Want to broaden your cultural horizons this year? To truly immerse yourself in the performing arts, look beyond the big-name theatre festivals (like the ones featured in this round-up), and discover smaller events all over the globe instead. Whether you’re interested in unique local events to enrich your next city trip, niche themes to discover and explore, genre-specific programmes to deepen your knowledge of an art form, or just a more intimate theatre experience – we’ve got you covered.

Short+Sweet Festivals, Worldwide (January – August)

Ten-minute plays are a winning formula for festivals, giving a maximum number of performers their time in the spotlight in a minimum stretch of time. Short+Sweet has turned that formula into a global event series, with editions currently scheduled in Australia, Europe, the United States and the Middle East. With several short performances as part of one event, audiences get the opportunity to sample a diversity of shows. At the same time, creatives get a chance to showcase their work to patrons who might otherwise have never discovered them.

SPRINT Festival, London (March)

Camden People’s Theatre is one of several unique London venues promoting indie theatre in quirky locations. The former pub hosts themed festivals “that tackle socio-political issues affecting our wider community”. Past events included one-offs like Common People, which explored “working-class identity and experience” and Come As You Are, which celebrated “trans and gender-queer work”. Recurring festivals at the venue are Calm Down, Dear, a festival of innovative feminist theatre, and SPRINT, a more broadly defined festival of new and unusual theatre.

Dunedin Fringe Festival, Dunedin, New Zealand (March)

The world’s southernmost fringe festival has taken place annually in March since its launch in 2000. Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the South (and borrows its name from the Gaelic version of the Scottish city’s name), so it only makes sense that the city would have its own Fringe. Needless to say, the festival can’t quite rival that of its famous namesake in terms of size, but it has gained a reputation for championing experimental contemporary art and emerging artists. In addition, its organisers also host the New Zealand Young Writers Festival every September.

[Photo credit: Armstrong Photography]

The Little Improv Festival: Tiny Stories, Bristol (March)

The UK’s first dedicated improv theatre offers an eclectic programme of workshops, classes, jam sessions, games and quiz nights, in addition to shows by “homegrown heroes” and “visiting acts”. Yes, and… they also host an annual improv festival. The 2024 edition will feature a daytime show introducing local improv troupes.

United Solo Theatre Festival, New York City (March – April)

Big names, celebrity patrons, a huge programme, a sizeable audience and a wide range of participants – the only thing small about United Solo is the cast. Each production, ranging from storytelling, improv and stand-up, to puppetry, dance, musical and drama, is a solo performance featuring a single player on stage. At the height of the pandemic, the festival launched United Solo Screen, a streaming platform that allows you to watch shows from the comfort of your own home.

Ana Desetnica, Ljubljana, Slovenia (June – July)

Ljubljana’s Ana Monro Theatre has been performing urban and street theatre since the 1980s. The troupe’s productions have covered a range of genres, including dance, acrobatics, cabaret, vaudeville and circus. Their stated goal is to reclaim public spaces and make them accessible to everyone, including audiences that aren’t normally attracted to theatre. The festival, initiated by the same players in 1988, is similarly eclectic. In addition to the core event, there are satellite shows in other towns across Slovenia, as well as an autumn and winter edition of the festival.

World Theater Festival Shizuoka, Shizuoka, Japan (April – May)

This festival is the culmination of the annual activities at Shizuoka Performing Arts Center. The incredibly well-funded organisation has residential actors as well as technical and administrative staff on site at their Shizuoka Performing Arts Park, a sprawling venue scenically located overlooking the iconic Mount Fuji. During a 10-day period, the park’s indoor and outdoor theatres come alive with performances from all over the world. Festival events also spill over onto the streets of Shizuoka City, with a specific emphasis on direct interaction between artists, audiences and locals.

Fringe Circuit, Across Canada (June – October)

Fringe has become a global phenomenon, with festivals taking place in small towns and large cities all over the world. The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) has taken things a step further by connecting a string of festivals between Victoria on the west coast and Halifax in the east. The resulting festival circuit is huge, boosting the individual smaller festivals and creating a larger community to support artists, organisers and audiences across the country. The association’s success has led to an expansion beyond the original circuit to include a total of 34 CAFF member festivals, including 11 in the United States.

Contemporary American Theater Festival, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, USA (July)

See the “newest plays in America” during this festival in “the oldest town in West Virginia”. The festival produces six plays each season, including world premieres, and presents them over the course of a few days at the end of July. The plays are performed on four stages and accompanied by talks, lectures and workshops on the campus of Shepherd University. A total of 144 new plays have emerged from the festival over the years, including some that have gone on to see Broadway and Off-Broadway stagings, as well as others that were adapted to film.

International Arts Carnival (IAC), Hong Kong (July – August)

Many theatre festivals offer a family programme or daytime shows for children, but Hong Kong’s International Arts Carnival is entirely curated for little ones and their families. Local and international performers flock to Hong Kong to put on an ambitious, kid-friendly programme, with plays, concerts, dance and acrobatics performances featuring interactive and multimedia elements to engage the audience and inspire creativity. The programme also extends to special library and museum events throughout the city. Each event comes with an age recommendation, beginning as young as 0 (yes, there really are festival events that welcome newborns). 

Elsinore Shakespeare Festival, Helsingør, Denmark (August)

There’s no shortage of Shakespeare festivals, but the one with the longest-standing tradition isn’t found in London or Stratford, but at Kronborg Castle in Denmark. Hamlet has been performed here, at the very castle where the play is set, since 1816. Today, plays are performed by visiting companies, often in Danish, English or German, usually with subtitles, so they can be enjoyed in different languages. In 2024, audiences will be treated to Troilus & Cressida in Danish, Hamlet in English and Shakespeare in Concert, all on a beautiful outdoor stage, with the castle and the ocean as a backdrop.

Preetzer Papiertheatertreffen, Preetz, Germany (September)

Paper theatre may be an extremely niche genre of performing arts, yet it’s an incredibly storied one that remains remarkably lively. Each year, dozens of participants from all over the world flock to a small town in northern Germany to perform their contributions. If you thought this type of performance, with paper stages, sets and figurines, is only for kids, then think again. The visuals alone are often ambitiously artistic, and the plays themselves can be quite demanding and mature. The 2023 festival included several murder mysteries, a table theatre based on Hemingway, and even one play for adults only.

Kampala International Theatre Festival (KITF), Kampala, Uganda (November)

KITF has earned itself a reputation as one of the most invigorating theatre festivals in East Africa. Now in its 11th year, it was originally initiated to connect, but also professionalise theatre communities in the region. The event offers performers a platform for works at different phases of completion – from works in progress and staged readings, to full productions. Entries come from all over the globe, but the programme’s focus is on work from East Africa and the Middle East. To foster community engagement and sustainable spaces, site-specific productions are commissioned and performed each year.

Mindelact, Mindelo, Cabo Verde (November)

This eclectic event is considered one of the most important theatre festivals in West Africa. Taking place in the port city Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente, Cabo Verde (formerly known as Cape Verde), it mainly features performances in Portuguese (by local, Portuguese and Brazilian groups), along with contributions from all over the world, in different languages and representing a variety of performance traditions. In addition to the two main festival stages, there are open-air performances and workshops in various locations around town.

[Header photo courtesy of Elsinore Shakespeare Festival]

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Related Articles