Antigone in Avignon

Donald McLean
July 15, 2013

Every summer, there is a month long theater festival in Avignon, a town about twenty minutes north of Arles by train. It was founded in 1947 by actor and director Jean Vilar, under the belief that theater should be, to use his term, a public service. The idea of it harkens back to Greek and Roman theater, which was free to the public. While most shows are not free, the festival, which spans the entirety of the town, does offer all sorts of plays (classics, modern pieces, unknown pieces, and what have you) for extremely cheap prices.

I went to the festival today to see Jean Anouilh’s “Antigone” (pronounced in the French way, something along the lines of ahn-tee-gon, to differentiate it from the Sophocles play). I arrived at the Avignon train station a little before 10 in the morning, but the play wasn’t until 1:15 in the afternoon, so some friends and I killed time be walking around, and the occasion certainly lives up to the name of “festival.” Everywhere you go, you run into people advertising their plays, performing scenes to pique the public’s interest, singing songs about their plays, and so on. It’s a sight to see.

“Antigone” itself was fascinating. Anouilh’s is a pseudo-modern adaptation of the Sophocles play meant to be a metaphor for occupied France, and the performance today (part of the “Off” festival, the more independent counterpart to the main “In” festival) took place in a small room with no separation between audience and stage. What little props there were on scene were almost all stools. No actor ever left the stage, and lighting was used to create visual separation between the parts of the stage. The performance was shocking, unsettling, and extremely well done. They removed very little from Anouilh’s original text (just two minor characters), but added surreal interludes between the main scenes. I’m still thinking about it and what some of the implications of these interludes were, which to me is a fantastic sign. Great art should make you think, and this performance of “Antigone” certainly did that.

I’m reading this play for class, but I have yet to get through the full text. As soon as I got back to my host family’s house, though, I pulled the book out and read, making it through about half the play. I plan on reading more later tonight.

Even though I completely disagree with them, there are certain people here who are worrying that I’m not profiting from my time here. Yet, if I can leave with an experience like the one I had today, I don’t see what the issue is.

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Donald McLean

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Miller McLean, and I am a rising senior majoring in English and French while minoring in German at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, but have always wanted to get out and see the world. At school, I am involved in the German Club, the Culture Committee, and the pre-law organization Phi Alpha Delta. In my free time, I like to read, write, and play music. Since beginning my French studies in high school, I have taken an interest in foreign languages and cultures, and I hope that my stay in Arles will help expand my world view and improve my knowledge of French. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that France will offer me, and I hope you enjoy my posts about my journey!</span></div>

2013 Summer 1, 2013 Summer 2
Home University:
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
French Language
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