Watching an outdoor summer theater performance is a fine way to introduce kids to the theater – it’s free (donations encouraged) and restless kids can get up and move around. Many of the plays are Shakespeare and while much of Shakespeare’s prose will go over the heads of young kids, they will grasp that it’s about playground drama they experience regularly – power, loyalty, plotting, battles.
These performances are intimate; no walls separate actors from the audience crowding in close to catch the action. They are affordable; the cost is whatever you want to pay when they pass the hat. And the skill and imagination on display here are impressive. With very limited props, actors have to create worlds on the park lawn or minimal stage. They may need to switch between roles within a second, with the aid of a hat, a swagger, or a change in voice. And they often have to improvise, keeping the play going no matter what comes at them: be it rain, airplane noise overhead, stray frisbees, or excitable dogs.
Seattle Outdoor Festival at Volunteer Park
The best showcase of outdoor theater in Seattle is the annual Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival in Volunteer Park, this year on Saturday, July 8 and Sunday, July 9. For two days you’ll get to see multiple theaters performing in several locations in the grand park, including in the Conservatory, on the lawn, and best of all, in the beautiful newly remodeled Amphitheater.
If you don’t make it to the festival, there will be several other opportunities to watch those shows performed at the Outdoor Festival at other Seattle-area parks in July and August as well as more shows performed by additional theaters.
Check out the GreenStage Summer Schedule to see when and where they will be performing “Romeo and Juliet“, “Henry VI, part 1“, and “Backyear Bard: Cymbeline and The Comedy of Errors.” The Backyard Bard shows, shortened versions of Shakespeare’s plays (one hour each) are sometimes shown back-to-back with a generous break in between. If you’re uncertain how much Shakespeare your kids will take, this is a great option. Also, since the cast is just a few versatile actors, it is fun to see the performers switch characters, or, at times enlarge the cast by calling up audience members. See the Backyard Bard schedule HERE.
Seattle Shakespeare Theater
The Seattle Shakespeare Theater will be performing “The Tempest” July 6 – August 6 at multiple parks – Volunteer Park, Luther Burbank Park, Richmond Beach Park, Lynndale Park, Riverton Heights Park, Klahanie Park, Issaquah Community Center, Mural Amphitheater at Seattle Center, Columbia Park, Wiggums Hollow Park and Des Moines Beach Park. See the full Tempest schedule HERE
Burien Actors Theatre
The Burien Actors Theatre presents “Good Morning, Bill” a 1927 family-friendly comedy about a man names Bill who falls for the aloof Dr. Sally Smith. After Bill returns to Mount Vernon from his vacation in Seattle, he longs for Sally. Comedic complications arise when Bill’s uncle misunderstands, hatching a plan to bring his nephew together with the wrong woman. Head to a South King County Park to view this free play. Check out this schedule for dates and times.
Island Shakespeare Festival
Head to Langley for a free (pay what you can) performing arts festival. July 21- September 10 there will be a rotating repertory of plays. Check out the website HERE to reserve tickets.
Kitsap Forest Theater
For a fantastical outdoor summer theater experience head out to”Seussical, The Musical” at Kitsap Forest Theater – a 15-minute drive from the Bremerton ferry dock. Kitsap Forest Theater has been presenting family theater in a sylvan setting with the talented Mountaineer Players for 100 years (1923-2023). “Seussical, The Musical” celebrates friendship, loyalty, family and community with the best-loved characters from Dr. Seuss’ magical books.
Seussical runs for four weekends, Saturday and Sunday, July 29, 30; August 5, 6,12, 13, 19, 20; 2023. All performances are at 2:00 pm. Go HERE for information on ticket costs and how to get tickets.
Storybook Theatre in the Park
Storybook Theatre presents free performances of Rapunzel at various local parks on weekends in August. Neither long locks of hair nor large locks on towers are enough to keep a rainbow-haired maiden from trying to follow her dreams. Can our hair-oine escape from her tiny room-with-a-view, or will her long locks be forever-locked in her tower? See HERE for a schedule of parks and dates.
Whim W’Him returns for the fourth consecutive year, bringing world-class contemporary dance to communities all across Seattle. Performances will take place at several parks throughout Seattle including Ballard Commons Park, Jefferson Park in Beacon Hill, Martha Washington Park in Rainier Valley, Myrtle Reservoir Park near West Seattle and Pratt Park in the Central District. Check HERE for locations and dates to find a performance near you.
Outdoor Theater at a Park Tips:
- Bring a blanket, bug spray, sunscreen, layers of clothing, water, some cash to put in the hat, and, if you like, a picnic.
- Don’t bring packaging or toys that make noise. (You never realize how much noise a bag of chips makes until you try and open one quietly!).
- Outdoor theater is designed for a human audience, so best not to bring a dog unless they are fine sitting still for at least an hour and won’t be tempted to inspect nearby picnics.
- Camp chairs are a good idea for some, but avoid blocking anyone’s view: the taller the chair, the farther back in the audience you need to sit.