One of the best ways to see and understand the world is to travel as a theater tourist.
What does it mean to be a tourist of the theater world? It means scheduling your travel itinerary so you can see the best theatrical productions the countries you are visiting has to offer. If you aim to see the very best performance art the world has to offer, you will get an experience of a lifetime. The theatrical performance arts have a depth of meaning and cultural richness that allow you to understand the culture of a particular people or country in a short time, in a much better way than if you simply hopped on the standard tour group.
Here is a list of the 10 best theatrical experiences the world has to offer.
10 Japanese Kabuki Show at Kabuki-Za
Kabuki is the Japanese classical theater art. Highly stylized and with a striking style, it combines dance, drama, music, colorful costumes and makeup or mask art to tell ancient Japanese stories, some that are about a thousand years old. The Kabuki-Za Theater in Ginza is considered the “home” of Kabuki, and no travel to Japan is considered complete without experiencing Kabuki. One of the most famous Kabuki plays is Kanadehon Chushingura or “Treasury of Loyal Retainers”, based on the real-life story of the Forty-Seven Ronin or renegade samurai warriors who take revenge on those who cruelly murdered their beloved lord and oppressed the people, before committing suicide.
9 The Oberammergau Passion Play
There are plenty of Christian “passion plays” or re-enactments of the trial, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ all around the world. However, only one passion play has been performed since the year 1634 and that is the one at the village of Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany. Locals have been staging this play every 10 years since then, as a way of giving thanks and celebrating the village’s survival during a particularly virulent wave of bubonic plague. None of the participants in this lavish passion play are professional actors; they are actually ordinary residents of Oberammergau.
8 Prague’s Language-less Theater
The city of Prague in the Czech Republic, formerly Czechoslovakia, is one of the most beautiful and gracious cities in all of Europe, and has historically been a major crossroads for culture and the arts for both Eastern and Western Europe. It’s the perfect setting for a magical light, mime, and music presentation, created by The Black Theatre of Prague and staged at the Palais Savarin near Wenceslas Square.
7 Riverdance at Dublin
This is an Irish step dancing theatrical show that originated from Ireland, specifically during the 1994 Eurovision when the country hosted the contest that year. The original dance was meant to be just a seven minute interval dance number on the story of Irish culture and the Irish immigration to America. It featured a rock-Irish ceilidh music band and some step dancers. They got a standing ovation, and it has become a roving dance show ever since. While Riverdance often tours around Europe and the Americas, they’re based in Dublin, Ireland, where they always have a show running.
6 The Lion King
The stage adaptation of Walt Disney’s film is a brilliant blend of dance, stage acting, special effects, and circus puppetry. No wonder it’s among the longest-running musical-stage shows in existence and it’s bound to run longer than the musical “Cats” ever ran. Look around and there’s bound to be a production of “The Lion King” running in Broadway (New York), Hollywood (Los Angeles), West End (London), Sydney (Australia), Vancouver (Canada), and Singapore.
5 Shakespeare at the Globe
William Shakespeare may be long dead, but his brilliant plays live on. Now, so does his beloved Globe Theatre. London has succeeded in reconstructing the Elizabethan-era playhouse down to the last detail, from the circular oak frame and thatched roof, to the open-air seating area that may require audience members to bring their own blankets and seat cushions. Watching any one of the Shakespearean or Elizabethan plays staged here (“Romeo and Juliet” or “The Taming of the Shrew” is recommended) is like having gone back in time.
4 Any Steppenwolf Theatre Company production
This innovative theater company in Chicago consistently produces one of the most prestigious and respected stage productions in the United States. You’ll frequently find stage plays with well-known Hollywood actors like John Malkovich and Gary Sinise cast in them. Watch out for their re-stagings of classics like “Death of a Salesman” and “Iceman Cometh.”
3 Opera and Ballet at The Bolshoi
It’s a downright crime to have to choose just one out of all the opera houses in the world as the “best.” If you can only visit one, make it the Bolshoi in Moscow, Russia. While it’s not Italy’s La Scala (the grand dame of opera houses), it’s certainly one of the world’s most opulent opera theaters. Visit the Bolshoi during opera season, pick an opera by Verdi or Donizetti, or watch a ballet production by the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet during off-season. “Swan Lake”, in particular, is highly recommended.
2 The Arirang Festival
If you want a giant spectacle and don’t mind being in a strange place, go see the “Grand Mass Gymnastics and Artistic Performance Arirang” festival in Pyongyang, North Korea. It’s a giant artistic exhibition of dance, gymnastics and pomp that the secretive “Hermit Kingdom” and its dictatorial government stage every August to September at the Rungrado May Day Stadium. The whole exhibition is actually based on “Arirang,” a traditional Korean folk story about a young couple in love but torn apart. North Korea has turned it into an epic, Guinness World Record-breaking event featuring mosaic pictures created by a huge cast of 30,000 school children holding up colored cards, and thousands of gymnasts and dancers.
1 Cirque du Soleil
This is the circus spectacle to end all circuses. The Cirque du Soleil company is French-Canadian and it produces several themed circus shows around the world from Japan and Singapore to the U.K. and the United States, but the bulk of its productions are in Las Vegas, Nevada. Just like any circus, you’ll see acrobats, jugglers, clowns, dancers, martial arts experts, and stuntmen doing all sorts of seemingly impossible things—but in Cirque du Soleil, these are raised to the level of performance art. Lavish music accompanies circus performers wearing the most fantastic, dream-like costumes. Among Cirque’s best productions are the touring show “Alegria,” and “O,” a sophisticated water-based circus extravaganza housed in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.