As an actress and theatre practitioner myself, I had always dreamt about coming to Avignon. Somehow, all theatre festivals seem so inspiring and mesmerizing. You get to see firsthand those performances that afterward make history. For a few hours, you share the same space with those directors and actors who have so profoundly influenced you. Certainly, you can nowadays have access to virtually anything online. But there’s something incredibly romantic in theatre festivals. It seems like time stops for a few weeks, and surprisingly, theatre and arts take over the city. To paraphrase Olivier Py, theatre becomes a space of revolution and change, where humanity creates a new political spirit.
However, the reality of all this seems less romantic, even gloomy, at times. This wasn’t my first time in Avignon. During this second visit, I could focus on the details, and remove the rose coloured goggles. The contrast between Avignon In and Off can be terrifying. While actors and directors in the official festival just have to come to Avignon and “do their thing,” artists from the Fringe version must keep working after the performance is over. Because all those posters you see hanging from poles and windows are not for Avignon in’s plays. The artists at the official festival don’t need any publicity. In fact, Avignon has a very sober and simple graphic design. Hence, there aren’t any specific posters for each of the plays.
What’s interesting about Avignon Off is the fact that there isn’t any selection. Anyone who has a play and wants to go can do it. Democratic, right? Well, not quite. Among all the different venues, some of them are more reputed than others. Also, a few help companies with publicity and offer technical support, while others just lend the space with no additional service. Avignon Off can become then a very tiring experience for emerging artists. During the day, actors and directors wander around the city promoting their performance. Sometimes they do so while wearing their costumes, playing instruments, or even representing some excerpts of the play to attract audiences. And during the night, they perform… if they’re lucky enough. To be more precise, some of the companies showcase their plays at 9 or 11 am because there aren’t enough venues for all. This picturesque view of actors walking through Avignon fooling around may seem charming, but it gets old pretty fast. After the tenth actor approaching you with a sales pitch, you just want to run away.
Even though this may look as amateurism, there is something interesting and remarkable about these companies. In spite of all the difficulties, most of them manage to put on a great show. Some of the performances are actually moving, even brilliant at times. Yes, it is like looking for a diamond in the rough among all those unpolished rocks. But compared to the official selection, there is more diversity regarding the plays, directors, and styles. There is also an eagerness, a zestful passion which contributes to the general feeling of Avignon during this time of year.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.