Off d’Avignon

Off d’Avignon
Photo: avignonleoff.com
Off d’Avignon is an annual performing arts festival focused on alternative and street theater. It is held in the city of Avignon, France. With over 1,000 participating companies, it is considered one of the world’s largest independent theater festivals.

The Off d’Avignon festival is held every July. It usually runs concurrently with the Festival d’Avignon. This is not a coincidence because Off d’Avignon was conceived as an alternative to the more formal Avignon Festival founded by theater director Jean Vilard, art critic Christian Zervos and poet René Char in 1947.

During the 1966 Festival d’Avignon, theater director and playwright André Benedetto opened his own theater, Théâtre des Carmes, to showcase his experimental production titled Statues. The organizers of the festival perceived is as a kind of artistic rebellion. They found it admirable but thought that it didn’t quite fit the atmosphere of the Festival d’Avignon. The next year, Benedetto presented another production, Napalm. It was the first play in France dedicated to the Vietnam War. Several other independent theater companies joined Benedetto, and the Off Festival was born.

Off d’Avignon officially became an independent event in 1968. That year, Gérard Gelas’s play La Paillasse aux seins nus was banned at the Festival d’Avignon, and several theater companies joined Gelas to found a parallel festival. Besides, some companies failed to arrive at the “main” festival because of the volatile period of civil unrest in May 1968. The alternative festival wasn’t affected by the protests as much.

The festival was named Off d’Avignon by French journalist Jacqueline Cartier. The name was inspired by the so-called Off-Broadway. An Off-Broadway theater is a professional venue in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499, which is smaller than a Broadway theater, and an Off-Broadway production is a production that appears in such a venue. The “main” Festival d’Avignon is sometimes referred to as the “In-Festival”, although not officially.

What started as an act of artistic rebellion has grown to become one of the world’s largest independent theater festivals comparable to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Every year Off d’Avignon features over 1,000 theater companies and more than 1,400 shows held in different venues throughout the city. All events at the festival are three. Spectators don’t have to buy tickets and artists are not paid for their performances. Some companies participate in both festivals (In and Off), while others choose Off d’Avignon over the Avignon Festival because they consider the latter too formal, expensive and difficult to enter.

Off d’Avignon

Photo: avignonleoff.com



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