festival and a production by Atlanta-based Théâtre du Rêve, the country’s only professional French-language troupe.

Park Krausen, artistic director of Théâtre du Rêve, whose staging of the children’s classic “The Red Balloon” opened last week and continues through Feb. 27, said the wealth of activities is hardly a coincidence. Rather, it’s a reflection of a scene that is developing through the growing cooperation of independent groups, she said, with the cultural-minded Pascal Le Deunff, the French consul general in Atlanta, at the helm.

“In the last few years, the organizations definitely have been more attentive to supporting each other and promoting each other’s events, which is really important,” Krausen said, speaking of entities including the Alliance Française d’Atlanta school, Georgia Tech and the High. “We’re all serving a French-speaking population that’s not necessarily just French [by birth], including people just learning French. When people are passionate about the language and culture, they tend to try to tap into all these organizations.”

As a result, even though Théâtre du Rêve is what Krausen calls a “homeless theater” that pops up at a variety of spaces, and even though it puts on only one or two main-stage productions each year, it still manages to draw healthy audiences.

It doesn’t hurt that Atlanta is the Southeastern headquarters for a variety of companies based in French-speaking countries, and that a number of immigrants from countries as far-flung as the Congo, Haiti and Morocco have settled in the metro area.

“Sometimes people say, ‘I’m so happy you exist because I don’t really speak English well enough to go to English-speaking theater,’ ” Krausen said of the troupe’s diverse audience members.

But Théâtre du Rêve, founded in 1996 by Atlanta actress Carolyn Cook, has also moved toward being more inclusive of English speakers in recent years. Purely French scripts are performed with supertitles similar to those used by opera companies. And “The Red Balloon,” like most recent shows, is being performed in a combination of French and English.

“It’s highly visual, so that if you don’t speak a lick of English or a lick of French, you would still get a lot of the story,” Krausen said.

The Atlanta troupe has served as something of a French-language cultural emissary, performing a number of its productions across the United States and in France. It’s still-to-be-announced major work for the 2011-12 season will be an international collaboration involving two actresses from Atlanta, a playwright and actor from Montreal, a Chicago actress and a director from Brussels, Belgium. Plans are in the works to perform a staged reading of the premiere in all four cities.

But first there’s the adaptation of “The Red Balloon,” the story of the relationship between a young boy and a magical red balloon with a mind of its own, based on the beloved 1956 French film. Théâtre du Rêve’s version incorporates actors; stop-motion animation; shadow, string and rod puppets; a one-man band; a 9-year-old accordion player; an ensemble of eight child actors between the ages of 8 and 13; and what the company is calling “possibly the first-ever furniture ballet on an Atlanta stage.”

Advance reservations by school groups and French clubs have made for very limited ticket availability for six morning matinees for students, so the troupe has added another show at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“People have a deep connection to the movie,” said Krausen, who first saw it as a Milwaukee grade-schooler.

Smitten with the language, she pursued an undergraduate degree in theater studies and French at Emory University and then spent a year at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in Paris. In 2006, she became Théâtre du Rêve’s artistic director, sharing a clearly increasing passion for French language and culture in Atlanta.


● Théâtre du Rêve presents “The Red Balloon”: 3 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Saturday-Feb. 27. Back Stage Theatre at 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave. N.E., Atlanta. Tickets, $12-$25, via 404-875-3829,

High Museum of Art

● “Toulouse-Lautrec & Friends: The Irene and Howard Stein Collection,” featuring posters and prints by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and other French artists of his circle as well as French and Flemish sculpture, runs through May 1.

● “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century,” more than 250 photographs by the globe-trotting French photographer/photojournalist long identified with the title of his 1952 book “The Decisive Moment,” runs through May 29.

● The High also concludes its 12th French Film Festival at 8 p.m. Saturday with Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game.” 1280 Peachtree St. N.E. 404-733-4444,

Other events

● Watercolor exhibit at Alliance Française d’Atlanta: Iranian-born Atlanta artist Moe Behforouz shows his work. 6:30 p.m. Friday. Free. 1197 Peachtree St. N.E.(in Colony Square). RSVP at 404-875-1211.

● Lecture by Hubert Haddad: The Tunisia-born author speaks about his new book, “Palestine,” 7 p.m. March 4 at Alliance Française. 404-875-1211,

● Nuit du Conte storytelling festival: 2:30 p.m. March 20. Featuring Mimi Barthélémy (stories from the Greater Antilles), Barry Jean Ancelet (Cajun stories of Louisiana), Myriame El Yamani (stories from Acadia, Quebec and the Maghreb) and Bienvenu Bonkian (West African stories). Location to be announced. 404-875-1211,

● Francophonie Festival: March 25-27 at various locations. Events include an opening reception at Alliance Française, a private viewing of the High Museum’s “Toulouse-Lautrec & Friends” exhibit, three films for adults and a closing brunch featuring a children’s movie and music.