Large crowd of peopleSlather on some sunscreen, get the insect repellant and put on a hat – we’re going to the theatre!

While those may not be on your list of usual preparatory items for a night at the theatre, they’re highly appropriate for the places we’re going today, where the actors and audience are out in the open, under the sun or the stars (or perhaps a canopy) in one of the many outdoor summer theatres across the United States and Canada.

There is an amazing variety of outdoor productions, running the gamut from Shakespeare to the latest in musical theatre, and everything possible in between.

Let’s start with Shakespeare, shall we?

The huge tent on the banks of the Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada brings two of Shakespeare’s plays to life every summer with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. Often performed with a modern twist, these productions grab the audience and get them thinking about the Bard in a whole new way. This year, The Scottish Play and A Comedy of Errors are featured.

In the 1950s, a man named Joseph Papp left the work he’d been doing as a floor manager for television productions, and realized his dream of mounting Shakespearean plays in New York’s Central Park – free to all. Nearly sixty years later, his dream is a strong reality, with Shakespeare in the Park an annual feature at the Delacorte Theater.

At the same time in history that Shakespeare was writing his plays, a colony was trying to establish itself on Roanoke Island of North Carolina. In one of the many outdoor historical dramas that are staged across the U.S. and Canada every summer, the Lost Colony comes to life again in Manteo, N.C.

I could write an entire blog series just about the historical plays that I discovered in researching this post, but I’ll mention just one more. Since my childhood, I’ve been amazed and impressed by the story of Helen Keller. Every year, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, her birthplace, there is an outdoor theatrical production of the award-winning play based on her early life, The Miracle Worker.  (If you’re unfamiliar with the play, try to find the 1962 movie version, starring Patty Duke as Helen Keller – it is the story that originally captivated me.  )

If Shakespeare and history aren’t what you’re looking for, how about a little “comedy tonight”? (Phrase sung to the tune of the song from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum*)

SummerStage of Delafield, Wisconsin is offering four comedies to its audiences this summer, from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – oops, there he is again, but this time condensed in a way that is, to judge from the website, hilarious – to The 39 Steps. The theatre poster says of that production, “Mix a Hitchcock masterpiece with a juicy spy novel and add a dash of Monty Python.” Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Or how about some musical theatre?

Rainbow Stage in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is celebrating its 59th season, with productions of The Buddy Holly Story and Mary Poppins. (Thirty years ago, I delighted to a production of Kismet there.)

* I mentioned A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum earlier — I thought I’d check and see if it were being staged outdoors anywhere this summer and it is, if you happen to be in England. Riverside Theatre in Eynsford, Kent is mounting a production of Forum, with ten shows in late July/early August. (This Sondheim musical will return to my blog in next week’s post. That is totally serendipitous. Really.)

I know I’ve only mentioned a few, and I could go on and on, but perhaps this has at least given you a taste of what is available for a balmy summer night when you want to spend time outdoors enjoying the performing arts. To see what might be available in your area, check out this extensive listing of summer theatres from Arts America.

Enjoy the show!

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