The Avignon Festival
the world’s largest theatre
One city, 2 festivals, more than 1,000 performances
A snippet of history
The Avignon Festival was founded by Jean Vilar in 1947, and “Avignon le Off” took place for the first time in 1966, thanks to theatre actor André Benedetto, who wanted to show an alternative vision of theatre.
The city becomes one big stage – from pavements to cinemas, from gardens to the main courtyard of the Popes’ Palace – a whirlwind of colours, languages, and styles.
African dance mixing with Chinese theatre, renowned literary authors mingling with contemporary comedians…
It’s clear that the Avignon Festival is one of a kind!
Vaucluse: land of festivals
The Avignon Festival comprises two festivals combined: the Festival d’Avignon and Avignon le Off. There’s something to suit everyone’s taste!
We’ve tested it and can assure you that you’ll love it.
Atmosphere: from the parade to the street performances
Everything begins with the atmosphere in the streets – calm in the early morning, and from 10 o’clock, everything comes to life (for the rest of the day until very late at night)!
During the festival there are posters in Avignon everywhere there is a bit of wall, railings, facade or gate free.
Dressed in costume, the troupes wander through the streets, stopping to perform a sketch to the passer-by, without forgetting to hand out a leaflet at the end (children have a boundless love for leaflets, treasures they’ll keep in their pockets no matter what!).
Some troupes offer places in this parade!
Worth the detour
The parade of the Festival Off
Each year, on the first day of the festival, all the performers, dressed in costume and surrounded by giant colourful creatures, march in a parade around the city.
You could say it’s a carnival in July.
And on a different street… a musical atmosphere with a street singer and a live concert performance – making a fun cacaphony which often encourages festival-goers to give the song a go or try out a dance step while making the most of having an audience!
In the main courtyard of the Popes’ Palace, which has become a stage wall (and what a wall!), dancers hand over to musicians, who spontaneously, but oh, how majestically, hand over to street artists.
Often, spectators young and old become actors because the artists love to involve the audience and make it as engaging as possible. Of course the children love it – but in fact, it’s more often the grown-ups who let themselves get carried away by the infectious joyful atmosphere and have a go!
If you have the chance, try it – fun guaranteed!
Shh, the curtain’s going up
So, you’ve chosen your performance?
Head to the performance location (in a theatre, gym, park, the courtyard of a private townhouse…). In Avignon, everywhere is transformed into a stage.
The lights dim and the magic of the festival begins.
Transported into a different era, different universe, sometimes even a different language.
Our breathing is in unison with the emotions of the performers; we laugh, we cry, we follow the rhythm of the music and the dancers, sometimes we sit and simply reflect.
Of course, at the end, we applaud, congratulate, ask for autographs (and take a selfie!).
There are nearly 50 performances in the Avignon Festival and more than 1000 performances in the Festival Off: curtains are raised at any moment, because the performances take place throughout the day, often in the morning or at the beginning of the afternoon for the younger ones.
After the show is over, the magic continues
After the show, stopping to chat at a café terrace is a must!
“We rewrite the story” – young or old, we all wish to share our emotions, what we enjoyed (or didn’t!) – even the youngest among us temporarily become cultural critics (sometimes more so than the older ones!)
But the festival isn’t over yet!
There’s also the chance to go and see themed exhibitions (at Maison Jean Vilar or the Lambert Collection), meet some of the performers, go to conventions etc.
For little ones
The festival Théâtr’Enfants offers a day “from the page to the stage”, where younger audience members can meet contemporary authors.
Street performances at the Festival d’Avignon
“Theatre is a nourishment as essential to life as bread and wine… Theatre is therefore, primarily, a public service. Just like gas, water and electricity.” Jean Vilar