2020 was an unpredictable year for theatre producers everywhere. That said, the past year hasn’t been all bad. Because bold action and trying new things is paying off. Especially for one of the industry’s most traditional performance styles: outdoor theatre.
Trapped in the throes of a global pandemic, it’s easy to understand the appeal of telling stories from anywhere. And for a fraction of the budget an on-stage production requires. However, it’s important not to overlook the unexpected challenges outdoor theatre presents. So, we want to share five strategies guaranteed to help you produce successful, profitable, and streamlined outdoor theatre performances:
#1. Rehearse for Flexibility
As you adjust your production schedule to avoid the last of COVID-19’s drama, accounting for the unexpected may seem like an obvious strategy. While this means extra work for you, flexibility isn’t optional - it’s a critical component of any successful performance planning effort.
After all, not knowing what’s coming next is what makes outdoor theatre unique. Weather can change in seconds. An overthrown frisbee can make its way onstage. Simply put, anything can happen. And it’s your job to make sure everybody else is ready.
Outside, your productions aren’t - and can’t be - limited to the cast and crew. Because your audience and venue are as involved as any performer. And if your performance doesn’t acknowledge this reality, it won’t ever live up to its potential. Things can change in the blink of an eye. And challenges you’ve never encountered before are suddenly popping up everywhere. Which part of the park is quietest? Where’s the sun shining when your show starts? Do you need a permit for certain times and/or days of the week?
Whenever possible, rehearse your performances outside to add flexibility into your production workflows. That way, you won’t just be prepared for every eccentricity outdoor theatre has to offer - you’ll inspire your team to take on anything. Whether it’s performance or business-focused in nature.
#2. Shift Your Performance Techniques to Embrace Minimalism
As a theatre expert with a pro producer’s mindset, your performance techniques should be able to shift at the drop of a hat. So, where do you start? With a minimalist mindset that doesn’t depend on mics (or any other tech), of course!
Beyond big-voiced actors, an outdoor theatre approach driven by a ‘less is more’ mindset can stack the deck in your favor. Because it lets your performance take advantage of the space and energy surrounding it to enhance audience engagement. Making an open environment work gives your show the opportunity to create something new. Something never seen before. Something built from scratch by several hands.
Understandably, in most cases you can’t count on mic support or the support of a full studio set. So, make sure you’re taking extra precautions to keep performers’ voices healthy. That means plenty of rest, no alcohol, and an increased attention level on volume control. Helping your actors understand the importance of clear diction is a small step that can result in huge rewards, too. Unless you’ve got a cast capable of screaming their way through two or three shows every day. Coach anyone with a role to slow their speech and focus (even more) on projecting their voice for the audience’s clarity.
As for your minimalist stage design, make sure any temporary constructions or set pieces are 100% sturdy before anyone interacts with them. Outside of a controlled theatre environment, these things aren’t as easy to build - creating increased safety risks that obviously need to be addressed by trained professionals well-versed in outdoor theatre sets.
If you’re using heavy objects or large backdrops, for example, make sure you also have sandbags to counteract any unforeseen gusts of wind. A few minutes of prep can go a long way toward building better outdoor productions.
#3. Plan For Social Distancing Requirements
When it comes to public events, social distancing should be a consideration. And your outdoor theatre experience is no exception. Unfortunately, meeting a variety of local, state, and federal guidelines only adds work.
Nonetheless, the safety of your organization and your audience is priority number one. Extra spaces, sanitization solutions, and PPC items need to be provided at every step of the production. Otherwise, your performance isn’t happening. Flexible seating options should be easy for your ticketing and seating team to manage through your ticketing solution. Many possible solutions such as bubbled seating, pods, and staggered spaces are available depending on your local restrictions to help you keep your audience comfortable, safe, and focused on your performers.
#4. Scout New Locations
Different is interesting. And in outdoor theatre, it sells tickets too. So, it makes sense that a strange or unique location can add value to your productions. Not to mention increase your odds of success, too.
The fun of open-air performances is that they can be staged pretty much anywhere. And you can put on shows at a different place every time. Which means different acoustics, prep areas, and audience dynamics to think about and maximize the impact of.
The chance to think outside the box and approach traditional stories with unusual venues is creatively stimulating. And you can bet viewers notice the spark in your crew’s eyes as a result. You can even prioritize locations where audience participation is possible to add a new element to your tried-and-true stage shows.
#5. Promote Your Outdoor Theatre Production
Okay, you’ve followed the first four strategies. You’ve built an outdoor theatre production Broadway would be proud of. Now comes the most important step: promoting your event.
The same best practices hold true for promoting your next show, regardless of where it’s being staged:
Promotions are a great opportunity to tap into your cast and crews’ networks and soft skills. If marketing and promotions are not your strong suit as a theatre leader, who in your staff can take over that task? Delegate what you can so you can stay focused on producing the highest quality show possible.
Outdoor theatre productions are special. They’re living, breathing experiences for everyone involved from the cast and crew to audience and passersby. A meaningful production deserves a high-quality tool set for its administration. Get a little help from On The Stage, our all-in-one solution for ticketing, promotion, audience engagement, merchandising, and more. We’re here to help you bring your production to the audience it deserves.