Paul Rondin has been assistant director of the Festival d’Avignon alongside Olivier Py since 2014 and co-founder of the French Tech Culture Grande Provence. He is preparing, within the current health context, the immense annual rendezvous with live performance in July. Alongside the Festival d’Avignon programme, the team is developing a digital platform that will enable the Festival to have international reach. It will enable subtitled and adapted recordings to be broadcast, but also “art classes” (artist masterclasses). With a few months to go before it is launched for the general public, Festival Expériences (FXP) is getting ready to give getting ready to breathe new life into live performance and its audience.
How is the Festival d’Avignon as the 2020 edition and the Semaine d’Art in the autumn were cancelled?
We’re optimistic for this year. We won't be caught short like last year, we’re getting ready to adapt ourselves. The whole festival is working to do that. We are preparing a full programme with fifty shows, half of them are international. On 24 March we’re going to announce the programme such as we imagined it. The most important thing being that the entire live performance sector can meet again in July.
The investment of the Festival d’Avignon in digital dates back to before the health crisis. When does the Festival Expériences platform date back to and who is it for in France and internationally?
When Olivier Py and I took charge of managing the Festival d’Avignon in 2014, we were conscious that a whole generation was off our radar because it didn't use traditional media to get information. We went to look for this generation that wants to find out things for itself on the web. In the French Tech movement, we chose to use everyday tools, social media in particular, to carry out our public interest mission and enable everyone to make informed choices. By starting to think about it, we realised something incredible: established in 1947, the Festival d’Avignon is an international brand with a very strong reputation that is known throughout the world. Many countries ask us to create their own Festival d’Avignon. But Avignon is precisely where this festival takes place, with an incredible mix of popular demand, heritage returned to creation, life and old stone. It is impossible to export it, but thanks to digital tools we can make it have a greater reach. Festival Expériences, which the public should have access to this summer, will enable to amplify the Festival’s aura and multiply meetings.
Can you tell us about the FXP content? How does it echo the Festival d’Avignon? What disciplines are represented? How is it presented with its ambassadors as points of entry?
The first aim of Festival Expériences is to promote the Festival d’Avignon name and experience. But the Festival d’Avignon is theatre, dance, music and also another genre that we have created for shows that can’t be classified: indiscipline. For Festival Expériences, we are looking to artists that have performed at the Festival d’Avignon and for whom we have audiovisual material. We contact them to have them tell us what the Festival represents for them, then we look into their own artistic history.
For the ambassadors, we naturally started with Olivier Py who has the double position of Festival director and producer. And then we thought of the singer Angélique Kidjo. Her tribute to Senghor in 2017, “Femme noire” (Black Woman), mixed theatre, music, hip-hop and assembled four generations of international artists in the main courtyard. She is a generous ambassador, who told us that she started in music through the text she had always sung to tell stories. Other personalities like Caroline Guiela N’Guyen joined them, each time it’s the way to incorporate a collection of archives in the Art Class and therefore preserve, sometimes reveal, and make accessible content that, editorialised as such, give accounts of lives. The digital tool therefore becomes a cultural offer in itself.
What do you retain from the experience carried out with the Institut français in China focussing on the King Lear play by Olivier Py?
More than 700,000 spectators who saw the play in ten days via the FXP platform. As for the Art Class with Olivier Py, it was watched 55 000 times in 5 days. Without the work the Institut Français has been doing for years to make French culture visible and accessible, a recording of the 2015 King Lear translated into Mandarin would not set off so much curiosity. It doesn’t work without a mediator!
We have experimented with other approaches in China, broadcasts of shows, training, exchanges, but we have never reached so many people directly as such.
Has the undertaking of the Institut français and the French cultural network to promote the FXP platform in 2020 enabled to better understand the public’s expectations and potential distribution networks? How has the year we’ve just been through transformed the Festival Expériences?
Without fawning, the Institut français support was decisive. In whatever region of the world it may be, Asia, North and South America for example, it has been the connection, the mediator that enabled us to understand that the Festival’s reputation, its attractivity, could also find new accessibility through this digital and audiovisual content. The contact established with the Instituts’ highly varied audiences and that they know was an accelerator for FXP. In a way our collaboration validates the hypothesis of demand. I would add that the characteristic of each region or country has made the offer develop by expanding it, for example in the United States with the “Live talks” with American personalities, and in Korea a more spectacular approach on big screens.
What economic model do you envisage for rolling out the Festival Expériences?
The economic model is multiple. First of all there are individual or group subscriptions from 10 euros per month. Then there are sales of licences to enable certain content to be used. And finally there are partnerships, for example when we are asked to co-build a programme. In this case, any operator can buy one of the subscriptions and decide to make them available to a particular public for free. In line with our public service mission, we will always be vigilant that content is not picked up by economic interests. However, just like the Festival d’Avignon sells its tickets between 10 to 40 euros, there will be a charge for access to the Festival Expériences.
Do you think that the current situation and the development of the platform will require generally rethinking the production of creations including a hybrid offer from the outset? Do you envisage that now with the companies programmed or the festival in 2021?
Festival Expériences is one of the major partners of the Festival d’Avignon in 2021. For certain shows, we are considering the possibility of a hybrid offer. To give ourselves all the means so that shows be shared, we can't reduce digital in the use of recordings. In this area, the Festival d’Avignon has a real role to play. For a long time I’ve defended the idea that three professions, stage, audiovisual and digital, must work together to ensure a work is seen as much as possible. After the year we’ve just been through, I believe that even more. Formats must be thought of in a “native” way, that is conceiving them in terms of how they are broadcast, to add a new dimension to live performance.
Can you really “experience” online an experience related to the Festival d’Avignon, where “live” performance is the beating pulse?
Nothing replaces the current you feel in an auditorium: the tears and laughter, your own emotions and those of your neighbour. But it’s another experience, additional, that remains to be invented. So long as we haven't come up with a “native” experience we can't imagine an experience as captivating as the presence of artists on stage. With hybridisation, it is pretty exciting to imagine provoking feelings 15,000 kilometres away, that are very different to being present. It’s starting to happen, artists are developing their tools and moving the goalposts is fascinating.
The Institut français will organize, as part of the Festival d'Avignon, a Focus Theater from July 7 to 11, 2021. Focus is a programme of the Institut français to support foreign professionals in identifying sectors of French cultural creation and encourage their dissemination around the world.
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