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What’s going on in July in Avignon ? What’s the Off ? What’s the In ?

Date changes in 2024

This year marks the Summer Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

To ensure adequate security measures for both summer festivals and the Olympics, the dates for the main summer festivals have been adjusted.

Thus, the Avignon Festival will begin on June 29 and end on July 21, 2024.


The History of the Avignon Festival

How did the Avignon Festival come to be ? Where did the idea of turning a city in the south of France into a theatrical hub for three weeks come from ? This remarkable cultural event can be compared to the Edinburgh International Festival, though Edinburgh is much larger in terms of capacity.


The Jean Vilar Years

Invited to Avignon by René Char, among others, and by other artists, painters, and sculptors to participate in art meetings, Jean Vilar agreed to present three new plays in the Cour d’Honneur.

Thus began Jean Vilar’s theatrical adventure in Avignon !

In 1947, he founded a festival with the aim of revitalising this declining art form. His approach to theatre was different from what was being performed in Paris at the time. Initially, he organized just a few performances during a simple Art Week. Until 1963, Jean Vilar, surrounded by his favourite actors, like Gérard Philippe, directed the event with a post-war activist spirit.

The festival was a success. Vilar eventually left the Théâtre de Chaillot to dedicate himself to Avignon and founded the TNP (National Popular Theatre). Avignon became his laboratory. Culture thrived and blossomed there. Doors opened to welcome the exuberant youth. Schools were opened to house them. Residents explored the joys of what could be considered an early form of Airbnb, with a different ethos.

Cloisters and chapels became the cradles of this theatrical adventure. Productions like Ariane Mnouchkine’s “Méphisto” or Antoine Vitez’s “Molière” plays found a fitting venue to experiment and explore different aesthetics.

The Chartreuse of Villeneuve lez Avignon, a former 14th-century monastery, also became an artist’s residence, a sort of Villa Medici in the altera Roma.

The festival grew and grew until new generations began to criticize Jean Vilar’s theatre and his methods. The events of May ’68 challenged everything. Jean Vilar was affected by this and died of a heart attack in 1971.


In brief, the Avignon Festival to the present day

In the “In” Festival, artists are selected and invited by the artistic direction to perform, and then technical teams handle everything. Public subsidies fund the event.

The “Off” Festival, which started in 1967, includes professional, private, self-financed companies and actors who come to engage with the festival’s audience on the fringes of the official programme.

Together, the In and Off festivals contribute to the growth of this great summer theatre celebration.

The adventure of the In continues and seeks to modernize. The festival, already open to dance, has introduced a new setup in the Cour d’Honneur to welcome Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil.

The new generation of theatre and dance artists makes a strong entrance. Avignon also opens up to live arts from abroad. The festival remains a focal point for great French theatre adventures. Spectacular productions, like the full staging of Paul Claudel’s “The Satin Slipper,” take place here.

This quest for new forms of dialogue between the festival, its history, heritage, environment, and audience has found a new centre in La FabricA, a residence and creation space founded under the presidency of Hortense Archambault and Vincent Baudriller.

In 2013, Olivier Py took over the festival’s direction. Since Jean Vilar, he is the first artist to direct this extraordinary festival that promotes contemporary live performances. He consistently aims to make the festival accessible to all audiences, including prisoners.

2022: Tiago Rodrigues, new Director of the Avignon Festival

Today, the In features around 40 shows in 40 places each year, with a spotlight on a different language annually : English in 2023 ; Spanish in 2024.

The Off Festival includes 1500 shows in 150 places.

Avignon becomes THE theatre city in July !

Tiago Rodrigues is the first non-French director. This international openness and the intent to shake things up are integral to the festival. It’s a place for questioning and enjoying a certain utopian vision.

These festivals also face the changing world and the impact of these large international events, which undeniably need to evolve. These transformations will be, this year, the subject of a series of meetings at La FabricA for professionals.

Additionally, in this particular year, the Off Festival will not take place at the same time as the In. It will start on July 3 and end on July 21 as well.

For more information, discover the wonderful Maison Jean Vilar.

L'histoire du festival d'Avignon