Art & Culture

Published on October 17th, 2014 | by A.P.

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A look back at the Festival of Avignon and its future…

“For 17 years, these two words together, Avignon and July mean theater.” Jean Vilar, 1964.

As of today, it has been 67 years since these two words were inseparable. But this idyllic is sometimes stormy. Once again, the festival of Avignon was nearly canceled, haunted by the specter of a 2003 strike. It is the opportunity to return to what this festival is, what it means, its importance ; in short why the month of July, between the walls of the city of Popes, has a very special aura.

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Jean Vilar, founder of the Festival of Avignon. Photo by France Culture.

Initially, there was Jean Vilar and his ambition to reinvent the theatrical space, in the strong sense: its location, its practice, its audience. In 1947, the festival of Avignon was born, with the project to bring together ideas, convictions, ideals behind the theatrical object. Therefore, it is not only to offer multiple theatrical offerings, both in form and in content, but also to uncover new cultural policies, which will influence and shake the French culture. In 1964, Jean Vilar said in this regard that “theater, it is for us spectators, an extremely exciting thing, is not everything.” A way of saying that, beyond the creative act, he does not forget, like the reflection worn around the festival, question the social purposes of cultural development.

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The greatest festival of the world (Festival of Avignon). Photo by Telerama.

Over the years, the festival of Avignon stands as “the greatest theater in the world”: in fact, it invites the French creation as well as foreign. The said official program (“in”) is validated by the festival director (Olivier Py), and all around is played “off” festival, where over 1,500 performances are presented.

The legend of Avignon is also written by the political events of its time; Thinking about the particular climate in which Avignon was bathed in 1968, and after the events of May. The festival follows this controversy. In 2014 there is no escape and debates on budget cuts for culture in France continue. Questioning of the status of the entertainment industry triggered turmoil during the preparations. The reasons for the anger? There is a challenge regarding a special scheme for workers in the show. Initially, it was a status created for people working on shoots for movies, whose work is necessarily unstable, alternating between periods of work and periods of no work, and allowing them to receive a steady income. Gradually, this plan was extended to the field of performing arts, music… Specifically, it is the promise of an independent creation that is also diverse and rich. And that’s why the sponsors of culture are not ready to let go of their precious privilege. The French government has not decided yet, and negotiations have been ongoing all summer.

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Olivier Py, the new director of the festival of Avignon. Photo by esinrocks.com

This is a cultural event of great importance in France, from its founding character; this real cultural breeding ground is not only a breeding ground for young directors, artists, companies who come to take up residence, but it is also the laboratory where the French culture tries to understand itself. Olivier Py, new director of the festival in 2014, and true to the spirit of Vilar, recalls that the amount of shows they offer should not be misleading. Avignon is not just a showcase for contemporary art but “a community of mind which is found in July so that one can learn to be political in the light of poetry, and in the light of thought and theater. “A nice reminder that this festival is primarily the mecca of creative speech, combative, bold and rich, but mostly free.

 


About the Author

Née à Paris, mais très vite exilée sur les terres bretonnes, elle s’accommode avec bonheur du ciel capricieux. Après des études de littérature à Nantes, elle fait une licence de philosophie dans l’historique université de la Sorbonne à Paris. Ecumant les théâtres, elle s’essaye à la critique en intégrant la rédaction du site européen de spectacle vivant Rue du Théâtre, aiguisant notamment sa plume au festival d’Avignon où elle y prend désormais ses quartiers tous les étés. Aujourd’hui elle étudie la communication dans le domaine culturel à Sciences Po Lyon, essayant de construire son projet professionnel dans le sillon si passionnant des passeurs de culture.



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