What exactly is Walkabout Theatre?

20 May 2022

Here at Sneaky Experience we like to do things a bit differently. We're all familiar with visiting the theatre, buying snacks, taking our seats and waiting for the curtain to go up, a routine familiar for hundreds of years. But would you be surprised to know that theatre originated outside?

Outdoor theatre is believed to date back to the 10th century where at times like Easter and Christmas, stories from the Bible were dramatised for the largely illiterate congregation, unable to read for themselves. Around the 13th century, the performance of these stories was taken up by the craft guilds, delivered on wooden carts that moved around the streets to gather an audience before coming to rest at an arranged site.

By the end of the 15th century many towns and cities had prominent outdoor theatre spaces such as inn yards or enclosed courtyards to allow for the increasing popularity of these travelling shows. This in turn led to purpose built outdoor theatres, including one of the most famous, The Globe, in 1576.

As the years continued, indoor theatres started to gain in popularity, both with theatrical companies who recognised the control they could wield over every element of the production, as well as with theatregoers for the comfort of a seat, protection from the weather and all the other luxuries associated with visiting a venue.

However outdoor theatre has seen a real resurgence in recent years, particularly as it became the only option for many theatre companies over the Covid years, and is gaining in popularity again amongst many in the industry.

Adam Nichols is the artistic director of the Maltings Theatre, and he says this about outdoor theatre: “It takes us back to theatre’s origins and fundamentals – from ancient civilisations telling stories around the fire, to the Greeks and the Romans, and right through to our own Elizabethan playhouses.”

We here at Sneaky particularly love a version of outdoor theatre known as walkabout or promenade theatre, using the grounds and spaces of the spectacular heritage venues we work with to take our audiences on a literal journey as we tell our tale. Our producers and cast will visit our venues multiple times to plan the route of the show, from the moment our guests arrive to where they will go if they fancy a bite to eat after the show.

We choose our venues with great care and love to surprise and delight our audiences by making the most of each venue's unique landscape as visitors make their way around; at Kirkstall Abbey, we've used the old tunnels for actors to emerge from, at Burton Constable we've hidden behind rose bushes in the hundreds of years old formal gardens, we've even put cars in trees (a long story).

This year you'll have the opportunity to get the Sneaky Experience experience at a number of new venues as we expand into Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and beyond - stay up to date on our social channels and sign up to our email newsletter if you haven't already.

With thanks to The Arches Theatre website and Backstage.com for the information and quote.