Skip to main content
Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

Shakespeare Outdoors

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 4

Pack the picnic basket. Grab a blanket. Don’t forget the bug spray.

Shakespeare under the stars is a long-standing tradition in America and around the world. Rebecca Sheir talks with scholars and theater artists about the social and cultural forces that came together to create outdoor Shakespeare festivals. It’s a tradition that begins much earlier than you might think!

Featured in this podcast episode:

  • Libby Appel is former artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
  • Charlotte Canning is a professor in the theater and dance department of the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Michael Dobson is director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham in England.
  • Frank Hildy is a professor of theater at the University of Maryland.
  • Scott Kaiser is the head of voice and text at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, NPR One, or whereever you get your podcasts.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “Under the Greenwood Tree,” was produced for the Folger Shakespeare Library by Richard Paul; Garland Scott, associate producer. Edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had help gathering material for this Shakespeare Unlimited episode from Esther French. Thanks to Nick Moorbath at Evolution Studios in Oxford, England, and Eddie Wallace at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The music was composed and arranged by Lenny Williams.

Previous: In Search of the Real Richard III | Next: Punk Rock Shakespeare


MICHAEL WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. This podcast is called “Under the Greenwood Tree.”

There are things in our modern world that seem always to have been around. The Jefferson Memorial, the interstate highway system, or the income tax. Of course, we know there was a time when these things did not exist, but trying to imagine the world without them seems almost impossible. The subject of this podcast is like that, too. It is a look at the tradition of staging Shakespeare outdoors. We take for granted the hundreds of outdoor Shakespeare festivals here in North America and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. In this podcast, we take a look at how they came to exist in their current form. Our narrator is Rebecca Sheir.

REBECCA SHEIR: Michael Dobson is director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham in England. In 2005, he had an idea. He decided to take a map of England and put a pink dot everywhere there was an outdoor Shakespeare venue. When he got finished, he says, you’d be forgiven if you thought the map had broken out with a case of the measles.

MICHAEL DOBSON: You really do have to run away into the mountains, ideally well into Scotland, if you want to be more than about 20 miles from an outdoor Shakespeare performance.

SHEIR: No one’s ever bothered to try the same experiment with a US map, but the outcome would probably be the same. We love Shakespeare outdoors. In forests, in band shells, in mock-ups of Shakespeare’s Globe. In a way, it’s no mystery why. Outdoor theater goes back at least as far as the Greeks and Romans and they did it that way for the same reason Shakespeare often did 1,500 years later.

DOBSON: The main reason that the Elizabethan playhouses were unroofed was it was cheap. The main consideration was getting the spectators, or rather auditors, as close to the actors’ lungs as they could. So you bunch the audience around vertically in a circle around an open platform.

SHEIR: It was in the open air, he says, for a practical reason, too.

DOBSON: It’s not convenient to put a permanent roof over a big amphitheater if you’re trying to cram in two or three thousand spectators.

SHEIR: So outdoor Shakespeare goes all the way back to Shakespeare. Though of course, his plays were put on indoors, too. But there’s a tendency to think that the outdoor Shakespeare festival is a product of the 20th century, maybe with Joe Papp and Shakespeare in the Park. Maybe it was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In fact, Michael Dobson says the idea of reviving outdoor Shakespeare goes all the way back to the 18th century and David Garrick. He’s the man who championed the first major Shakespeare revival 205 years after the playwright’s birth.

DOBSON: What Garrick does is that he arranges the first national Shakespeare fan convention, really, the Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769.

SHEIR: Garrick had elaborate plans, a huge Shakespeare festival in Stratford on Avon. Pavilions, fireworks, a parade of carts carrying Britain’s greatest actors posing in tableaux from Shakespeare’s plays.

DOBSON: The whole idea is that it’s going to look as though Shakespeare’s characters have come home to Shakespeare’s hometown, where they spiritually belong.

SHEIR: It was planned to be fantastic. Instead, Dobson says…

DOBSON: It’s the first of a great series of outdoor Shakespeare disasters.


SHEIR: The Jubilee was planned for September, and that September, it poured rain.

DOBSON: They cancel the procession. The temporary buildings practically collapsed. The firework display has to be canceled. It’s very, very soggy.

SHEIR: An unmitigated disaster, and one that resounded so thoroughly it would be 115 years before anyone tried large-scale outdoor Shakespeare again. The next attempt happened much earlier in the summer. It turned out to be much more successful, and this time, it stuck.

DOBSON: The late 19th century is the period when it becomes really popular, the notion that doing Shakespeare outdoors is the natural, proper way to do Shakespeare.

SHEIR: The ancestors of today’s outdoor Shakespeare festivals were a group of wealthy British outdoor enthusiasts, who struck on the idea of Shakespeare in the woods. They called themselves the Pastoral Players.

DOBSON: The Pastoral Players, who are Oscar Wilde and a lot of his friends, who thought that they’d like to do something beautiful and true to nature in a private wood, with the Prince of Wales paying for the costumes.

[CLIP from As You Like It:]

Young man, have you challenged Charles the wrestler?

No, fair princess. He is the general challenger. I come but in as others do, to try with him the strength of my youth.

SHEIR: The Pastoral Players did an outdoor production of As You Like It in Surrey, south of London, in 1884. Their artistic leader was a theater designer named E. W. Godwin.

DOBSON: What Godwin wanted to do was work with people who were interested in theatrical art for theatrical art’s sake, and they didn’t have a budget to hire a big, flashy theater, so that he could do the design he’d really wanted to do.

SHEIR: That’s the secret of outdoor Shakespeare, though, Michael Dobson says, and one of the reasons why it became so popular.

DOBSON: You don’t have to hire a real theater. You don’t have to have so many backstage staff. All you need is some daylight and a field that you can shut people out of if they haven’t got a ticket.

SHEIR: Doing Shakespeare outdoors made sure there was plenty of money to lavish on Godwin and let him go artistically wild.

DOBSON: He loved designing classical plays and doing lavish sets that were like sets for Ben-Hur or something. But the great thing about doing it outdoors for him, and for a lot of those aesthetes he was working with, was that they weren’t having to muck about with limelight and color filters and worry about artificial light.

[CLIP from As You Like It:]

What is thy name, young man?

Orlando, my liege, the youngest son of Sir Rowland de Boys.

I wish thou hadst been son to some man else.

SHEIR: There was a lot of press attention paid to the Pastoral Players. But while they started it all, they’re not the ones who finally kicked outdoor Shakespeare into high gear. Credit for that goes to the son of a Royal Navy captain whose parents originally wanted him to enter the clergy, Sir Philip Barling “Ben” Greet.

[CLIP of Ben Greet as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing:]

I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love

SHEIR: Like a lot of people in 1884, Greet read about the Pastoral Players and their outdoor Shakespeare performances. But unlike them, Michael Dobson says…

DOBSON: Ben Greet recognized that there was commercial potential in this, and that it would attract audiences who thought that show business was dodgy and corrupt and wicked.

SHEIR: Greet was very active in something called the Church and Stage Society that Dobson says…

DOBSON: Wanted to make peace between high-culture theater and Sunday schools.

SHEIR: There was great appeal to these upright citizens to doing plays, not indoors in the dark, where who knows what else was going on, but outside in the fresh air, under God’s blue sky.

DOBSON: He wanted big block bookings from Sunday schools and churches, so his characteristic repertory included Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, because they’re Shakespeare plays that are all about being uncomfortable outdoors, and the medieval morality play Everyman, which would bring in the vicars, in bulk.

SHEIR: Greet started touring all over England, offering his performances as an educational experience. In publicity material and newspaper articles, he talked endlessly about how his company performed plays in the Elizabethan manner.

DOBSON: Greet felt that as long as you were doing it simply with an emphasis on the language and no scenery, then that was “Elizabethan,” and that was true and that was authentic.

SHEIR: Of course, it was also important that, just as Shakespeare’s company had originally done at the Globe, they were performing the plays outdoors.

DOBSON: Doing Shakespeare outdoors is the way that proves that Shakespeare has nothing to do with corrupt, indoor show business, all that modern vulgar entertaining stuff, but he’s actually an expression of the English countryside, written by this rural playwright from Warwickshire, that gets you back in touch with the land.

[CLIP from As You Like It:]

Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind

SHEIR: Greet’s outdoor shows were bringing in huge crowds, and that is what brought him, in 1902, to the attention of the producer who would take his company, and the tradition of performing outdoor Shakespeare, to this side of the Atlantic.

[CLIP from the New York Herald Tribune, 1903:]

At South Field, Columbia, yesterday afternoon, New York society and New York lovers of the drama to the number of thirty-five hundred sat in the sun and witnessed a production novel to this city, the forest scenes from As You Like It played on the lawn with shrubs and flowers for a foreground and the trees and interlaced boughs for a background and proscenium arch.

SHEIR: This is an article from the New York Herald Tribune describing what is thought to be the first ever outdoor performance of Shakespeare in America, Ben Greet’s Woodland Players at Columbia University on May 15, 1903. The paper called the performance “a real glimpse into an earlier time.” More than 100 years later, the newspaper coverage of the event does much the same thing.

[CLIP from the article (continued):]

The performance was given under the patronage of many of the best known women of the city, so that the audience was exceptionally brilliant. The spring toilettes of the women, who formed the principal part of the audience, added to the picturesqueness of the scene. Among those present were Mrs. Elliott F. Shepard in a black crepe de chine, a mauve feather boa and a hat trimmed with mauve feathers; and Mrs. Gladys Vanderbilt, in a frock of blue cloth with a large flat yellow straw hat trimmed with bluets.

SHEIR: In addition to the 3,500 who sat on flexible camping stools near Broadway and 114th Street, news reports say people crowded the upstairs windows of nearby apartment buildings to catch a glimpse of the performance. New York society ladies arranged for Greet’s actors to have a military band for accompaniment. Between scenes, a glee club sang Elizabethan songs. The weather cooperated, though not everything went smoothly. People in the back who couldn’t hear all got up and moved to the stage a few minutes into the performance. And, because of bad planning, by the middle of the show, everyone in the audience was staring directly into the sun. But the Columbia performance raised 10,000 dollars for local kindergartens. And after it was over, Greet and his actors boarded trains for a trip that took them to Baltimore and Chicago, then up into Canada, back down to Providence, and finally Boston, where they performed Comedy of Errors and As You Like It for 1,600 people in a small quad behind Sever Hall at Harvard.


[CLIP from an article in The Harvard Illustrated Magazine:]

The trees and shrubbery at the south end afforded a most charming and natural setting for a stage, while the presence of buildings at the left and the rear gave the whole an air of seclusion, yet not one of restraint. There was nothing to keep the imagination from soaring aloft and carrying the audience hundreds of miles away to the depths of an English primeval forest. And when they arrived there, all were actors to the scene; none spectators.

DOBSON: It’s been a recurrent feature of outdoor Shakespeare that people prefer acting Shakespeare outdoors to escape not only the taint of indoor theater, but its illusion nature, the fact that it’s all pretend.

SHEIR: Michael Dobson says Greet was a stickler about this. When his troupe was performing outdoors, they would cut scenes that took place in churches or castles, regardless of how important they were to the plot. And, as they had done in England, when they performed at Harvard, they made sure that their stage was set among trees, even if they had to bring their own.

DOBSON: Because he knows he’s not always going to find that when he’s on tour, he uses potted shrubs. You know, he’s got his own supply of portable trees to give that natural-looking backdrop.

[CLIP from the article (continued):]

The stage was so covered and surrounded with small brush and vines that the artificiality of it was for the time forgotten. Brush was also placed along Sever Hall and the fences and at the different entrances to conceal as much as possible the intrusion of modern architecture.

DOBSON: It’s not a painted backdrop. It’s real. They’re real trees when you’re in the forest in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

[CLIP from the article (continued):]

In fact, the whole theater was converted into a veritable wilderness. The illusion was almost perfect and was only broken occasionally by the rumblings of a carriage down Quincy Street.

SHEIR: Not that many actual Harvard students came to the performances. Bad timing scheduled the shows during the week of final exams. Nonetheless, an article in the Harvard alumni magazine offered the wish that “such out-of-door performances should come to be a part of our regular June festivities.”

[CLIP from the article (continued):]

The harmonious blending of plot and scenery, combined with the open air, blue sky and sun, or stars and moonlight as the case might be, left with everyone an indescribable sensation of pleasure that can never be found in the stuffy room of a city theater.—John Powelson, The Harvard Illustrated Magazine.

SHEIR: Greet’s American tour was a smash, and his American producer, Charles Frohman, made sure it kept up. For most of the next 11 years until the outbreak of World War I, he brought Greet back, exposing more and more American cities to this new phenomenon. Greet came to Washington, DC, in 1904 and did a show in a park overlooking the current location of the Kennedy Center. He performed there again the following year, and then moved uptown to the park that now holds the National Zoo. Greet performed outdoors and indoors in New York to rave reviews. While there was one disappointment in Los Angeles, when fewer than 50 people showed up to watch Twelfth Night, Greet’s troupe scored their biggest coup in America in 1908, when First Lady Edith Roosevelt invited them to perform on the front lawn of the White House. That show, Michael Dobson says…

DOBSON: Was such great publicity for him that he had it—of course, it was extensively photographed— And he had photographs of his company performing at the White House printed on his business stationary, so that every time you got a letter from Ben Greet, there was a picture of Ben Greet’s actors performing at the White House on the back of the envelope.

SHEIR: Though Greet’s troupe didn’t actually perform any Shakespeare at the White House, that show turned out to be the launching point for what sealed in the American mind the idea that it was acceptable and even preferable to perform Shakespeare outdoors. That happened in 1913, when Ben Greet’s troupe was invited to perform on the Chautauqua circuit. Charlotte Canning wrote a book about Chautauqua called The Most American Thing in America.

CHARLOTTE CANNING: Greet kept emphasizing a kind of pastoral nature of Shakespeare, and in both locations, the White House and Harvard, he performed outside, so there was this really significant sense that Shakespeare was somehow being brought back to a purer, more moral state. And when the managers were exploring ideas of how to bring theater to the circuits, Crawford Peffer, who was based in New York, was the one who said, “Look, the person to do this is Ben Greet,” that he’s the one who is going to be able to bring theater in such a way that people will embrace it.


CANNING: Chautauqua was founded in 1874 by Methodists, who wanted training for Sunday school teachers, but who didn’t really want to engage in the kind of evangelical revivalism that was so popular at the time.

SHEIR: Instead, Charlotte Canning says, they created a summer program…

CANNING: That involved courses and lectures, discussions, and really, within just a few years, it became much more like adult education and less sort of denominational training.

SHEIR: They began with what was called the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, which offered the first correspondence degrees in the United States. The literary circle gave birth to the Chautauqua circuit, large camps for families where Americans would flock to lectures by leading thinkers and writers.

CANNING: Almost anyone who made a public name for him or herself might find themselves on the platform. There was a huge range of public figures.

SHEIR: There were, at one time, Chautauqua camps in 45 states serving 45 million Americans. The mornings at Chautauqua were filled with lectures. And at night, there was music, but no theater.

CANNING: The Methodists, who, of course, were the denomination that founded Chautauqua, had something called the “Methodist amusement ban,” which threatened members with, at worst, actual expulsion from the church for attending amusements, most prominently, theater. So the problem was, how do you bring theatrical entertainment to a community that doesn’t want theater?

SHEIR: The amusement ban hinged on a concern about frivolity.

CANNING: There was a huge sense that leisure time was a problem that had to be addressed. And within that context of reform and the Christian social gospel, there was a sense that all those things had to be brought together for leisure to be appropriate, to be improving, which is really why Shakespeare becomes the first fully staged theatrical production, because there was no literature more improving and more moral than Shakespeare.

[CLIP from Hamlet:]

There is a play tonight before the King.
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death.

SHEIR: Enter the man from the British Church and Stage Society, Ben Greet.

CANNING: The managers wrote Ben Greet and said, “We’re looking to do good plays for good people.” And he was using both terms of the word “good,” good in the sense of quality, but also good in the sense of morality. And this was bound up, I think, with the kind of peculiar American embrace and distrust of leisure.

SHEIR: That Greet performed outside was particularly important to the Chautauqua managers.

CANNING: Outdoor theater is somehow more improving than theater in an architectural space.

SHEIR: Of course, it also fit well with Chautauqua’s outdoor setting.

CANNING: Greet called Chautauqua audiences a God-fearing people who had their Shakespeare and their Bible. One way to trump anything was to sort of say it was from Shakespeare. So I think that the managers were very confident that if they were going to bring theater, it had to be Shakespeare.

[CLIP of Ben Greet in Macbeth:]

Mine eyes are made the fools o’ th’ other senses
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And, on thy blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood

SHEIR: The profound impact of Ben Greet’s outdoor Shakespeare performances resonated deeply into the 20th century, spreading most strongly, Michael Dobson says, on American college campuses.

DOBSON: The Folger has the most fabulous collection of photographs by Frederick Koch and the Carolina Playmakers from the ’20s. He was a kind of disciple of Greet. He set up one of the first theater studies programs in an American university.

SHEIR: The Woodland Players show at Harvard tapped into an ongoing movement that would end in the creation of outdoor Shakespeare venues being built all across the country. Frank Hildy is a professor of theater at the University of Maryland.

FRANK HILDY: Theater needed revitalizing, because it was running into a serious problem in that it was competing with film.

SHEIR: The movies, which were then brand-new, trumped theater when it came to realism. And Hildy says…

HILDY: What do you do? How do you change theater in order to be competitive? Going back and looking at what Shakespeare and his contemporaries had done seemed a really good way to do that.

SHEIR: An English theatrical manager named William Poel was a leader of this movement. Poel, like Greet and the Pastoral Players, believed Shakespeare needed to be stripped down to its essence. In 1897, he began agitating for a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s theater near its original site on the South Bank of the Thames in London, where plays could be staged in the Elizabethan fashion in time for the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916. World War I ruined those plans, and Poel moved to America to find work. He made his way to the theater school at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. There, he worked with Thomas Wood Stevens, the director of the program, and a famous British director named B. Iden Payne. Stevens eventually moved to Chicago to start the Goodman Theatre. And Frank Hildy says…

HILDY: He was there, when in 1933, Chicago decided to have its Century of Progress exhibition.

[CLIP from newsreel about the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair:]

Here we are, folks, at Chicago’s world-famed Century of Progress, the spectacular fair that was started by a beam of light from the star Arcturus.

HILDY: After the first season, they realized that it was too unrelentingly modernist and looking to the future, and so, for the second season, they wanted to bring in some ties to the past.

SHEIR: One thing they decided to create was an English village, one with a theater that did Shakespeare.

HILDY: They did seven shows a day without any scenery, with a quick overlapping of lines, with a rapid delivery, and it was an amazingly successful project.

SHEIR: Halfway across the country the following year, there was another World’s Fair.

[CLIP from newsreel about the San Diego World’s Fair:]

California’s traditional hospitality, handed down for generations, is beckoning millions of guests to San Diego’s California Pacific International Exposition.

SHEIR: In San Diego, they built another replica of the Globe theater.

HILDY: And again, they did seven shows a day, six days a week, at that World’s Fair. And that one turned out to be so successful that the theater was kept after the exhibition was closed, and it became the basis for the Old Globe theater that’s now the major theater in San Diego.

[CLIP from newsreel about the Texas Centennial Celebration:]

Texas under six flags, an empire on parade.

HILDY: That same year, 1935, they also opened another Globe at the Centennial Celebration for the state of Texas.

SHEIR: Another Globe replica was built the following year in Cleveland, and another three years later in New York. At the same time this was all going on, B. Iden Payne, the British director who had worked with William Poel in Pittsburgh, moved out west to be a guest director at the University of Washington. He had a student there named Angus Bowmer. A short time later, Bowmer moved to Ashland, Oregon. Libby Appel, former artistic director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, explains why that matters.

LIBBY APPEL: When the Shakespeare Festival in Oregon began, Angus Bowmer, our extraordinary visionary artistic director and founder, decided to go the way of his teacher, B. Iden Payne, who was a student of Harley Granville-Barker and William Poel.

[CLIP from 1950 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It:]

Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown
More than your enemies.

Will you go, coz?

Have with you. Fare you well.

SHEIR: Just like Ben Greet, Bowmer in Oregon was a stickler about doing Shakespeare’s plays in a way that he perceived as truly Elizabethan.

APPEL: What that meant was they were done without intermission, and they were uncut. So that meant you saw a four-and-half-hour Richard III or Hamlet, and they were done in Elizabethan costume only.

[CLIP from 1950 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It:]

Unless you could teach me to forget a banished father, you must not learn me how to remember any extraordinary pleasure.

Herein I see thou lov’st me not with the full weight that I love thee.

SHEIR: They kept up that practice until the early 1970s.

[CLIP from 1982 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar:]

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

SHEIR: Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, another groundbreaking outdoor Shakespeare festival was being born.

[CLIP from 1979 TV interview:]

JOE PAPP: I started to become interested in the theater when I was aboard a flattop in the Navy in World War II, and we used to put on shows, mostly variety shows.

SHEIR: Joe Papp, the monumental New York director and creator of Shakespeare in the Park, fell in love with Shakespeare’s language when he was 12. In the 1950s, he was directing Shakespeare in a church on the city’s Lower East Side, when it struck it him that Shakespeare should be available to everyone. He speaks here in a 1979 interview with opera singer Beverly Sills.

[CLIP from 1979 TV interview:]

PAPP: Then we moved out to the park. See, I just decided…
BEVERLY SILLS:  You mean you went right from the church to the park?
PAPP: Not Central Park. I moved to a park called the East River Park, which is on Grand Street and East River Drive. We did Julius Caesar and The Taming of the Shrew with Colleen Dewhurst.

SHEIR: Not too long after that, he had a portable 35-foot stage built and put on the back of a city garbage truck. Papp was fighting with the city over whether to charge money for his Shakespeare performances. The city wanted the money to pay for upkeep of the park’s grass. Papp refused. And one night, he drove his garbage truck into Central Park and began to perform.

[CLIP from 1979 TV interview:]

PAPP: Because we had opened that season with Romeo and Juliet.
SILLS: Where?
PAPP: In Central Park. There was no Delacorte Theater then, we just had this mobile unit.
SILLS: Did the city just allow you to drive in and perform?
PAPP: Well, they kind of allowed me. I just drove in one night without them knowing it. There was a cop on a horse. I came in at two o’clock in the morning, I had no permit. And we brought this truck in and just set it up. And there was a cop on a horse and he saw me go by, and he kind of looked at me kind of strangely. But he must have assumed that nobody would have come in with a huge 45-foot platform trailer without a permit. He just kind of gazed and looked kind of awed and I just waved to him and we went on.

SHEIR: A few years later, Papp won the fight over grass as the city agreed to erect the Delacorte Theater, which has hosted Shakespeare in the Park ever since.

[CLIP from TV footage:]

USHER: Step through. And another two, step through. The last one will pick them up.
REPORTER: How early did you have to get here this morning?
MONTAGE OF VOICES: I got here at 6:45… 6:15 this morning… At around 6 o’clock… I brought a rain poncho.
REPORTER: How did you get this incredible position?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh, by sleeping here last night.
USHER WITH BULLHORN: Tickets are one per person in line.

[CLIP from 1979 TV interview:]

PAPP: I’m not interested in just putting on plays. I’m interested in being part of a large design, part of a societal design, where the cultural things that exist in our society are as crucial, I always say, as garbage collection.


SHEIR: Whether the experience for the audience outdoors is better, worse, or even different from what they get inside the theater seems to be a matter of culture and, sometimes, politics. Regardless of that, though, performing outdoors is most definitely different for the performers. Here’s the actor Raúl Juliá talking about doing Shakespeare in the Park in 1979.

[CLIP of Raúl Juliá in 1979 interview:]

RAÚL JULIÁ: The feeling in the park is that you’re playing with and for your family. You are putting on a play for these 2,000 relatives that came to see you. And here I am putting on a play for you, and, okay, you dig it, you don’t dig it, we’ll argue. You want to argue, we’ll argue, fine. If you want to boo me, great, and I might boo you back. But it’s all done within a context of love.

SHEIR: And from a more practical standpoint…

SCOTT KAISER: We’re one of the last theaters in the country with an outdoor Shakespeare festival that doesn’t amplify the actors.

SHEIR: That’s Scott Kaiser, the head of voice and text at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

[CLIP from 1982 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar:]

Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home!
Is this a holiday?

KAISER: Acting in an outdoor stage is a very different acting style, in that you really have to use all of your body and all of your voice in order to act.

[CLIP from As You Like It:]

And, wheresoe’er we went, like Juno’s swans
Still we went coupled and inseparable.

She is too subtle for thee, her smoothness,
Her very silence, and her patience
Speak to the people, and they pity her.

KAISER: It’s very unlike doing American realism in a small 300-seat house, where, you know, your pupils can dilate and tears can run down your cheeks and people understand what’s going on.

[CLIP from 1982 Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar:]

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

KAISER: In an outdoor space the size of ours, you can’t see, you know, minute muscular changes in the face. It’s all reflected through voice and through body. And so, you need to use your whole body from the toes up. You need to move through space and reflect your acting choices through physical involvement and full vocal involvement.

[CLIP from As You Like It:]

O Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe!

Alas, poor shepherd, searching of thy wound,
I have by hard adventure found mine own.

SHEIR: The Greeks, the Romans, and Shakespeare’s acting company performed plenty of theater outdoors. And every summer, many of us choose to watch Shakespeare on a lawn under the sun or the evening stars. Michael Dobson says, it’s no wonder.

DOBSON: It’s a family-friendly way of seeing Shakespeare. Nobody is going to turn around and hush your child during the funny bits in Midsummer Night’s Dream the way they might do in a posh theater.

[CLIP from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:]

The wall, being sensible, should curse again.

No, sir, he should not.

DOBSON: It’s like a picnic. It’s like a sort of collective gathering of people outdoors to watch a sports event or see a pageant or just get together and look at the view, which is, you know, quite often what audiences for outdoor Shakespeare are really doing.

[CLIP from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:]

She is to enter now, and I am to spy her through the chink in the wall.

SHEIR: So enjoy the view. Enjoy the weather. And enjoy your Shakespeare outdoors.

[CLIP of stage announcements:]

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the 48th annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
ANNOUNCER 2: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
ANNOUNCER 3: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey.
ANNOUNCER 4: Welcome to the 13th season of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival.


WITMORE: “Under the Greenwood Tree” was written and produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We have help gathering material for the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series from Esther French. We also had help from Nick Moorbath at Evolution Studios in Oxford, England, and Eddie Wallace at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Our narrator was Rebecca Sheir, and the music was composed and arranged by Lenny Williams.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.