The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Vincent Baudriller
Mr. Vincent Baudriller, general artistic director of the Avignon Festival
Hortense Archambault
Ms. Hortense Archambault, assistant director of the Avignon Festival
Festival d’Avignon
An Overview
Presenter Interview
The Avignon Festival rebornTalking about subjects like the Festival's new Associate Artist program  
The Avignon Festival rebornTalking about subjects like the Festival's new Associate Artist program  
After France’s performing arts workers (Intermittent) strike forced the cancellation of the 2003 Avignon Festival, doubts were cast on the future of this world-famous international performing arts festival. Those doubts were soon dispelled, however, when the Festival returned to a highly successful 2004 holding under the direction of Vincent Baudriller, who assumed the post of general artistic director for the Festival in 2002, while still in his thirties. We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Baudriller and the Avignon Festival’s assistant director, Ms. Hortense Archambault, when they visited Japan for the first time last November.
(Interviewed with Shintaro Fujii, Waseda University)

Mr. Vincent Baudriller, general artistic director of the Avignon Festival
Ms. Hortense Archambault, assistant director of the Avignon Festival

Looking back now that the first Avignon Festival under your direction is over, it seems that the program centering on French, German, Dutch and Flanders productions put together with your Associate Artist, Thomas Ostermeier, received very high acclaim from the people involved and the critics as well. Could you tell us about this Associate Artist concept?
Baudriller: We invite a new Associate Artist for each year’s festival. For this position we have chosen people who have a very strong and highly unique artistic world of their own, from which have emerged works or productions that we love. In 2004 it was Thomas Ostermeier of Berlin and for 2005 it is Jan Fabre of Antwerp, Belgium. For 2006, we have already decided on France’s Joseph Nagi and in 2007, also from France, Frédéric Fisbach. Choosing a different artist every year in this way will also bring great variety in terms of the temper of each festival. We have already begun discussions with Nagi and Fisbach about the directions the Festival will take in their respective years, as of course we did with Fabre.
In each festival we include several productions by the Associate Artist and other artists they are closely connected with, and besides such works we also include readings, exhibits and talks by writers, philosophers, sociologists and the like, as well as holding discussions, etc. In this way we are able to give a larger, multifaceted experience of that artist’s unique world.
The actual process involves a series of discussions with the artist about the basic direction of the festival program. Then we discuss actual contents and specific names of the other artists to be invited and works to be staged. Finally we discuss the peripheral programs and other details. Although I am the one who has overall responsibility for the final program decisions, the associate artists are involved with us in all aspects of the program formation and preparations for each festival.

What about the Avignon Festival audience? For example, about what percentage of the audience are professionals?
Baudriller: We had a total audience of about 100,000 for the 2004 festival and roughly 15% of them were producers, journalists, directors and other people involved in the performing arts. The large majority of the audience is from the general public, coming from all parts of France as well as the surrounding countries to enjoy a few days of very concentrated and rich theater experience. One of the things that makes this festival so enriching is the open curiosity and sensitivity of this audience.

Archambault: I believe what makes the Avignon Festival unique is not only its concentration on new works that was started by the festival’s founder, Jean Vilar, that makes it such a contemporary festival, but also the fact that it is open to such a large and varied audience, not just people of the theater world.

It seems that the 2004 festival and also the festival for this year have a very strong European orientation ….
Baudriller: The contents of the festival are different every year, depending on the Associate Artist we choose. So, there is no intention to center the festival’s program on any particular country or region. Still, it is true that Europe is naturally the framework of the world we actually live and work in. Working with theater people from Germany for the 2004 festival, we were greatly surprised at how different French and German theater is. We found that everything was different, from the organizational and structural aspects to the way works are given expression, the role of the actors and the way they perform, the roles of the scenographer and the playwright—it was all so different. We believe that it is the mission of the Avignon Festival to create the opportunities and the venues to bring France in contact with and to make us confront these kinds of cultural uniqueness, individuality and differences.

Archambault: As Europe becomes more united and the European Union expands eastward (in May 2004 EU membership expanded from 15 to 25 countries) and we begin to rethink our cultural policies, I think it is very important for us to seek out the kinds of cultural differences that Vincent has just mentioned.

Baudriller: We are constantly lobbying, talking to politicians not only France, Germany and Belgium but all around Europe, to encourage their governments to recognize the importance of providing ongoing public services in the cultural realm, to support artists and creative activities. Culture has to remain outside the realm of capitalism; it should not be subjected to market forces. That is the only way to protect Europe’s cultural identity.

Since you mention public services, the Intermittent (union of freelance workers in the performing arts and audio visual entertainment field, professional actors, dancers and technicians) protests forced the 2003 Avignon Festival to be cancelled. Both of you were working in the Festival’s administration at the time. Can you tell us how you felt?
Archambault: The Intermittent problem is directly tied into the question of how artists can exist in society, how they can make a normal living. France’s unemployment system is not run directly by the government. It is run by the employers, unions and workers’ representatives. The unemployment insurance paid to Intermittent (which system is said to be heavily in the red) is paid for not only by the people in the performing arts and audio visual field but by all the workers. The government believed that reform of the unemployment insurance system, which for example would involve a reduction in unemployment compensation, was not an important cultural policy problem. However, that reform was something that put the people working in the performing arts and the movie industry in an unstable financial situation and brought a sense of crisis in the theater world. Even if unemployment insurance is not by nature an issue of the Ministry of Culture, I hope that the administrators of the system or the Ministry of Culture can present a solution that will be acceptable to all the people involved.
In 2003, the Intermittent staged strikes and strong protests because they felt that their livelihood was being threatened. While we felt sympathetic with their cause and wanted to show solidarity, we also felt that striking and canceling festivals was an impulsive and inappropriate strategy for achieving their goals. That was the first time the festival had been cancelled in its nearly 60-year history. Although the unemployment insurance problem has still not been solved, when we consider the importance of festivals like this for the artists’ careers, I don’t think they will force the cancellation of their own festivals again. This is because I believe that, like other arts, or even more so, theater depends on people for its existence. You could even say that the people are its very existence, and I believe that the artists understand this.

Baudriller: While it is true that the unemployment insurance reform was not one that fit the realities of the theater world, shutting down the festival was not the best means to oppose it. Since then, we have gather representatives from the parties involved and provided opportunities for serious ongoing discussions to try to get some kind of agreement. Soon a new reform proposal should be made and we hope that it will be a satisfactory one.
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