There’s something about watching a play or movie outdoors. It’s like a layer of distance between the players and the audience has been removed. And there’s a sense of being part of an ancient tradition: I’ll never forget watching a movie in the Roman Ampitheater in Fiesole, sitting on the same worn stone seats where audiences had watched Euripides 1000 years before. Or taking a punt on a summer evening to watch The Tempest performed by Oxford students on an island the middle of the Thames. But I digress: that was before kids.
In a way, outdoor theater is a perfect solution for kids. If they’re bored or noisy, getting up and leaving isn’t too disruptve, and you may be able to them run around while still being able to see or at least hear the performance. And in many cases, admission is free, which means if you do have to remove a screaming, overtired kid from the premises, at least you haven’t lost out on your investment.
Every summer we try to see at least one performance of the Montford Park Players, who do Shakespeare on weekends for free from early summer to early fall. It’s kind of the opposite of the high-end gourmet atmosphere I was used to going to see concerts at Chastain Park in Atlanta. We usually bring a pizza, still in the box.
While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! I discovered a lot of great little outdoor theaters. I’ve always wanted to get to the Wolftrap Children’s Theater outside of DC and the Forest Theater in Carmel-By-The Sea. But the there are so many more great little places: the Kitsap Forest Theater on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington (wow, the whole area just looks breathtaking!), Shakespeare by the Sea in various locations in Orange County, CA, and the Muny in St. Louis. These are a little bigger and probably harder to get away from if things go south with the kids, but the novelty of seeing something outdoors might last until intermission. I’m not sure if my kids would stand for it, but one day, I must get to the Pageant of the Masters, held every summer in Laguna Beach.
If plays won’t do, most big cities (and some small towns) offer some sort of open-air cinema in the summer. The screenings aren’t always kid-friendly, but sometimes there will be one per season that is. A quick check around found outdoor film series in: New York, Chicago, Nashville, Little Rock, San Diego, and Minneapolis. Like Silents Under The Stars (held in LA for decades), we used to have open air silent films with musical accompaniment in our downtown park until funding dried up.
And if all else fails, I found a great set of directions for a DIY backyard movie screen.