The Best Places for Theater Lovers This Fall

Oct 21, 2019

All the world may be a stage, but these seven spots are home to some of the season's best theater-fests. The bonus? Each city is an epic destination in its own right, so once you’ve gotten your thespian fix, the show will go on—well beyond the final bow.

InFringe Fest; New Orleans

#MisfitsWelcome is the hashtag of NOLA’s funky InFringe Fest (Nov. 7-10)—and that seems just about right for a freewheeling event in this wonderfully you-do-you kinda town. The festival’s kind of like the food scene here: fresh and spicy. The avant-garde takes center stage at 30 shows, including musicals, comedies, dramas, dance and—this being NOLA—burlesque. Performances range from Bag of Bones, a one-man musical ghost story, to Love Songs from the End of the World, a musical comedy that presents Eve’s side of the Biblical story (and we’re guessing she’s got a bone to pick). 

Theater Olympics; St. Petersburg, Russia

We’re not sure when the actual Olympics might be returning to Russia, but in the meantime, you can cheer on the Theater Olympics in Saint Petersburg (through Dec 12). Like the Games, this festival also started in Greece, thought decidedly more recently (in 1995). Many of the shows are performed in Saint Petersburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Site center at the Alexandrinsky Theater (pack your tux, btw—these are black-tie affairs), with side venues across the city and around the country. Catch performances of The Great Tamer, a wordless Greek act about mortality and human nature; and Cyrano de Bergerac, a Japanese play whose protagonist is Kyozo, a samurai playwright. 

International Puppet Theater Festival; Rijeka, Croatia

If you're raising global citizens, earn major parenting points (or grandparenting points, for that matter) by taking the kids to the International Puppet Theater Festival in Rijeka (Nov. 4-11), on an inlet of the Adriatic. Performers from Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and all over Croatia will put on shows that include Clay, Play and Monkeyshines (a German production, but in English); Invisible Lands (a wordless show from Finland); and Pinocchio (because every festival needs a guaranteed crowd-pleaser). There are also children’s workshops on puppetry and puppet-making. 

Kenya International Theatre Festival; various cities

Don't head to Kenya for the safaris alone (though they more than earn their legendary status): If you're equal parts culture vulture and wildlife lover, hit up the Kenya International Theatre Festival. The first part (Nov. 1-3) takes place in Nakuru and Mombasa; the second (Nov. 5-10) in Nairobi. Along the way, try to catch Because I Always Feel Like Running, a look at the politics behind the phenomenon of distance running in East Africa. Other notable productions include Revolution Ate My Son, a tragicomedy based on the novel Mrs. Shaw by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, and Ronald Rand’s acclaimed knee-slapper, Let it be Art! Want to be in the spotlight yourself? You’ll also find free workshops led by international experts.

Culturescapes; Basel, Switzerland

There’s nothing neutral about Switzerland’s Culturescapes: Each year, the festival aims to get under someone's skin (through shows that explore various cultures' unique tics and passions) and this year's designee is Poland. Performances include Margarete, an examination of one woman's life based on film reels found by chance, and Cezary Goes To War, a comedic reflection on patriotic-nationalist concepts. (In other words, don’t expect Cats.) Though the festival is Basel-based, it extends across the country and includes dance, literature, film and even cuisine.

Kampala International Theater Festival; Uganda

Rare gorillas live in Uganda's mountains (where any sighting feels like a tour de force), but down in Kampala, there’s a show of a different sort: the up-and-coming Kampala International Theater Festival (Nov. 26-30). Launched in 2014 as the love child of the Sundance Institute East Africa and Uganda’s Bayimba Cultural Foundation, the event has already gained the title of the region's biggest theater fest, with celebrated playwrights, directors, actors and costumes and stage designers turning up from across the globe. One to watch: My Father and Other Superheroes; a Ugandan-British production that looks at a childhood under the heavy influence of pop culture—and one man's poignant journey from childhood to fatherhood. And for an original spin on puppetry, check out Hard Stuff: Happiness, a collaborative piece by German and Kenyan artists, who delve into the clichés and realities of happiness. 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Ashland

Though it's about to make its curtain call, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ain't over till Rosalind sings—or at least till she takes her star turn in As You Like It, and there are still tickets available for the Oct. 26 performance. You can also still catch La Comedia of Errors (which uses elements of traditional Shakespearean staging)—on Oct. 26, too. You have a whole extra day if you want to see Indecent, by Pulitzer winner Paula Vogel (the festival puts on non-Shakespearean productions, too).  But clearly, you've got to act fast to be there for the festival’s final bow.

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