Saturday, 14 May 2016

Travelling theatre - lost in the past

We all know about travelling circuses, with or without animals, but I hadn't really thought about travelling theatre, other than what used to occur during Shakespeare's time. Travelling (kitset) theatres were popular in the nineteenth century and the last didn't close in France until the late 1960s. Before TV, internet, even radio, it would have been quite an event to have the travelling theatre arrive in your town or village and set up their outdoor structure within 24 hours, complete with stage, wings, seating, ticketing. Here you can see a model of one of the last ones to close in France.

The repertoires were classic and huge. Actors had to learn a hundred plays. Sets had to be very portable. Seating for the audience had to be staggered in height. It was a very physical life and every member of the troupe pitched in. Age was no excuse.

I visited a museum about this travelling lifestyle which is located at Artenay, in the Loiret. It's small but contains many puppets, marionettes, costumes and parts of sets. There's also a little shop where I bought two finger puppets as a memento.

One of the last things I viewed was an example of a typical actor's trailer. Here you can see the exterior and interior setup. The inside has as many facilities and luxuries as you could squeeze in. Cooking can't have been easy as most of the space was taken up with the bedroom and storage. I can't imagine myself spending my life in such confinement but I suppose it's what you get used to.

Ours was a guided visit and definitely the best way to learn. The museum caters particularly for children with regular workshop activities and shows. You can explore their website at



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