In a “Radioscopie” by Jacques Chancel of November 2, 1968, this great man of the theater told of a life exclusively dedicated to this art, of which the festival, which begins on July 7 this year, was the turning point. Madelen invites you to see (or see again) this nugget.
Hundreds of “in” and “off” shows every year, during the month of July (the new edition starts on the 7th this year). Jean Vilar had probably not imagined such a crowd when, in September 1947, he arrived for the first time in the City of the Popes. At the request of the poet René Char, and on the occasion of a week dedicated to contemporary art, he came to create and stage three shows then considered elitist: The tragedy of King Richard IIby William Shakespeare, The story of Toby and Saraby Paul Claudel and The South Terracesigned by a young author, still unknown, Maurice Clavel.
The performances in the main courtyard of the Palais des Papes, at the foot of the Urban V orchard and at the Municipal Theater bring together 4,000 spectators, which the organizers do not imagine in their wildest dreams. On the strength of this success, Vilar agrees to play the extensions the following year and even to develop the adventure, by directing a week renamed “Festival”. In a “Radioscopie” by Jacques Chancel broadcast on November 2, 1968, proposed by Madelen, Jean Vilar recounted a life exclusively dedicated to the theater, of which the Avignon Festival was the turning point. And yet it is not his love of directing that is at the origin of this adventure…
Since the end of the war, he has had plenty of work in Paris, but deep down inside he is not happy. He does not find himself in the small world of Parisian entertainment. The projects offered to him do not excite him. He is brimming with particularly original ideas, but in order to bring them to fruition, he would have to direct a theatre. The first steps taken in this direction have convinced him that it is an impossible mission. He will never find the money to buy a place, and no one will trust him. With a feeling of being suffocated in this way professionally, he accepts without hesitation what he considers to be a breath of fresh air, a breath of fresh air: a week in Provence, not far from Sète, his hometown.
“The best market in the world »
The strong presence and the reception of a resolutely popular audience during these three performances will give him wings, but also an idea. A single evening in front of the Palais des Papes allows him to measure the potential of this unique setting in the world. It is said that in Avignon, it is possible to touch many hearts by putting on difficult plays, on stages that do not correspond to the usual standards of a theatre. This is how when he is offered to continue the adventure, he accepts, with even more enthusiasm than the first time.
In just a few years, under his leadership, Avignon would become, in his own words, “the best market in the world” for professionals and theatergoers alike. He introduces, and applauds, Brecht, Gide, and other authors, still confidential, to spectators who, until then, would sometimes be unaware of their existence. He is careful to keep ticket prices as low as possible, so that a popular audience has the opportunity to afford them. However, this will never prevent him from featuring some of the greatest actors of his time, starting with Gérard Philipe, Alain Cuny, Daniel Sorano, Philippe Noiret, Jean-Pierre Darras and Georges Wilson. One of his great pride will be to have been the first to entrust roles to two beginners whose future he believed in: Jeanne Moreau and Robert Hirsch.
The success of Avignon will pave the way for many festivals across France. “We have been copied, but never equaled, confided Jean Vilar, in 1970, only a few months before passing away. The light of day under the summer sun, the starry nights under a sky without the slightest cloud and above all, the decor of the Palais des Papes undoubtedly have a lot to do with it.”