Shakespeare Live: Staging the plays outdoors

Bree Murphy (left) as Mistress Quickly and Marco Antonio Vega as Bardolph in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Henry V. (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.)
Bree Murphy (left) as Mistress Quickly and Marco Antonio Vega as Bardolph in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2016 production of Henry V. Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival 2016.

Whether they are produced under the stars, in the moonlight, by the sea, or in local parks, Shakespeare plays are performed outdoors throughout the United States every summer.

Some aspects of modern theater would probably have surprised William Shakespeare, from electrical lighting to women acting onstage. The idea of performing his plays outdoors, however, would have seemed entirely routine. The plays that Shakespeare wrote were staged in large, open-air playhouses like the Globe—and in other outdoor settings when his company was on tour. (Of course, his plays commanded audiences indoors, too, from the Blackfriars Theatre to the royal court.)

Explore how different US theaters and festivals are staging Shakespeare in the open air this summer with the gallery of images below.

The images shown above include American Players Theatre; Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Shakespeare in the Park from Cincinnati Shakespeare CompanyColorado Shakespeare Festival; Commonwealth Shakespeare CompanyDoor Shakespeare from Door County, Wisconsin; Houston Shakespeare FestivalHudson Valley Shakespeare Festival; Idaho Shakespeare Festival; Illinois Shakespeare; The Nashville Shakespeare FestivalThe Old Globe; Shakespeare Under the Stars from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; Free Shakespeare in the Park from the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival; Seattle Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare Dallas; Shakespeare in Detroit; Shakespeare at Notre Dame; the Utah Shakespeare Festival; and Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.

The Folger Shakespeare Library partners with these theaters and others as part of our commitment to building greater connections between the public and Shakespeare and the humanities.

Do you enjoy Shakespeare differently when you see his plays outdoors? Do some plays seem better in an outdoor (or an indoor) setting than others do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  • Experience Theatre Project produced its very first production this summer. Its inaugural production: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photos from the production, along with excerpts from Puck’s Diary, at our website!

  • We saw Door Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It was just fantastic–an intimate stage nestled in the middle of the woods. The perfect setting for high jinks by Puck and the crew.

  • This summer I attended an outdoor production of The Tempest at Shakespeare & Co in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. This company is sponsored by Century Community College. The stage has expanded over the years , from your basic single platform and sound walls to today’s more complicated series of platforms, stairs, turrets, balcony with railings. It’s a beautiful permanent stage area that is utilized just as Shakespeare’ s Globe is, with location changes denoted through the dialog up alone. The trees and shrubs surrounding the audience become part of the set, as does any available space within the audience, who sit on blanket or chairs all over the grounds. This production was a gender inclusive production with women playing several key roles, including Prospero (Prospera). The inclusiveness was quite successful, especially with the character of Trinculo (Trincula). She was utterly delightful as a young wanton wench , always into her cups (all 3 of them).

  • Saw an amazing production of “Edward III” put on by the Hudson Shakespeare Company of New Jersey. Its a dubious Shakespeare title they did in a Viking setting. It wad really engrossing and well paced, more theater companies should do it. Next month they are doing both parts of Henry IV with a female Prince Hal and Hotspur

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