The Traverse Theatre began life in 1963 as a theatre club in an abandoned brothel in Edinburgh's Lawnmarket. The theatre is so named because its first Artistic Director, Terry Lane, mistakenly believed that the staging arrangement is called 'traverse'. He later realised that it is 'transverse' but it was already too well known to change it.
In its first year of operation, a theatre conference was organised by director Jim Haynes, John Calder and Kenneth Tynan. Within three years of existence, the tiny theatre club had produced 110 productions, including 28 British premieres and 33 world premieres.
The Traverse was qualified as a ‘club’, allowing them to defy rules get around a whole series of rules commercial theatres performing to the public were subjected to. As a club private to members, they were not censored by the Lord Chamberlain, and could stage plays containing nudity, sex, liberalism and everything high society frowned upon back in the day, exposing the deeply radical roots of Traverse Theatre.
During the 1960s, Richard Wilson was a regular on the stage, and the 1970s saw Traverse Theatre productions with Bill Paterson, Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Simon Callow, Timothy Dalton, and Steven Berkoff.
At the end of the 1960s, the Traverse moved to a larger space in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, with flexible seating configurations. The first performance in this venue was on 24 Aug 1969. In its early days the theatre included exhibition space for the visual arts, until 1966 when it was taken away to establish what became the Richard Demarco Gallery.
In 1978, David Hayman famously directed John Byrne's Slab Boys, a production received to great acclaim, transferring to an award-winning turn in New York and spawning multiple iterations, including a feature film. The 1980s continued this trend, with Tilda Swinton and Forbes Masson, as well as Alan Cumming, directed by Steve Unwin in a 1988 production of The Conquest of the South Pole.
The Traverse Theatre’s reputation rapidly grew into becoming a home to countless world premieres and the launchpad for many careers, celebrated nationally and internationally for its creativity and boldness. No longer the new kid on the block, the Traverse Theatre (Scotland) Ltd was incorporated as a charity (SC002368) on the 16th of September of 1981, and has been registered as such ever since.
In 1992, the Traverse moved to its current location at Cambridge Street. A £3.3 million purpose-built two theatre space with bar café was created as part of the Saltire Court development on Castle Terrace. The theatre's first performance at this location was on 3 July 1992.
The Traverse turns 60 years new in 2023, and to mark this occasion, we have launched MyTraverse- our exciting new digital space developed by Cadpeople as part of the Creative Informatics' Challenge Programme.
MyTraverse allows you to explore some of our most remarkable moments, acclaimed productions, insightful archive material, and get a glimpse into the paces and work you don't usually see from your seat.
And we can't tell our full story without the audiences who have been at our heart since day one. If you have tales to tell of your times at the Trav or materials connected to us that's languishing in a corner of your attic, we'd love to know. Get in touch with our team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.