- A major French theater festival that by 1990 had assumed thestatus of that nation's "premier cultural event". It wasfounded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, who that year appeared atAvignon in the first French version of Shakespeare's Richard II.The open-air production was staged with special music and lightingbut without scenery on a platform stage in the courtyard of the Palaceof the Popes. The festival became an annual July event and grew quickly.In 1951 Vilar revived the Théâtre National Populaireand subsequently brought the company to the festival each year.
Vilar's festival productions were large-scale but emphasizedthe individual actor and made use of sparse platform settings. Attentionwas focused upon the performers through elaborate costumes and speciallighting. Early successes included Corneille's Le Cid and Heinrichvon Kleist's Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (both 1951) and Beaumarchais'sThe Marriage of Figaro (1956).
In the 1960s the festival expanded rapidly; in 1968 it had12 official venues and many 'off-Festival' ones and staged about300 productions. This trend towards ever greater diversity continued after Vilar's death in 1971, with contributions from the major French companies, fringe theater groups such as New York's radical Living Theatre, and French-speaking countries in the developing world. The 1985 festival saw the premiere of Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière's adaptationof the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata. By the early 2000s Avignonhad assumed a scale and diversity second only to Edinburghamong world arts festivals, with around 1000 events being presented in locations throughout the city each year.