Betwixt and Between Work and Play: Liminality at the Festival OFF d’Avignon


  • Hanna Huber University of Vienna


Previous festival research based on Victor Turner’s concept of liminality essentially shows two tendencies: either festivals are interpreted as initiation rites of artists and artworks (Teissl, 2013; Valck, 2007), or they are described as carnivalesque inversions of the everyday in which participants temporarily engage in deviant behaviours and renegotiate social identities (Luckman, 2014; Pielichaty, 2015; Ravenscroft & Gilchrist, 2009). Yet, certain social divisions and behavioural patterns remain powerful even within liminal festival spaces (Van Heerden, 2011; Jaimangal-Jones et al., 2010).

This paper examines to what extent the Festival OFF d’Avignon in France unites carnivalesque exuberance with its status as a performing arts market and is thus situated ‘betwixt and between’ work and play. Today, the non-juried fringe festival constitutes a marketplace for the purchase and sale of theatre productions, mirrors neoliberal structures of modern-day society, and represents an initiation rite for artists and their creations. Amidst the market bustle, the festival’s revolutionary story of origin still resonates in the memory of its participants, when the provincial town is transformed into an in-between space every summer.

Conceptualised as a mixed methods research, this article draws on a combination of qualitative interviews, quantitative data evaluation, and secondary literature.