The Best Outdoor Theaters Around the World
'Shakespeare in the Park' isn’t the only open-air culture fix. There are excellent outdoor theaters all over the world, including California, Denmark, the U.K., and Singapore.
Maybe it’s the novelty of seeing stars literally standing below stars.
Maybe it's because monologues land better in the night air.
Or maybe it’s because they’re often BYOB.
Whatever the reason, watching a performance at an outdoor theatre means peak summer has arrived.
Central Park’s Shakespeare in the Park by the Public Theater gets all the raves (with reason), but tickets are scarce, and there is a raft of more global options. Survey these 10 theatres around the world with vibrant offerings this season.
“So, what’d you do this weekend?” “Oh, I watched a play on the slopes of the Acropolis.” Yeah, so, that’s actually an option. Outdoor theater has its origins in Greece, and the fabulously named ancient amphitheater Odeon of Herodes Atticus (but you can call it, simply, the Herodeon) is in the middle of Athens.
There’s a tragic backstory, of course. Built between 160 and 174 BC by Herodes Atticus after the death of his wife Regilla, it was a music venue for years; after fires and disrepair it was brought back into use in the early 20th century. On September 26, visitors can see Amyntas translated by George Mormoris at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival.
While it’s unlikely to cause a political tsunami similar to the Trump-era Julius Caesar earlier this summer, the Public Theater’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream can act as appropriate comedic palate cleanser. Directed by Lear deBessonet and starring Annaleigh Ashford, Danny Burstein, Phylicia Rashad and more talented cast members, Central Park’s quietly mesmerizing Delacorte Theater will be transformed into Shakespeare’s epic forest tale until August 13.
Nothing is rotten in the state of Denmark. In fact, the gorgeous outdoor space at Krongborg Castle might be the one of the most idealized settings in which to see Shakespeare. HamletScenen produces a Shakespeare Festival every summer where they say the backdrop consists of “the screech of gulls and the glimmer of stars” and the fickle Danish weather is “a highly respected co-player.”
Apparently, performances are never canceled for the weather, meaning their August performances of Hamlet are ready and waiting, thunderstorms be damned. Another treat: Visitors can pick up a picnic basket filled with Danish open-faced sandwiches for the open-air show.
The Grec Festival of Barcelona is a month-long cultural orgy of theater, music, opera, and dance throughout Spain’s vibrant city.
The jewel of the July festival is the Teatre Grec, a gorgeous and moody Greek-esque theater opened in 1929 that went through cycles of use and disuse over the decades, playing host to dance performances, musical comedies, and more.
They’re closing out the festival on July 30 with Euripides’ Troyanas, translated by Carme Portaceli. Sure, the “orchestra” seats may be stone slabs, but that detail hardly matters while watching Trojan women fight against their fate.
The city’s film festival may get most of the love, but Sundance has theatre cred, too, dammit. With views of Mount Timpanogos, a swath of pine trees upstage, and cool atmosphere after sunset, the Eccles Stage Outdoor Amphitheater might be the most chill option to take in theater in the U.S. You see why Robert Redford loves his Sundance Mountain Resort.
The actor cherry picks the play each season and this year’s summer show, running through August 12, is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with a Western spin (because why not?).
There are theatre buffs and then there’s Rowena Cade. The story behind Cornwall’s legendary Minack Theatre is one of pure fortitude, and maybe a little obsession.
In 1931, Rowena Cade apparently looked around her cliffside home and wanted to create a performance space for Shakespeare readings. So Cade took matters into her own hands and with the help of her gardener she “moved endless granite boulders and earth” to make the stage and lower terraces of the theater.
This summer, week-long runs are planned of The Wicked Lady, about a bored aristocratic woman turned highway robber (the film version starring Margaret Lockwood was a hit in 1945; Faye Dunaway starred in a 1983 remake); Treasure Island, appropriately set on the coast of England; Shakespeare farce The Comedy of Errors; and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy. Rowena Cade would be proud.
Outdoor film screenings are to Los Angeles what cookie dough is to New York. That is to say: inescapable. But La La Land has plenty of theater, too. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botancium (translation: “garden theatre”) might have the most Hollywood backstory—founded by Geer in 1973 after the actor was blacklisted in the McCarthy era, the Topanga Canyon space that feels a bit like a treehouse became a haven for other blacklisted actors and musicians.
His daughter Ellen now serves as artistic director and the company frequently hosts new play readings (called “seedlings”) through their play development program. Their summer repertory schedule includes The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, and Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind.
Also in California: the Forest Theater, Carmel. Built in 1910, this outdoor ampitheatre is surrounded--like the Delacorte Theater in Central Park--by towering trees, and hosts productions by the Pacific Repertory Theater. This year's late summer/early autumn productions are Peter Pan and Cyrano. Book tickets here.
The Globe Theatre in London is the rebuilt open-air version of the theater which Shakespeare helped fund and which presented many of his new works beginning in 1599. Fast-forward a few centuries, and after Sam Wanamaker’s Herculean efforts to raise money (it only took 23 years), the Globe has been alive and thriving since 1996.
This year the company debuted its “Summer of Love” series, with Twelfth Night directed by Emma Rice up through August 5—cross-dressing and hijinks abound!—and a Latin music-infused interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing, set during the Mexican Revolution. King Lear’s on tap for a mid-August run.
Part concert hall, part theater, and part mall, the Esplanade seems a decent representation of Singapore as a whole. Opened in 2002, the vast space is located on the Marina Bay, and when visitors tire of the gigantic mall, they can check out the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on the waterfront. Nice bonus for actors: two “sails" protect them from the elements.
They’re staging the musical Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress with West End and Broadway stars this summer at the larger indoor space, and more intimate performances of shows will take place at the 450-seater outdoor space.
Perhaps it’s cheating to include an opera, but there are no rules—and with such an impressive setting, this highlight of Italy should be fair game. The Arena di Verona is an outdoor space on steroids; it can seat up to 15,000 people. (Adele and One Direction have graced the stage in recent years.)
The amphitheater’s opera festival has been its most famous attraction; this year is the theater’s 95th edition, showcasing Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco through August 26. Built in the first century, the ol’ gal has held up quite well over the years.