Strike forces Avignon to cancel opening shows

Strike forces Avignon to cancel opening shows
A strike has forced the cancellation of the opening productions at the Avignon Theatre Festival. Photo: Bertand Langlos/AFP
The head of France's world famous Avignon Theatre Festival cancelled two productions set to open the event on Friday due to a strike by festival staff. A larger strike from performers threatens to cripple the month-long event.

The two opening shows of France's prestigious Avignon Festival — one of the world's biggest theatre showcases — meant to be held Friday have been cancelled after strike action by actors and technicians.

Festival director Olivier Py told a press conference on Friday that the premieres of "The Prince of Hamburg" by Heinrich von Kleist and the ballet "Fatal Blow" which had been set to mark the opening of the event would not go ahead.

The festival, which attracts 128,000 theatre-goers to the southern French city, faces a serious threat from striking technicians and performers angry about proposed changes to their special "intermittent" status that provides them extra unemployment payments between creative endeavors.

A vast majority of the festivals technicians, ticket sales people and other staff will strike on Friday, but have voted to not completely walk out of the event. They plan various industrial actions all while doing the work that allows the event to happen.

However, a strike from a broader group of "intermittent" performers is still very much a threat to festival, which is now in its 68th year and slated to run until the end of the month. The performers have been staging demonstrations and walk-outs for months over an agreement that would see them pay higher payroll taxes and encounter a longer wait for their unemployment benefits.

A similar dispute in 2003 forced Avignon's organizers to cancel a large swathe of the programme. The Avignon Festival is regarded as one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world, a title hotly disputed with the annual Edinburgh Festival in Scotland.

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