BACK TO THE FESTIVAL D'AVIGNON 2012
- LE FESTIVAL D'AVIGNON
1947 - 1963
For 17 years, the Festival reflected the work of one man, one team, one
location and thus was the embodiment of one spirit. Jean Vilar's aim was
to attract a young captivated and fresh audience, through a type of
theatre that was different from what could be seen in Paris at that
He wanted to "renew theatre and collective forms of art by providing a more open space (…) to give a breath of fresh air to an art form that's stifling in waiting rooms, in cellars, in salons; to reconcile architecture with dramatic poetry."
Jean Vilar developed an attachment to the group of actors who performed each July in front of a growing and devoted audience. Gérard Philipe - already a well-known screen actor by that time - became the festival symbol after playing title roles in Corneille's Le Cid and Kleist's Prince de Hombourg. The Festival spearheaded a rebirth of French theatre. It served as a guiding light and encouraged other theatrical experiments led by "pioneers" of decentralisation such as Jean Daste in Saint Etienne, Maurice Sarrazin in Toulouse, Hubert Grignoux in Rennes or André Clavé in Strasbourg. The theatre was given a new lease of life thanks to the work of directors sent by the state on missions to places then considered as cultural deserts. The Festival d'Avignon became a meeting place for these stage pioneers and at the same time, an expected summer cultural event in France.
It was now clear that the Festival d'Avignon was a permanent fixture on the cultural calendar. It was time for Vilar to have a permanent stage. In 1951, Jeanne Laurent, the director of Performing Arts at the State Fine Arts Secretariat, and who encouraged Vilar in 1947 as well as lent financial support to the "Semaine d'Art" (Art week), had faith in the success of the Festival d'Avignon. She realised that the decentralisation policy in France convinced a large number of people. An interdepartmental committee wanted a report on national theatre; Laurent suggested that the report should focus on popular theatre ; what was possible in the provinces was certainly possible for Paris and its suburbs. The committee was not insensitive to Laurent's determination and approved her idea. That was on the 17th of July 1951. She immediately caught a train to Avignon and asked Vilar to work with her on this project. He hesitated, consulted the members of his group, and finally agreed. On the eve of the funeral for Louis Jouvet - one of France's greatest actors - Vilar was officially appointed director of the theatre of Chaillot in Paris. He renamed it the Théâtre National Populaire. The Avignon crew was the core of the TNP.
Until 1963, the TNP and the Avignon Festival had one unique "boss" whose work was animated by a post-war cultural militancy aiming at drawing a larger audience.
Many associations, youth movements, work councils and secular friendship groups were thus approached. Thousands of young people descended on the city, sleeping in camp-sites, in guesthouses ; schools were opened to offer them accommodation. The Orchard of Urban the Vth became a venue for debates, meetings and readings. Thirteen countries took part in the first International Youth Encounters organised by CEMEA (Centre d'Entraînement aux Méthodes d'Education Active = active methods for education training centre) and by the CEAI (Centre d'Echanges Artistiques Internationaux = International artistic exchanges centre).
The administration and the troupe set up in Paris presented memorable performances of Lorenzaccio, Dom Juan, Le Mariage de Figaro, Murder in the Cathedral, Les Caprices de Marianne, Mother Courage and La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu.
And every summer, at the Popes'Palace, a cultural ritual, a kind of "communion" took place.