Festivals, exhibitions and in-person events are finally back! As the world reels from the COVID-19 pandemic with restrictions easing, the southern French city of Avignon Monday once again geared up – with masks of course – for one of the world's biggest theater festivals after a yearlong hiatus.
Theatergoers and troupes have expressed excitement at being reunited for the 75th edition of the Avignon theater festival, which rivals Edinburgh for the title of the world's biggest showcase of performing arts.
"I feel euphoric, as if this is my first festival," said Festival Director Olivier Py, who has run the event since 2013.
Being deprived of last year's edition had shown both the public and performers alike "how precious it is," he said.
The festival opens later Monday with a hugely anticipated production by Portuguese director Tiago Rodrigues of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," starring French screen legend Isabelle Huppert and staged at the Papal Palace main festival venue.
Rodrigues, 44, whose work at Lisbon's Dona Maria II national theater has made him one of the most sought-after directors in Europe, will take over the running of the festival from its 2023 edition, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot announced.
The pandemic still looms large over the three-week-long theater extravaganza.
A South African dance performance by celebrated choreographer Dada Masilo was pulled from the program on the eve of the opening night after members of the troupe tested positive for the coronavirus or were contact cases.
Avignon, a picturesque walled city that was the seat of Catholic popes in the 14th century, has put in place several measures to try to prevent the festival from becoming a giant cluster.
Mask wearing will be obligatory outdoors as well as in, for the duration of the festival.
And, venues will be ventilated for 40 minutes between each performance.
Audience members will not need to show proof of vaccination or clean COVID-19 tests to be able to take their seats, except for shows at the Papal Palace.
The festival's outlook brightened further on June 30 when the government lifted capacity limits on most public spaces, meaning venues were allowed to sell all their remaining seats.
For Py, the move, which sparked a run on tickets, spelled nothing short of a "renaissance" for the festival, which runs to 50 productions across 21 venues, as well as hundreds of other shows in the even bigger "Avignon Off" fringe festival.
The fate of this year's edition of the Off festival had at one point been uncertain.
With the all-clear only coming in May, this year's Off offering of street and stage theater, mime, dance and song comes to just a little over 1,000 shows, down from nearly 1,500 in previous years.
"We don't know how it is going to go off," Sebastien Benedetto, head of the association that runs the Off festival, admitted in a pun to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
He cited the spread of the highly infectious delta variant in France as a threat to the festival.
"But we're happy to be back in Avignon, which is where the whole French theater world meets up," he said.
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