A gypsy run - Idiom in context of theatre

James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
I have heard "a gypsy run" used in the context of a theatre performance. I understood it to be colloquial for a last-minute (or day-before) dress rehearsal, with selected guests invited as an audience meant to 'test' the quality of the production. In other words, a preview before the first public performance, to check it is all working fine.

Can you confirm and any idea where the expression may come from?

The only reference I have found on the web is to a song...
  • foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Your example applies, but a gypsy run is any series of performances made off-schedule-- including those made during contractual negotiations, say between the guild and the backers. Whenever something happens has nothing to do with the actual staging of the play, and it prevents performances, the actors may take it upon themselves to do a tour of local small towns, using barns as theaters and haylofts as stages.

    A number of early Depression-era films featured plots along these lines.

    There can be someting illicit in a gypsy run, which is why they're called by that name. No, Gypsies aren't "illicit," but the word is used to mean bootleg activity, copyright infringement, or service work done without "benefit" of license or permit.

    You may have heard of a "gypsy cab driver." She listens to the dispatcher on a broadband scanner and tries to beat the (usually monopolistic) cab company to the scene where the fare is waiting.

    Gypsy loggers and truckers also exist-- the former poach on land that hasn't had a proper "timber sale," and the latter drive the secondary highways to avoid ports of call and weigh stations. There have been a number of popular and C&W songs about gyppo truckers, and of course a couple or three movies.

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK

    Thanks and this is a detailed and interesting explanation, which answers my question fully. A few comments to clarify my post...

    First of all, I said that it was in the context of the "theatre", but in fact, now that I have thought about it, it was in the context of a musical - I heard it while watching a performance of "The Producers" here in London (not a gypsy run, by the way, but a regular performance!). So, the context was that of an American musical.

    From your explanations, I understand that the term is far more general than theatre-related, and it can apply to other industries. In the context of the performing arts, it implies to performances that are given outside the framework of the guilds (Equity in the UK).

    My impression is that the expression is American English; I have only heard it once, and in the context described above. From your comments, it sounds like the expression is quite common in the USA - "gypsy" being used to mean "irregular", "parallel" or even "illegal", clearly.

    Thanks again


    Senior Member
    USA and English
    I think an additional connotation of "gypsy" is homeless and roaming. The gypsy performances are not in their normal "home" theater, but have roamed afield to a barn or tavern. Touring actors are also sometimes called gypsies, because they are always on the road, live out of a trunk, and have no home.