OFF to see the Festival in Avignon

I had been looking forward to the Festival d’Avignon, the biggest theatre festival in France, for months! Theatre? Yes. In French? Oui!

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Avignon is a very old city, known for being the city where popes lived. It is surrounded by thick stone walls.

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The city breathed theatre. Flyers were plastered everywhere – on walls, on trees, even on people. You couldn’t walk a block without someone trying to hand you a flyer and convince you to go to their show. It was great! We ended up being whisked in to see Changement de Rôles, a comedy about a guy waking up and discovering that he’s pregnant! It was an interesting concept, but the plot was weak. Although the character development seemed a bit forced, it was a funny show!

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Next we saw Le Médecin, a play based on Molière‘s Le Médecin malgré lui. It was a modern adaptation of the manuscript, performed by only four actors. There were hilarious dance breaks, cute songs, weird masks, and a contemporary feel.

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We then decided to explore the city more, and visited the Palais de Papes, where the popes used to live. It was grand! There were many exhibitions inside, showing off old artifacts and explaining the history behind the building process of the palace.

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There was a great view from the top!

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Here are portraits of the popes!

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The song Sur le Pont d’Avignon was written about the cute little bridge, the Pont Saint-Bénézet. It is small, and does not lead to anything, but when in Avignon one must of course sing the song on top of the bridge! A man helped us take our cheesy jumping pictures and tried not to laugh when it went horribly wrong. A group of girls was also on the bridge, singing the song while dancing around in a group circle. Adorable!

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Caelie really wanted to see L’Eveil du Printemps or, in English, Spring Awakening. I was nervous, as I had heard the musical was very emotional and heart-wrenching. In reality, it was not a musical nor was it as emotional as I had expected. This may have been due to the language barrier, but I felt there lacked a deeper level of connection with the characters. However, the acting was pretty great and they made the most of their small stage.

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Then dinner! I tried specialty foods from the Provence region of France – escargots à la provençale and a lamb dish. One of the best things about Avignon was the crepe stand in the center of the city – sugar crepes for only one euro! They were delicious. I wish we had those in America.

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The second day we tried to see something from the actual Festival d’Avignon. Since the tickets were sold out for every theatre performance (and had been sold out for weeks), we ended up going to see a talk. Unfortunately the talk was not about theatre so we ended up going to enjoy more OFF shows.

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Hands down the best show we saw was the production of Les Misérables. Before we entered, they handed us a loaf of bread. Puzzled, I asked them what it was for. The man said, “This is how it all began.” it was unreal how unexpected but appropriate it was! The play started off with two women on stage in black, one large table, and many figurines. It was immediately obvious that this was not a typical show – instead of actors, the two people moved the dolls around while both narrating and speaking lines. It was incredible. They took on the roles of every character, often switching roles, always changing. The piece was surprisingly touching and I was blown away by the technical mastery and emotional connection they were able to make.

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To accompany our delicious loaf of bread, we got some yummy soft-serve ice cream and explored the city a bit. There were many live performers, and we stopped to listen to two young adults singing a beautiful Italian love duet.

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The last show we saw was called Alice, a piece inspired by Alice in Wonderland. It was honestly extremely confusing and very abstract. There was heavy usage of multimedia, with constant projections and moving background images. At the end we had no idea what the play had really been about… behind us, a father asked his son at the end “Did you understand what it was about?” The boy responded, “It was all a dream!” His father replied, “Yeah, that’s basically it.” We didn’t get much else out of it.

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To end our weekend, we walked through the streets eating cheap crepes and appreciating the city’s architecture.

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It is really cool to have a French theatre festival, but it makes it hard for international artists to find an audience. While I appreciated being able to hear more French and experience French theatre, I hope others will be able to find opportunities to perform in such settings.

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