I have never performed in a play at an outside venue. I have been in the audience for a few outside performances. (All Shakespeare.) And I have at times rehearsed outside, when casts on a nice day whine and beg for the privilege to do so. And while I will concede that an odd rehearsal outside here and there is not the same thing as an entire production taking place outside, what I learned from those experiences has convinced me I wouldn't want to perform outside in most circumstances.
I have often said here on the blog that an actor must always be prepared for any contingency. The lights going out, the sound system not functioning. Last minute costume changes. To be a good actor one must be adaptable to many different situations that may arise during the course of a production. To insist on everything being perfect in order to perform well is just asking for trouble.
That doesn't mean, however, that I welcome an extra dozen or so variables just for the fun of it. I'd like to at least aim for as much control as possible. Performing outside by default puts so many things outside of the actor's control.
To begin with, weather. While with enough focus I could perform in the pouring rain, why would I opt for the risk? What is that proving? I hate being in wet clothes, and if I am that uncomfortable it is putting an undue strain on my to keep said focus. The same with gusting wind. And the idea of canceling a show due to weather is not an enviable option, seeing as how often weather tends to screw around with my plans anyway. All of that work down the tube because on the day we open it rains? No thank you.
Also, people these days tend to have a hard enough time keeping quiet and respectful in a theatre. Put that same group of talking, texting, food munching patrons outside and you might as well send out an invitation to everyone in attendance that says,
"You are cordially invited to make a bunch of noise as often as possible."
And that is just the patrons. If you are outside, you are guaranteed to have people who couldn't care less about theatre laying on their horn for minutes at a time as they drive by, putting their radios on loud in an adjoining area, or just generally going out of their way to screw everything up. If they did that at an indoor venue they could be asked to leave and if needs be, forcibly removed. How do you eject someone from "outside"?
The classics such as Shakespeare and obviously the Greek tragedies can be played well in such venues, if you are into broad, sweeping interpretations. Which sometimes I am. But most outdoor venues deprive one of intimacy. Subtleties in performance, which I both like to see as a patron, and use as an actor, are lost in your standard outdoor venue. Plus many modern plays simply would not work outside, whereas Shakespeare or the Greek tragedies can in fact be adjusted to work inside.
I'm not unaware of some of the positive points made by those who enjoy outdoor theatre. For one, yes, I realize that the very first theatres were outdoor venues, and that to perform outdoors does provide one with a semi-intriguing connection to ancient theatre. But that was two thousand or so years ago. They also killed people for sport and entertainment back then. The age of a practice is not by itself proof of it's prudence.
Also, most outdoor shows are by default minimalist in regards to sets and props. This I like, because as I have often said, I am a theatre minimalist. But minimalism as a concept is not limited to outside venues.
It is said that outdoor venues are less stuffy and more inviting atmospheres than are traditional indoor venues. The casual theatre goer would feel less intimidated about coming to a show outside in a park than inside in a theatre. I give this a maybe, but with the caveat that there is nothing wrong with a little bit of stuffiness and decorum inside of a theatre. Furthermore, an open, relaxed atmosphere can be established inside as well, if desired.
I suppose there could be an outside venue in which I would consider performing, if it met several criteria.
-An enclosed venue, specifically set aside for theatre. This as opposed to an open, available space in a city park somewhere. If I am going to perform outside, I want to be sure that anybody who can see me is at least there with the intention of seeing a show.
-Observant staff that keep the audience respectful. If people in the audience are held just as accountable at an outside theatre as they are in an inside theatre, that would make it more palatable to me.
-A weather proofed performance area. Or at least one that would be shielded from the rain and wind as much a possible. That way the performers could continue, and let the audience decide if it's worth getting rained on.
-Reasonable size. Some outdoor venues actually have seats, while some just have patrons sit on the ground, or bring their own chairs. But either way, I don't want a sprawling, thousand person "house". If it is still limited to a few hundred people that are rather close to the stage, some amount of intimacy might be saved, and make it worth it.
-Secluded location. Or at least semi-secluded. Far enough away fro major highways, public parks, and other such distractions to make it feel as though despite being outside, everyone has arrived at a theatre once they are there.
-Dressing rooms. I think I need them. Not so much for the privacy of changing clothes. An actor gets used to not caring who sees what backstage. But for the sake of having someplace where the actor can be "off" when he needs to be. I know I need that.
-Some lighting. I'd hate for every show to be a matinee...
All and all, I suppose I could be persuaded under those conditions, to be in an outdoor show. Perhaps I still could be persuaded even without all of these safeguards if the chance were a great opportunity. But all things being 100% equal, I will almost always choose to perform inside instead of outside.
Have you ever performed in an outdoor venue? What did you think of it?