Theatre festivals are arguably the oldest type of festival in the world. It is believed this type of entertainment and gathering began during the days in Ancient Greece when classical theatre was included with religious festivals.
The types of works typically performed at theatre festivals are plays that fall under the genre of drama. Works by the likes of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw are typical fare.
With this in mind we would like to introduce you to several theatre festivals around the world.
1. Dublin Theatre Festival
Founded by theater producer Brendan Smith in 1957 focuses on a season that focuses on Irish theatre as well as drama on an international level. It is included and a group of events post-WWII created to enhance acceptance and understanding of different cultures. Since its inception this theater festival has become a central event in Ireland.
Smith was the head of the Olympia Theatre and also started the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. The Tourist Board of Ireland was investigating ideas to bring tourism during the “shoulder months”, or the time when tourism went from its peak to its off-peak. When hearing of the grant that was allowed for this project Smith applied and the Dublin Theatre Festival was born.
Their mission since the beginning, and it still holds true today, is to showcase the best plays the international scene had to offer as well as give a stage to new Irish productions. In the first year a complaint was filed against the Director of the Pike Theatre for a “lewd” performance but it was eventually dismissed.
Today the Dublin Theatre Festival is one of the longest-standing well-known professional theater festival in Europe. While opera and ballet are not highly showcased, plays that are dramatic are.
This festival will be starting in about a month! Check out their schedule and agenda here.
2. Festival d’Avignon
This second theater festival is given annually in the city of Avignon, France. This is located in south-eastern part of the country. Held in July in the yard of the Palais des Papes, an ancient building in that city, the Festival d’Avignon was founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, a French director and actor. It is one of the oldest existing theatre festivals today. By international standards it is considered one of the greatest.
Utilizing the Palais des Papes and other locals around Avignon nearly one thousand shows are performed each season. Put together by a non-profit organization the board of trustees include the French state, the city of Avignon, the local government of Vaucluse, the Province-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and prominent persons in the French world of theater.
The festival started when Jean Vilar was asked to perform his production of Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot at the Popes Palace while an exposition of paintings and sculptures produced by art critic Christian Zervos and poet René Char. Vilar declined the invitation feeling the Palace was too gigantic and “shapeless” to do his production justice. By doing so he lost performance rights to that work.
Instead, he suggested three other plays, Richard II by William Shakespeare, which was not well-known in France at that time, Tobie et Sara by Paul Claudel, and La Terrasse de Midi by Maurice Clavel. That took Vilar’s recommendations and the Festival d’Avignon was the exceptional result.
Cennarium’s team participated during this year’s edition, and here are some of our visual experiences of the beautiful city of Avignon!
3. Shaw Festival
The Shaw Festival is held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario and is considered a key Canadian event annually. Starting in 1962 the initial purpose was to arouse attention to the works of George Bernard Shaw and to improve the growth of the theater in Canada.
In the beginning Brian Doherty, a lawyer and writer from Ontario, presented “Salute to Shaw” in the courthouse, which would later come to be the Court House Theatre. For two months Doherty and the cast performed Don Juan in Hell and Candida, both plays by Shaw. The success was enormous.
When Barry Morse was appointed as Artistic Director in 1966 this theater festival made its mark internationally. The next year Paxton Whitehead took over direction and Morse took on the role of actor. Whitehead would stay on for twelve more seasons and helped get the construction deal for the Festival Theatre to expand to nearly nine hundred seats.
During its inaugural season of 1973 Queen Elizabeth II, Indira Gandhi, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau all attended various performances. In 1974 Tony Van Bridge was given the position of artistic director for that one season leading to 1975.
Christopher Newton was then appointed artistic director in 1980 and the mission of the festival was given a greater focal point. The idea was to present plays written during Shaw’s lifetime (1856-1950), which Newton called “the beginning of the modern world.” After he left the spectrum of plays was widened to newer plays that were set in the time Shaw lived.
4. 24:7 Theater Festival
This is a more contemporary entry on our list today. Held annually in Manchester, United Kingdom, this theater festival focuses on performing works by new writers to the scene in North West England. Founded in 2004 by David Slack and Amanda Hennessey, this festival has had some prestigious supporters including Robert Powell, John Henshaw, David Fleeshman, and Sue Jenkins. This festival is also financially supported by the Arts Council England, Manchester City Council, Manchester Airport, and The Co-Operative, a consumer co-operative with an assorted group of retail businesses.
The mission of the 24:7 Theater Festival is to produce newly written drama to their part of the world while fostering up and comers in the writing, directing, and performing worlds of drama. Every season judges read submitted scripts that do not include the writers’ names. This gives every script equal opportunity and attention.
Another interesting aspect of this theater festival is that the plays are usually performed in locations not originally intended for performances of drama. Some of the venues utilized are The Midland Hotel, New Century House, and a number of bars, pubs, and nightclubs all around Manchester.
The 2015 season for the 24:7 Theatre Festival was held the 24th through the 26th of July in the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama at Manchester University as well as several outdoor monologues. Yet it ran at the same time as the Manchester International Festival and the producers say this will not be repeated and the 2016 festival dates will reflect that. This festival was given the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service this year.
5. National Arts Festival
Unlike the other festivals on this list, the setting is in another corner of the globe completely. Held in the South African settlement of Grahamstown, at its university, the National Arts Festival is arguably the largest yearly events celebrating the arts, music, and drama on the entire continent of Africa.
Beginning at the end of every June and continuing for eleven days into July Grahamstown University is located near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. There are two programs at the National Arts Festival, one main and one fringe, and they are sponsored by the Eastern Cape Government, Standard Bank of South Africa, National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, National Arts Council, Transnet, City Press newspaper and Mnet.
Proud of their all-inclusive approach to theater and the arts this festival does not discriminate due to sex, color, or race. The National Arts Festival was a well utilized and significant stage used to protest apartheid. Their influence to the world of art on an international level is substantial and note-worthy.
For nearly two hundred years Grahamstown has held events like this festival due to the imperialism of the British Empire. When the Englishmen immigrated that brought with them their traditions of celebrating art in this manner. The Inaugural Festival was held when the 1820 Settlers National Monument opened in 1974. Starting in 1976 the festival has been held every year since. Today they use almost fifty venues for their productions all over Grahamstown.
6. United Solo Theatre Festival
Our next entry is an American festival held in New York City. This theater festival is considered a solo theater festival because it focuses on solo performances. It is held on 42nd Street at Theatre Row annually and was founded by Omar Sangare, an actor and director of Polish descent.
Starting as recently as 2010, this six-year-old festival has a wide array of focuses including drama, comedy, magic, stand-up, improve, storytelling, puppetry, dance, and multimedia. In its inaugural season the festival produced forty-seven shows that were performed from November 8th through the 21st.
Solo performers from all over the world brought their talents to New York City in 2010 and Marsha Mason, a four-time Academy Award nominee, gave out the closing ceremony awards.
In 2011 the festival was held in for one month through the end of October to November. It was the focal point of that year’s New York Times The New Season Fall Preview. Time Out New York awarded the United Solo Theatre Festival their wild card. That season four performers were nominated for the uAward. These artists were Patti LuPone for The Gypsy in My Soul, Robin Williams for Weapons of Self-Destruction, Daniel Beaty in Through the Night, and John Lithgow for Stories by Heart. The winner that year was Patti LuPone.
Their seventh annual festival is scheduled for September 15th through November 20th of this year. Some performances to check out are Elise Hudson in Looking for Lightning, Florence Pape in Mints, and encore performance by Mike Folie in his work 3 Men, and bestseller Hyena, which was written and will be performed by Romana Soutus.