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Inside Job

4 Reasons to Perform in Outdoor Theater This Summer

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4 Reasons to Perform in Outdoor Theater This Summer
Photo Source: courtesy Michael C. Hardy

Director Michael C. Hardy has been with the Institute for two years, working to make outdoor theater a little easier to produce for big and small theaters across the country.

What does the Institute of Outdoor Theatre do?

We have done consulting for new outdoor theaters. [We] pulled together this book on outdoor theater consulting—we try to put out authoritative information on the field. I think it’s not well known to the public how many opportunities there are when they travel to see theater in Europe, Asia, Australia, as well as North America; it’s an interesting field.

What are the challenges and benefits?

For many people, both in performing and attending, outdoor theater is a gateway to a theater experience. The disadvantages are, of course, the weather, the rain, the lack of air conditioning in particularly hot climates. There are other leisure-time industries, like cruise lines, theme parks, Disney, that have far larger budgets than smaller theaters have to provide high-caliber entertainment and high-caliber customer service facilities.... So it’s put pressure on, and in a way that’s healthy for theaters to do a better and better job.

Is the casting process different?

We run national auditions for summer theater, and we invite both indoor and outdoor theaters. So although most of the outdoor theaters are now using wireless mics, you don’t have the control of the acoustics that you do indoors; you have interfering noise from traffic or boats if it’s waterside. So there’s a little more emphasis on strong vocal production, but the outdoor theaters are becoming quite sophisticated in terms of sound and light technology.

What’s the biggest benefit for members of the Institute?

We have such a range of members from large, sophisticated organizations to very small volunteer theaters, so I think it depends who you are. For the smaller members, the benefit is going to be more in the area of networking, learning the best practices from other theaters. I think for the larger theaters it’s the combination of the support of the field of outdoor theater, which they express, in part, by being members, and having access to the data and contributing to the data that we pull together in our books and publications.

What advie do you have for actors looking to start outdoor theater?

It’s a very good way to find out whether you’re really, really interested in a career in theater because it’s not an easy summer. You’re either doing something like an intensive summer stock experience, or you’re doing one or two shows for 60-, 70-night runs, and you’ll find out quickly if this is satisfying to you and if you’re hungry for more, or you just can’t stand it and you never want to see the backstage of a theater ever again. I call it summer camp for actors. There are people, including Equity actors, who can’t wait for the summer, to go out and be near the ocean or in the mountains or someplace like that, and do theater. There are a lot of young people trying it out for the first time.

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