To Keep the Doors Open, Quebec Churches Are Now Being Used as Theaters, Dance Halls, Fitness Centers, Comedy Clubs, and More

The Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours church in Montreal has been transformed into the Théâtre Paradoxe at a cost of nearly $3 million in renovations. (Credit: Christinne Muschi for The New York Times)
The Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours church in Montreal has been transformed into the Théâtre Paradoxe at a cost of nearly $3 million in renovations. (Credit: Christinne Muschi for The New York Times)

For generations, parishioners whispered their sins in the dark wooden confessional booths of Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours, an imposing Roman Catholic church in Montreal.

But on a recent day, the edgy Quebec comedian Sugar Sammy was being filmed inside one of the booths, the latest intimate celebrity confessional on the talk show “Y’a du monde à messe,” or “The Church Is Packed.”

“I made a sex tape in order to be famous, because I thought it was the path to glory,” Sammy said with mock seriousness, as the camera zoomed in on his face, seen from behind a grill. “It didn’t work because no one watched it,” he continued. “I was the only person on the tape.”

A large audience gathered in the church roared with laughter.

The once-hallowed space, now illuminated with a giant pink chandelier, has been reinvented as the Théâtre Paradoxe at a cost of nearly $3 million in renovations. It is now host to, among other events, Led Zeppelin cover bands, Zumba lessons and fetish parties, as well as the talk show that Sammy appeared on.

And it is one of dozens of churches across Quebec that have been transformed — into university reading rooms, luxury condominiums, cheese emporiums and upmarket fitness centers.

At another event at the church, devoted to freewheeling dance, dozens of barefoot amateur dancers filled the space and undulated in a trance-like state in front of its former altar amid drums and chanting. Two men in tank tops clasped hands and twirled each other. A woman in blue juggled three white balls, putting one on her head.

Several wooden pews were recast to build a handsome bar for alcohol-fueled banquets. The former sacristy where priests prepared for Communion is now a dressing room fit for a diva.

While the church has welcomed a “Crucifix Halloween” party featuring barely dressed, leather-clad dancers gyrating in front of a lit-up cross, its director, Gérald St-Georges, a Roman Catholic, stressed that its main function was still sacred rather than profane. It teaches former addicts, juvenile delinquents and high-school dropouts technical theater skills so that they can enter the job market.

“I don’t feel any taboo in transforming a church into a theater, as we are remaining true to the church’s mission of serving the community,” Mr. St-Georges said.

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SOURCE: Dan Bilefsky
The New York Times