outdoor theater

Noises, sounds, and sweet airs

When Coaster Theatre Playhouse moved its Shakespearean shows outdoors, it confronted a new challenge: being heard

Like a singer on a bar stage, Coaster Theatre Playhouse thespians know their park audience may not always be paying the closest attention. Nonetheless, it would be nice if the audience could at least hear them. That, however, may be easier than it sounds – as Playhouse director Patrick Lathrop discovered in 2020, when the group first took its Shakespeare performances outside.

This summer, the playhouse presents the “Shakesperience” with Sixty-Second Shakespeare in Cannon Beach’s City Park at 6 p.m. Fridays, July 9 through Sept. 3. The group also will stage a whodunnit, The Case of the Coaster Clambake, at 6 p.m. Saturdays, July 10 through Sept. 4.

The park performances started last year when COVID restrictions caused the cancellation of live theater performances. In-house theater performances remain iffy, but theater in the park may be here to stay.  

“COVID originally moved us to the park, but it’s not the reason we remain,” said theater spokeswoman Jenni Tronier. “When we realized how fun and delightful presenting in the park was, we decided to continue the program in subsequent seasons.”

It does, however, come with its own set of difficulties. Namely, sound.

Last year, COVID restrictions prompted Coaster Theatre Playhouse to move outdoors, presenting Don't Fear Shakespeare (In the Park!). The theater company will continue summer performances Cannon Beach City Park this year. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse
Last year, COVID restrictions prompted Coaster Theatre Playhouse to move outdoors, presenting “Don’t Fear Shakespeare (In the Park!).” The theater company will continue summer performances this year in Cannon Beach City Park. Photo courtesy: Coaster Theatre Playhouse

“It’s really a completely different experience than staging in the theater,” Lathrop said. “Sound is one of the big challenges and dictates everything we do. We deal with sound in the theater all the time, but usually we can solve it, and make sure everyone in a small auditorium can hear.”

Last year, the Playhouse presented Don’t Fear Shakespeare (In the Park!) with costumed actors wearing lavalier — or clip-on — microphones to perform short Shakespearean readings.

“That didn’t quite do it,” Lathrop said. “It’s such a big space and … with actors moving around, the sound is very problematic.”

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Arden Forest comes to Yamhill County

And just to the south, you'll find Elsinore, as a Bard-filled weekend offers outdoor productions of "As You Like It" and "Hamlet"

Before we get to this week’s most exciting theater opening — an open-air production of As You Like It — let’s quickly cast our gaze just south of Yamhill County, where an intriguing Hamlet will be found. 

Western Oregon University keeps Shakespeare alive in the summer with free outdoor productions by its Valley Shakespeare Company. This year, WOU’s David Janoviak is directing Hamlet on the campus’s outdoor Leinwand stage. Valley Shakespeare shows offer a mix of student, faculty, community, and professional guest artists.

Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy.  Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell
Janelle Rae plays Hamlet in Valley Shakespeare Company’s Asian-influenced take on Shakespeare’s tragedy. Final performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Photo by: Ray Finnell, courtesy Valley Shakespeare Company

This is Janoviak’s fifth Hamlet. He’s played the Prince of Denmark twice, both in school and professionally, and he’s played Laertes twice, for professional companies in Utah and Texas. For this Hamlet, he’s going with a 2017 WOU graduate in the lead, Janelle Rae, who uses the pronouns they/them.

“Someone once said that you don’t simply decide to do Hamlet and then hold auditions to cast the title role,” he said. “You discover the actor first and then take on the project.  That was the case with Janelle.” The fact that Rae is female, he said, didn’t really cross his mind.

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