Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Lucie Pierron0
The “off” Festival of Avignon
The 2015 Avignon Festival was held from July 4 to 26 in this former “City of Popes” in the center of France, overlooking the Rhône river. The Avignon Festival is presented as two festivals in their own right. The official festival, called the “In,” consists of 6 shows in magical and emblematic places such as the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes, the Celestine cloister or the White Penitents Chapel.
The unofficial festival, known as the “Off,” takes place all over the city and in the surrounding villages. I went to Avignon for a week in July and had the opportunity to visit only the “Off” festival. My article will therefore focus only on this event in light of my experience.
The streets of Avignon during the festival are in full swing. One cannot take two steps in any direction in the city without discovering a show in one of the many places of Avignon, as the shows adhere to a precise schedule, every day of the week, non-stop. The Avignon Festival has defined its slogan of “World’s Largest Theater.” Indeed, every day there are in 2,400 shows taking place in the framework of this event. This creative madness does not help the visitors to make a choice between the many opportunities offered to them. Two means are available to help you decide: consult the complete brochure, which is 400 pages, and somewhat dense. This encyclopedia references all the shows held there, by publishing for each show the distribution, a short synopsis and a photograph of the poster that you see plastered all over the walls of the city. But visitors can also go back to an age-old, extremely effective method: word of mouth. This process is part of Avignon. It is when we have a drink with friends, or just walking out of a play, that we hear rumors of a play that makes you laugh, cry, leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat, or to the contrary, is not everyone’s cup of tea.
I experienced this frenzied word of mouth. I was coming out of the Leo Tobias Wegner play, at the Rams Theater, when some young people gave me flyers for the show “A Poyo Rojo,” by Hermes Gaido, Luciano Rosso, Alfonso Baron and Nicolas Poggi, which features two Brazilian dancers in the locker room of a sports hall.
Thus, in five days in Avignon I had the opportunity to see 11 performances in 8 different locations. The performances I saw belonged to different genres. “Knee Deep” was a circus show put on by the Australian company Casus Circus when “The Scent of Sounds,” by Khalid K, was a bustling One Man Show by a man who made the most impressive sound effects. Inspired by historical themes, like “The Great Saga of French Africa,” by Jerome Colloud, literary themes, like “The Cavaliers,” an adaptation of the novel by Joseph Kessel, or as autobiographical themes like “The Tickling” by Andrea Bescond, which deals with a childhood traumatized by a pedophile’s assault. This great diversity in the themes can satisfy the widest possible audience where everyone can find his niche.
But the Great Force of Avignon is also to provide a real platform, a springboard for embarking theater companies and do not yet have the necessary reputation to play in the major Parisian theaters. Many shows that were in Avignon will be on display in Parisian theaters beginning in September for the luckiest, or for most, beginning in January 2016. “The Tickling” for example, after winning the Best Actress award from Avignon Critique Off and having been crowned OFF Favorite 2014 will be performed at the Théâtre Montparnasse in January 2016.
I also had the opportunity to attend two conferences that dealt with the “Off” following two different approaches.
The first conference gathered major theater directors of “Off.” Each explained the programming difficulties: to be a visionary and believe in the potential of emerging companies, while trying to minimize risk as much as possible. Participants also brought up the disparity in performances offered with a sharp increase in one-man shows, to the chagrin of the defenders of traditional theater forms.
The second conference was to meet Greg Germain, President of Avignon Festival & Co., and Karine Berger Deputy of the Hautes Alpes. The topic of the debate was looking at theatrical creation and digital creation. Both participants were trying to understand the difference between the two and think of ways to bring these two arts together.
Attending conferences like the ones I just mentioned was very enjoyable. This perpetual reflection on the form of the festival, on new genres that are now included it proves how Avignon is a a constantly evolving festival that tries to continually adapt to the new theater of today.
So I can only encourage you to keep an eye out for signs of Avignon in the Parisian programming if you are in the French capital this year or if you are just a little further away, to try the Avignon experience, which I assure you is worth the trip.
Heading Page Photo : Avignon-et-Provence.com