There was a time when theatre belonged in the remit of the middle and upper classes and theatre-goers wouldn’t be seen in anything less than silk gowns or suits and monocles. Now, theatre spans a much wider target audience. From intimate black box studios like Camden’s Etcetera Theatre to palatial structures like Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House to outdoor promenade performances such as the annual show in Lancaster’s Williamson Park, it is becoming harder than ever to fit all forms of theatre into one neat box.
If you’re an avid theatre-goer, these freebie ideas will show you how to see theatre for free. Never been to the theatre before? Learn how to ‘try before you buy’
Here’s a little secret tip for you Free Hunters: Find out which theatres near you have dress rehearsals coming up and ask if you can attend. When a new play is due to start its run, dress rehearsals are essential for ensuring that everything will be ‘alright on the night’. They are rarely advertised to the public so search online, make some calls and ask friends in the know in order to bag an invite.
We recently attended the dress rehearsal of Puccini’s opera La Fanciulla Del West at the idyllic Opera Holland Park. The director gave a short introduction to the small audience, warning that some of the actors may decide not to ‘sing out’ their lines, that the onscreen surtitles might contain errors and that the actors/director/conductor may stop the show at any time to suggest a change. None of these things happened to occur during this run so we got to witness a brilliant, professional production while saving around £60 per head.
Theatre is on a mission to entice every man and women into its folds, so keep an eye out for free events. Every year, More London holds a free festival of fringe, theatre, cinema and music from June until September, mainly at The Scoop on London’s south bank – a roofless amphitheatre nestled into the ground right next to the distinctively modern City Hall building and a stone’s throw from the iconic Tower Bridge. As the summer evenings shorten, the plays begin to culminate in a glorious Thames sunset – surely the ultimate theatre backdrop.
Contact, an independent theatre venue in Manchester, offers various free events such as free spoken word, free dance and free workshops alongside its paid ticketed events, with an emphasis on young people. Visit their website, call the box office or drop in to the theatre on Manchester’s Oxford Road to find out what free events are currently running.
Got little people? Live in or near London? Take advantage of Kids Week each year, which allows kids of 16 and under free access to top London shows throughout August when accompanied by a full-paying adult. Storytelling, musicals, puppetry and workshops will set their imaginations ablaze. Visit Kidsweek.co.uk to find out more.
How about going a little more niche and experiencing some puppetry? With Skipton Puppet Festival in Yorkshire or Bristol Festival of Puppetry in the Southwest of England or Puppet Animation Festival in Scotland to name but a few, you’re spoilt for choice. The festivals themselves are free but offer both ticketed and free plays and events. Forget creepy ventriloquist dummies; puppetry today can bring anything to life, from stick men drawn on paper to items of clothing to slick shadow puppets.
Perhaps you’re not content to sit and watch the action and would rather show them how it’s done. If that’s you, we’re impressed. The internet offers a wealth of royalty-free scripts for your perusal and usage. We like Theatre Uncut and Theatrefolk for monologues, full scripts, theatre trivia and more, all in the public domain.
A wonderful way of seeing theatre for free is at a festival. There’s no feeling quite equal to plumping yourself down in a field, a bottle of cider in hand and watching a piece of theatre by an ensemble you’ve never heard of as you mutually bask in the delirious abandon of the festival spirit. In my time at festivals I’ve even come across a theatre troupe whose act consisted of selecting a different actor each night to get blind drunk before performing the same Shakespeare play, and seeing how long they could stagger through…
Here is a list of some free annual festivals that offer free theatre:
- Brighton Fringe (May – June)
- SO Festival, Skegness (June to July)
- Bristol Harbour Festival (July)
- Stockton International Riverside Festival (SIRF) (July to August)
- Edinburgh Fringe (August)
- Herne Bay Festival (August)
- B-Side Multimedia Festival, Portland (September)
- Freedom Festival, Hull (September)
- Glasgay! Festival (October -November)
Going to see a piece of theatre is an event. You witness something that will never be repeated the way replays of the same film are repeated. Do it, and do it for free.
The Free Hunter’s bible, How To Live For Free is coming soon. It’s chock-a-block with advice on finding free theatre as well as much, much more. Have you pre-ordered yours yet?