In France, they have a few legendary street performance festivals, Chatillon Les Artes dans la Rue, Festival D’Avignon and International Street Theatre Festival of Aurillac. In reality, there is a street performance festival in nearly every small town across the whole of France, and if you are in with the right network of people, you can get booked to do these festivals one by one, for the whole summer season.  These small festivals are paid venues, and they do not allow you put your hat out to collect donations. To get into those festival networks you need to perform at the three big festivals above.

program flyer

Aurillac, Chatillon and Avignon are the only festivals that are free for all performers, and where you can collect donations. It’s your chance to be seen to get booked at all the other festivals across France, and to start building your network of contacts to be able to step into the hierarchy of artists. And boy oh boy what a hierarchy it is!

Old Troll roving artist

Aurillac Street Festival roving performance: A troll driver drags his stilt walking captures behind this enormous bike-chariot towards his pitch.

Chained Stilt Walkers

In my travels around France in 2015, I managed to go to one of the biggest: Aurillac. It is held in late August, so it’s the last chance in the summer to be seen and booked for the following year. It’s filled with a diverse artists, from full theater set ups, 3 ring circuses, walk-about artists, contemporary dance and theatre acts.Also, there are those who critique contemporary dance, theatre, circus or musicians. Then there are people who mix all of it together, like these musicians with a theatrical bike set up doing walk about music.

Les Bikers Les Bikers

There are a few streety-street buskers who just set up and do their regular street show, like Monsieur Banane.

Monsieur Banane

But mostly you want to register in advance, get a spot and time to set up your show, so you can do a proper set up, and people can find you.

Female Busker Clown

Grabuge starts at 16h

You want to apply to these festivals before March to be included into the printed program. Getting into the program is a great way to ensure an audience shows up for your act and you don’t have to waste half your slot pulling in a crowd. You also have to be prepared with flyers to haggle the people into coming to your show in your “spare time” around the festival. There is over 120 pitches and the shows rotate every hour, making for over a thousand shows in the 5 days that the festival is running. It is competitive.

Aurillac Street Festival Map

The map of all the pitches

Despite there being an enormous amount of shows, the city itself has a wonderful set up for this type of event. The small city streets, the many corners and twists and turns of the old style village lends itself well to the intimate feeling of each show.

Unlike the Edinburgh Street Festival, your show is not bleeding into another show taking away the attention from your audience. Each corner contains the music and atmosphere you create quite well, giving you control over your audiences, allowing them to sit and enjoy each moment… Unless a woman with men acting like dogs, attached to leashes, happen to run barking through your show – which happened just before this break dancing act, but they contained it fairly well.

Break Dancer

As the leading festival in Street Theatre, they also ask the hard questions to the public about what street theatre is about. This photo seen below translates to “What is missing in Street Arts?” and they have a man who is doing interviews next to this sign, asking the participants of the festival what they think, taking notes, and posting the public’s thoughts beside it.

What is missing in Street Arts?

What is missing in Street Arts” “More women and Maps for direction” Jeff answers

El Kote

Hey look, it’s El Kote from Santiago – we at The Busking Project LOVE El Kote!

If you have the right pitch at the right time, you’re audiences can become enormous. Here, an Italian clown Andrea Menozzi does his show “O like a Peanut” in a prime time 4 p.m. slot, right next to the outdoor cafe where lunch is served. If you ever get a chance to watch this act, do it. His show is the best street show I have ever seen.

O like a peanut

Toi d'abord

Needless to say, it’s filled with shows to see, in all varieties of performance. Here is Toi D’aboard  in their very circus-y jumping board act.

Docteur Fastosh

45 degrees without water (45° sans eau)

Attention Clown

And really, there is just clowns everywhere.

A bit of FYI – Getting a place to stay in town is nearly impossible, and everybody camps in their cars. People park EVERYWHERE, on every piece of grass available, and there are tents set up under every tree. People start setting up weeks in advance to be able to get a good spot so they don’t have to travel too far to their pitch. It’s a good idea to arrive early!

The festival is chalk full of amazingly talented artists, and it’s certainly worth seeing. It’s even a bit overwhelming. At the end of the festival, you’ll definitely feel like this.

Puppet

Lastly, the festival bookers and critics go to see the shows the first few days, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and if you want to be booked within France for the following years, it is best to be well prepared and running the show at their peak on those days. The weekends bring out the local families, and they make good hats, but in France, it’s worth impressing the critics and getting into the network so you can work in the rest of the festivals around the country.