Top theatre experiences in the world Solo Travel

If there’s a piece of advice I could pass on to newbie travel enthusiasts, it is this: there’s no better way to understand a region’s art and culture than watching a local play or performance. I don’t mean the touristy kinds—although those are fun too—but rather those locals would go to see. Often these shows are in the local language, but even if there are no subtitles or apps to translate, the experience itself is exhilarating. Art truly has no borders.

Below are my top unique theatre experiences around the world. This is not an exhaustive list, but this is a growing list.

Before we move on to my top unique theatre experiences, three quick tips.

Tip 1: Search online in advance for local events happening during your travel. Find the local website that lists them.

Tip 2: Guided walking tours are usually a good source of information for local plays and events.

Tip 3: If you can splurge, consider getting tickets closer to the stage. The experience is not something you’ll forget for a long time. It will be well worth the money spent.

And now for my top unique theatre experiences around the world.

New York : Broadway

Broadway in New York is synonymous with the Theatre Industry in the US, although some of its more popular shows are staged ‘off-Broadway’. Hamilton and Book of Mormon are tourist favourites. I watched the delightful A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Walter Kerr Theatre because I managed to snag second-row tickets to it! I was so close I could literally feel the spit and the sweat of the actors as they ‘enunciated’ and danced. Top tip: Queue up at the ticket booth at Times Square for discounted theatre tickets for the same day. If you prefer to book online, for advance tickets, check Ticketmaster first. For discounted tickets, check BroadwayBox, TodayTix or StubHub.

Top unique theatre experiences in the world Solo travel Broadway
New York: Broadway

Chicago: Theatre District

I hadn’t expected it but Chicago turned out to be a thriving hub for glitzy theatres that have hosted award-winning plays and musicals. Chicago’s Theatre District in the Loop is home to several acclaimed performance spaces. Goodman on Dearborn Street is the city’s oldest currently active nonprofit theatre organization. I watched the oddly entertaining Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci at Goodman for just USD 15! Cheap theatre tickets can be purchased from hottix.org (online, or at their store on E Randolph and in the Theater District).

Chicago solo itinerary Theatre district
The Chicago Theatre District

A list of the best Chicago Theatres can be found here. They are all great!

Chicago also has some marvellous improv shows at Second City which should not be missed. For a detailed Chicago itinerary that has a list of everything you should, go here.

Las Vegas : Cirque du Soleil

Las Vegas has myriad shows—some inside its casinos, some on the roads—but a Cirque du Soleil show (Which in French translates to Circus of the Sun) is totally worth its price and the hype. Originating in Quebec City in Canada, the show has moved a long way from the band that strode the streets on stilts, juggling, dancing, breathing fire, and playing music. Today, a Cirque du Soleil show is a picture of opulence, present in 450 cities across 60 countries. I watched Ka at MGM Grand in Las Vegas which was mind-blowing. The technical wizardry of the stage itself is something to gawk at. And when the characters and sets come alive you wonder how they’re doing it at all. Ka has a vertical stage with actors performing fight scenes vertically, climbing up and down. You’ve got to see it to believe it. Find tickets here. The good seats cost upwards of USD 100. Sometimes, tickets are available at a discount here.

Top theatre experiences in the world Cirque du Soleil
The set of Cirque du Soleil’s Ka in Las Vegas

London : Westend

Like Broadway in New York, the West End of London is a district in Central London where a large number of pubs, shops, and most importantly, theatre venues are concentrated. The Lion King at Lyceum Theatre in London’s Westend was the first large-scale musical I ever attended. It cost me a pretty penny, but fifteen years later, I remember every scene, every song, and even the hush that fell on the audience each time the sun set and rose on the recreated African Savannah. The musical recounts the story of Simba, the young orphaned lion prince, whose kingdom was usurped by his evil Uncle Scar. Simba returns from exile to avenge his father’s death and reclaim his kingdom. The show has been running since 1999. The Lyceum theatre itself came into being in 1834! Buy tickets.

Paris: Lido de Paris

I wish I could’ve caught a show at the extravagant Opera House (Palais Garnier) in Paris, but I did what was next best available to me—watched a sparkling cabaret at Lido de Paris on New Years’ eve, accompanied by champagne and a delectable plate of aperitifs. Admittedly, this is a touristy thing to do (there were scores of Indians around me), but it was fun nonetheless. Located on Champs-Élysée in Paris, Lido has been running shows since 1946. The acrobatics, music, and pomp of the shows are astounding. Add to that, cheese and champagne, there’s no better way to usher in the New Year! Afterwards, catch the fireworks on Arc De Triomphe.

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Lido De Paris

You can purchase tickets here.

Another viable alternative is to watch a cabaret at Moulin Rouge.

Cesky Krumlov: Revolving Theatre

What you absolutely must do and is a good enough reason to visit the Czech city of Český Krumlov, is go to the revolving theatre or Otáčivé hlediště. This unique experience in an open-air revolving auditorium will flummox and delight to no end. Unlike traditional theatres, scene changes happen by revolving the auditorium i.e. rotating what you are actually sitting on. All the acts take place in the lovely chateau park surrounding the auditorium providing a matchless backdrop. Shows happen only between June and September. Tickets can be booked online and get sold out pretty fast. The shows are in Czech but you can download an app (Overtekst) to read the subtitles on your phone as the show is ongoing. I watched The Lost World which relied heavily upon music, action, and histrionics, so it was not hard to understand even without the subtitles. I LOVED it. More information on their website. Ticket prices vary, but mine was 188 Kč which is the lowest. Be on time; due to the nature of the event, you cannot enter the venue late.

48 hours in Cesky Krumlov
Revolving Theater at Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov also boasts an impressive Baroque Theatre in the Český Krumlov Castle. More on it here.

Kyoto: Kabuki at Minamiza

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese drama form with stylized song, mime, dance, and exaggerated body movements to express emotions. The art form has its origins in comic dances performed in the early 1600s by groups of women on the bank of Kyoto’s Kamo River. Thus, Kyoto is considered the birthplace of Kabuki.

Minamiza is Kyoto’s premier kabuki theatre. I was lucky to be in Kyoto when Miyako Odori was running at Minamiza. A homage to cherry blossoms, this hour-long show is a series of dance and musical skits accompanied by awe-inspiring costumes, backdrops, and choreography. Do not forget to rent an audio guide at the gate since the performance is in Japanese.

Top unique theatre experiences in the world Kabuki Kyoto
Kabuki Theatre

Belgrade: National Theatre

In my travels across ex-Soviet countries, I’ve noticed that all of them invest heavily in the arts, and have beautiful opera houses and theatres. Belgrade’s National theatre is thus expectedly majestic and beautiful, the tickets inexpensive, and the shows quite good. I watched a play called Orestes in Mosul, and while I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the play, I enjoyed the experience. What I remember starkly is the unique narrative treatment in the play. The cast and the story were largely set in Mosul, Iraq. Iraqi actors cannot easily get visas to the West, so the production combined video clips of them discussing and rehearsing the play in Mosul accompanied by live performances by local European actors on stage. It sometimes (literally) made my head spin.

The ticket cost around USD 10, payment in cash if done on location. Website.

Athens: Greek Theatre

Boy, was I lucky to watch this? An intimate and delightful theatre experience awaited me at Athinais on 34-36 Kastorias in Athens. I dunked a few glasses of wine in the cute little pub attached to it, before going in to see the play. While the play was performed in Greek; English and French subtitles were displayed on a screen overhead. Thus, I had no problem understanding it all. And it was very entertaining.

The tickets were reasonably priced too! More information here.

Oedipus Rex is an ancient Athenian tragedy written by the famous Greek tragedian playwright Sophocles. First performed in 429 BC, it’s considered the greatest of Greek tragedies. The ending especially is macabre and memorable. The poster below must give a clue if you haven’t read the play yet.

48 hours in Athens Oedipus Rex the play

Cappadocia: Whirling Dervishes

The whirling dervish format of meditation was founded by the Persian poet, Sufi saint, and mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi in the 13th century. The idea of the dance was to free oneself of all distractions and reach out to God. I watched a whirling dervish ceremony (also called Sema) in Cappadocia and was enthralled for the whole hour. Again, this was over twelve years ago, and I can still remember the breath caught in my throat as I marvelled at the ethereal beauty of the performance.

A ticket cost me USD 20 and the performance lasted for an hour.

Top unique theatre experiences in the world Solo travel Istanbul dervish show
Whirling Dervishes in Cappadocia

Bangkok: Calypso Cabaret

To many, a cabaret or a drag show in Bangkok is the sole reason to visit the city, the intention being to be titillated. But a good cabaret in Bangkok is so much more. It is best explained on the website of Calypso Cabaret which hosts one of the better shows in Bangkok: CALYPSO is not a common Ladyboy Show. We do not parade the label Ladyboy. We are neither ladies nor boys, but naturally born individuals, although different from the natural norm. To put it simply, a Bangkok Cabaret is typically a show put on by Thai transgender artists involving dance, music, theatrics, and acrobatics. It is colourful and enjoyable, though sometimes not so tasteful.

Top Unique Theatre Experiences Solo Travel Calypso Cabaret Bangkok
Bangkok’s Calypso Cabaret

Siem Reap: Phare Circus show

After you’ve checked out the Angkor Wat temples, there isn’t much to do in Siem Reap in Cambodia apart from the Night Market and Pub Street. The town shuts down early. Consider visiting the Phare theatre, run by the NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak in such a case. Nightly performances take place at 8:00 pm, with additional performances at 5:00 pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The show is basically extreme yoga with some slapstick comedy but gives insights into how the Cambodian youth think. And it’s for a good cause!

For a comprehensive 5-day itinerary in Cambodia go here.

Top theatre experiences in the world solo travel
The Acrobatics at Phare

Tbilisi: A Marionette Theatre

I saw my first Marionette show at the delightfully crooked Gabriadze Theater in Tbilisi, Georgia. As if the twisty clock tower outside and the theatre inside were not cute enough, I was tickled and amazed to watch the show which was called “The Autumn of My Springtime”. The story is of an errant (bird!) hero (Boris) who is a drunk womanizer and a foul-mouthed creature. When Varlam, the organ-grinder dies, Boris is the only one left to take care of his old wife, Domna. Unwittingly Boris becomes a thief, falls in love with beautiful Ninel, and undertakes many dangerous, exciting (and illicit!) adventures. While light-hearted, the play is in reality ironic and a treatise on the post-war years in a deserted and impoverished Kutaisi. It took a few minutes to get used to the puppet masters in black and masks behind the puppets, but their mastery was something to marvel at. The show is interspersed with Georgian folk songs and dance, all performed by the puppets. The dialogues were spoken in Georgian but English subtitles were available. For non-English/ non-Georgian speakers, translation earphones are provided. This is an unmissable opportunity in Tbilisi. Tickets were pricey, at about USD 25/ ticket. Purchase tickets at https://tkt.ge/

Unique theatre experiences across the world Tbilisi
The Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater

Tel Aviv: Suzanne Dellal Centre

The Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv is located in the charming Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and is a venue for contemporary dance in Israel. Oftentimes you can spot groups practising in the compound of the centre which is quite a treat in itself. It is home to one of Israel’s most famous troupes, the Batsheva Dance Company. Look for events and tickets on their website.

And in case you’re looking, a comprehensive 2-day Tel Aviv itinerary is here.

Mumbai: Prithvi Theatre

Prithvi Theatre is located in Mumbai’s Juhu Church Road. It’s a cosy intimate venue which has hosted the who’s who of Indian theatres and movies. The theatre was founded by one of India’s most prolific film families—the Kapoors—and has been operational since 1978. Among my top memories in Mumbai are of hanging out in the Prithvi Theatre Cafe prior to a play, drinking their special alcohol-free Irish coffee, eating samosas or cakes, and trying to spot a wannabe celebrity. The venue also hosts open mic sessions, acting workshops, and the annual Prithvi Festival. Website.

 

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