Theater: Avignon returns to its festival, despite the pandemic

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The City of the Popes will live to the rhythm of health restrictions while reviving its theater festival from Monday. The Avignon Festival, canceled last year, is eagerly awaited by the organizers.

A year after the cancellation of the 2020 edition due to the pandemic, Avignon is once again the capital of the theater thanks to the opening of its international festival on Monday, with one eye on the stage and another on health restrictions.

The day before the inauguration, the theater event, one of the most important in the world with the Edinburgh Festival, was deprived of a South African show due to contamination within the team. , remained stranded in their country which is currently experiencing record infections.

Screening centers, distribution of self-tests, masks in the street – unlike the rest of France – due to the crowds outside during the festival, ventilation of the 40-minute rooms between the show slots: the Cité des Papes will live to the rhythm of the restrictions but the organizers prefer to see the glass half full.

“I’m euphoric, it’s like it’s my first festival!” enthuses its director, Olivier Py. “To have been deprived of the festival last year only increases the impatience, the desire to live this one. We learned how precious it was.”


The name of Olivier Py’s successor will be announced Monday by the Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot, at the Palais des Papes. It is there, and more precisely in the Cour d’honneur, renovated this year, that the opening show, “La Cerisaie” by Tchekhov will be played, notably with Isabelle Huppert, in a staging by the Portuguese Tiago Rodrigues.

Good news fell at the end of June: 100% gauge for all rooms. “It was not won, we had quota places, we had sold only 40% of the places”, explains the director of the festival. “It’s a renaissance, especially since this year there are 20,000 more seats on sale, 35 more curtain raisers. And from the opening of the counters, we had an incredible enthusiasm from the public.”

With 21 places and 50 shows, the festival says “in” is ready, just like the “off”, which is held in parallel to the official event. Both represent a windfall for the city, with an estimated economic weight of nearly 65 million euros.

“It’s a bit of a race for everyone, but we are relieved that the festival is held”, declares to AFP Sébastien Benedetto, president of the association which manages the “off”, considered as the biggest market performing arts in France. He also welcomes the 100% gauge, something he did not “believe at all in May”. “We were a little apprehensive about the public, but little by little we are reassured because we sell a lot of tickets and subscription cards”, as much as in 2019, he says.

“Everyone here”

The “off” brings together nearly 1,500 shows in normal times but presents only 1,070 this year, with five to six shows per hall, against eight usually.

“By force of circumstances, it gives the actors time to breathe, the technicians to dismantle the sets; you just have to find the economic means to support the theaters”, adds Sébastien Benedetto.

The Ministry of Culture is committed to supporting artistic teams with employment assistance and deficit support for “places that would be forced to make fewer slots”.

“We don’t know how it’s going to happen, there is always the threat of the variant (Delta), we have a prefect who pays attention to all that and the theaters too”, specifies Sébastien Benedetto, who is also director of the theater of the Carmelites, where the actors are 90% vaccinated. “But we are happy to be in Avignon, it’s really the moment when everyone from the French theater meets here”.

With AFP

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