The city of Avignon is in Provence in the South of France and has a population of 90,000 in the central areas and a total population in excess of 300,000.
Famous for its bridge and for its Palais des Papes – Palace of the Popes – Avignon is also renowned for its theatre festival which began in 1947 and is held annually. Primarily a serious theatre festival where substantial plays are performed inside the Palace of the Popes, it is also an invitation for street performers and for new plays to be shown in fringe venues and in street “theatres”.
The Avignon Festival was started by Jean Vilar who established a week of dramatic art in Avignon to liven up the early post-war years. Shakespeare’s works played well in the grand setting of the main courtyard of the Palace and the success of the plays established the current festival.
Jean Vilar was determined to bring theatre to the people and his natural approach to creating great theatre attracted famous actors to Avignon including Jeanne Moreau. Keeping the festival financed in the early years was always a struggle but the event rapidly grew in popularity and the theatre festival developed momentum. The Avignon Festival stretched from one week to four weeks and by 1964 other areas of the city were opened to plays directed by well-known artistes. 1971 saw the death of Jean Vilar but his legacy was established and his friend, Paul Puaux, took up the mantel. Today, the theatre festival in Avignon is a major cultural event and is a platform for new theatrical expressions combined with traditional theatre in an historical setting.
More than 100,000 tickets to see the plays are sold each year and the festival remains a fine example of live theatre and free artistic expression that still retains the essence and character that Jean Vilar bequeathed.The festival usually takes place in July – for more information consult the official Avignon Festival Website.