France restores one of world’s largest theatre festivals – with masks and health restrictions

One of the world's biggest theatre festivals gets underway on Monday in the southern French city of Avignon after a year-long hiatus caused by Covid-19, with masks compulsory for audiences but organisers relishing a return to relative normality.

France restores one of world's largest theatre festivals - with masks and health restrictions
Culture minister Roselyn Bachelot in Avignon's open air theatre. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Theatregoers and troupes have expressed excitement at being reunited for the 75th edition of the Avignon theatre festival, which rivals Edinburgh for the title of the world’s biggest showcase of performing arts.

“I feel euphoric, as if this is my first festival,” said festival director Olivier Py, who has run the event since 2013.

Being deprived of last year’s edition had shown both the public and performers alike “how precious it is”, he said.

The festival opens later Monday with a hugely-anticipated production by Portuguese director Tiago Rodrigues of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, starring French screen legend Isabelle Huppert and staged at the Papal Palace main festival venue.

Rehearsals of The Cherry Orchard. Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP

Rodrigues, 44, whose work at Lisbon’s Dona Maria II national theatre has made him one of the most sought after directors in Europe, will take over the running of the festival from its 2023 edition, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot announced.

The pandemic still looms large over the three-week-long theatre extravaganza.

A South African dance performance by celebrated choreographer Dada Masilo was pulled from the programme on the eve of the opening night after members of the troupe tested positive for the virus or were contact cases.

Avignon, a picturesque walled city which was the seat of Catholic popes in the 14th century, has put in place several measures to try prevent the festival becoming a giant cluster.

Mask-wearing will be obligatory outdoors as well as in for the duration of the festival.

And venues will be ventilated for 40 minutes between each performance.

Audience members will not need to show proof of vaccination or clean Covid tests to be able to take their seats — except for shows at the Papal Palace.

The festival’s outlook brightened further on June 30 when the government
lifted capacity limits on most public spaces, meaning venues were allowed sell all their remaining seats.

For Py the move, which sparked a run on tickets, spelt nothing short of a “renaissance” for the festival, which runs to 50 productions across 21 venues as well as hundreds of other shows in the even bigger “Avignon Off” fringe festival.

The fate of this year’s edition of the Off festival had at one point been uncertain.

With the all-clear only coming in May, this year’s Off offering of street and stage theatre, mime, dance and song comes to just a little over 1,000 shows, down from nearly 1,500 in previous years.

“We don’t know how it is going to go off,” Sebastien Benedetto, head of the association that runs the Off festival, admitted to AFP.

He cited the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant in France as a threat to the festival.

“But we’re happy to be back in Avignon, which is where the whole French theatre world meets up,” he said.

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Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE