Each July, the entire city of Avignon turns into a gorgeous giant theatre. Founded in 1947, it today has two strands, the main festival (the "In") and the fringe (the "Off"). The date of the 2014 "In" is 4-27 July. The "Off" is 5-27 July.
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The new Director of the main Festival d'Avignon is the flamboyant actor-director-playwright-musician Olivier Py. It's the first time the post has been held by an artist since Jean Vilar, the founder of the festival who ran it from 1947 to 1971.
After being sacked from a successful tenure at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris in 2011, amid some controversy, Py - who is a convert to Catholicism and openly gay - was offered the directorship in Avignon for four years, starting in 2014.
Since then Py, pictured, has raised the curtain a little on his plans for the 2014 Avignon Festival. In an effort to attract more young theatre-goers, he wishes to place a greater emphasis on emerging talent rather than on well-known names.
Py intends to invite fewer productions (around 30, as opposed to around 40 in previous years), but to run these for more performances in order to enable more people to see them.
He will also be offering more low-price tickets. Theatre-goers under 26 will be able to see four shows for 40 €uros (i.e. 10 €uros each) and similar bargain multiple tickets - at a slightly higher rate - will be available to all comers.
Blocks of seats will be held back for sale during the festival, so that if you arrive half-way through July you won't find all the shows sold out. A pop-up box-office will be installed on the place de l'Horloge.
The 2014 Festival d'Avignon will last slightly longer than in previous years, taking up most of the month of July. In terms of artistic focus, Py is still vague at this point but has revealed that Greece and Brazil will be at the centre of the programme.
It will pay homage to Vilar with The Prince of Homburg, the brilliant tragi-satire by the German writer Heinrich von Kleist which was staged by Vilar in Avignon in 1951, starring the legendary French actor Gérard Philipe. A new production by Giorgio Barberio Corsetti will open the 2014 festival.
Also on the programme: Hyperion, by another German poet, Friedrich Hölderlin, directed by Marie-José Malis and Mai, juin, juillet by France's Denis Guénoun, directed by Christian Schiaretti.
Thomas Jolly is presenting Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy in its entirety - an epic production lasting 16 hours - while at the other end of the spectrum Nathalie Garraud and Olivier Saccomano will be in Avignon with a show called Othello, Variation for Three Actors.
Py himself is writing a new play for the festival, a political comedy called Orlando, ou l'Impatience (Orlando, or Impatience). Set in the world of theatre, it's about a man in search of his father.
In 2013 Py had a show in Avignon - in the Off Festival, playing the transvestite cabaret singer Miss Knife. Full details of the 2014 line-up will be announced in spring 2014.
The 2013 Festival d'Avignon opened with a free fireworks show by the French master-pyrotechnicians Groupe F at the FabricA, a large, brand-new rehearsal and performance space outside the city walls in Montclar.
The FabricA also welcomed the the German director Nicolas Stemann with an epic, eight-hour production of Goethe's Faust - parts one and two.
Other highlights included Britain's Katie Mitchell, a regular in Avignon, with her adaptation of the Austrian Friederike Mayröcker's 1984 novel Reise durch die Nacht and a King Lear from France's Ludovic Lagarde and Olivier Cadiot.
Stanislas Nordey directed and acted in Peter Handke's 1981 poetic drama Über die Dörfer (Walk About the Villages), while the Congolese artist Dieudonné Niangouna brought a new piece called Shéda, a choral fresco performed by a dozen African and European actors and musicians.
Also sought-after: the one-night-only shows from some of the directors who have been most acclaimed at festivals in recent years. These included the Italian Romeo Castellucci, Belgium's Jan Fabre, France's Patrice Chéreau, Switzerland's Christoph Marthaler, and Thomas Ostermeier from Germany.
The main Festival d'Avignon was founded in France's heady post-war years by Vilar, with a production of Shakespeare's Richard II - a play then relatively little-known in France - in the Cours d'Honneur, the vast inner courtyard of the Palais des Papes (pictured).
His work, and the history of the festival, are celebrated in a museum in Avignon, the Maison Jean Vilar.
Unlike the three other festivals, Avignon suffers, of course, from the handicap of language. Though the city is in the heart of one of the most popular regions in Europe for English-speaking tourists, the Festival d'Avignon has admitted in the past to difficulties in attracting these.
The spectacular setting of the Cours d'Honneur, which can accommodate 2,000 spectators, is still the Festival's principal focus, though today it spills over into several dozen other venues all over - and around - the walled city.
Running roughly concurrently, the Festival du Off in Avignon, established over 30 years ago, is one of the largest independent theatre festivals in the world, comparable in size to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Unlike the main Festival, which invites and subsidises a select handful of top-flight international companies, the Off is open to anyone who can fund and find a venue for their production.
In 2013 over a thousand companies attended Avignon's Off Festival, staging 1265 shows. More than a million tickets were sold.
Churches, schools, shops, museums, open-air cloisters and not least the streets: the visiting actors stage their shows and spectacles anywhere they can.
In this area you can also find the big air-conditioned circus tent which acts as the headquarters of Avignon's Off Festival. Here you can buy tickets, get a copy of the programme, attend debates, listen to live music nightly between 7pm and 9pm and, most importantly, hang out in the festival bar.
The main Festival d'Avignon is based at the Cloître Saint-Louis, a 17th century monastery converted into a hotel (pictured left). Cloître Saint Louis, 20 rue du Portail Boquier, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 27 66 50 Website for the Festival d'Avignon
By showing your theatre ticket at the monuments and museums in Avignon and Villeneuve lès Avignon, you can benefit from the special "Avignon Passion Pass" price which offers reduced admission. Information at the Tourist Office.
Another attractive deal has been offered in the past by the Off Festival. If you bought a pass, La Carte du Off, you were entitled to 30% off ticket prices to every Off show as well as discounts on trains and local transport and half-price admission to the Palais des Papes and many of Avignon's other tourist sights.
Click here for our full guide to the best places to eat in Avignon, from Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurants to great-value informal brasseries.
Accommodation is at an absolute premium during the Festival, especially if you are planning to be in Avignon on or around Bastille Day (14 July). Be sure to pre-book a room.
It is worth considering staying just outside the walled city, on the large Piot and Barthelasse Islands in the middle of the Rhône river or in nearby Villeneuve lès Avignon. Click here for more suggestions for where to stay in Avignon.
And if you are unwise enough to arrive without a reservation, the tourist office maintains a daily list of available accommodation for you to try your chances on the spot.
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