In Praise of Summer Stock and Shakespeare in the Park

4 years ago

I grew up in St. Louis, home of The Muny, one of the original summer stock theaters and the nation's oldest and largest outdoor theater. One of the major coups of my high school years, in addition to perfecting the perfect prop bag for participatory viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, was the discovery of the "free seating" block of tickets The Muny available . Free theater, outside under the stars!

A friend and I packed binoculars and stopped at the 7-11 for Slurpees for the ride to Forest Park and for similarly high-brow snacks to eat while we waited in the ticket line, and then, if rain didn't close us down, we were transported to the magical land of summer theater. I remember seeing Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Anything Goes, among others. Watching Ann Reinking own the stage as The Unsinkable Molly Brown was formative. Seeing a large bug fly into Florence Henderson's mouth as she sang without missing a beat was life affirming and an unmatched lesson in perseverance. 

Image: © Napa Valley Register/

Even in cities without a grand summer stock venue like The Muny, stepping out for summer theater is a celebration. Fantastic touring shows become available to those of us who don't live near major theatre districts, and rep theaters are teeming with plucky college-aged summer talent. Summer performance camps, conferences and festivals also create polished theater, live music, opera, puppetry and dance shows open to all even if you aren't near Spoleto, Sante Fe or Stockbridge

Summer is a particularly sweet time for Shakespeare festivals. You can see As You Like It in Lake Tahoe, Macbeth in Ohio, The Taming of the Shrew in Maine,  or, if you are very lucky, Hamlet from the London Globe company in Chicago or D.C this summer.  

I suppose I grow nostalgic about summer shows at The Muny in the same way the season makes us nostalgic for long days at the beach, garden feasts with real tomatoes and family reunion squirt gun wars. Summer brings with simple pleasures and hopefully the time to enjoy them, whether it's a summer book list, the stack of New Yorkers you were too busy in spring to read, or a series of shows to enjoy. Close to home or as a destination, small or New York Times calendar-worthy, classic or fringe, I hope you plan to see some wonderful productions this summer. Whether outside with your picnic-seating well-staked, or inside a cool, darkened theater, summer shows are blooming everywhere and are in season right now.