The fun and toil of outdoor theatre

MY experience in outdoor theatre began when I was a teenager. Our community had a ''summer stock'' theatre.

Up until the 1980s, this was a popular form of entertainment in the US. A large group of actors, dancers, musicians and singers would be hired to work for the summer for either a single producer or a circuit of theatres.

A show would rehearse for only one or two weeks. While that show was being performed in the evenings, a new show would begin rehearsing during the day.

Many summer stock venues were outdoor theatres because the beautiful weather during the summer made it possible. The theatre I performed in as a teenager was a student outdoor summer stock theatre.

The stars who were hired for each show were famous teenage idols.

Our day would begin with lessons in voice, acting and dance from 9 am to noon. Then from 1 pm to 6 pm, we would rehearse for the next show. After dinner break, we would return to the theatre for our performance of the currently running show.

My next experience with the outdoor theatre was as a professional dancer. I had been hired by a summer stock circuit which meant that each show would tour four to six theatres. Then, another circuit might ''pick us up'' and we would tour more theatres.

This show was called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and it starred Don Ameche (Cocoon ). I was the ''dance captain'' for the production, which means it was my responsibility to know all the choreography in the show, to audition and rehearse replacement when a dancer was injured and to run the dress rehearsal of the show at each new theatre.

This past summer, I returned to the outdoor theatre I had started out in. It is now a professional theatre which operates as a ''presenter''. This means they ''book'' in shows which have already been produced unlike the old days of summer stock.

In this instance, I was the producer and the ballet was Cinderella . This time, I was seeing the theatre with different eyes. I had to be concerned about marketing, ticket sales, budgeting, fund-raising, sets, costumes and politics. The choreography and the dancing were not my focus.

This time, poor weather would mean financial ruin. We decided to market the ballet as family entertainment. This theatre, like many outdoor theatres, had ''lawn seats'' available for those who would like to pack a picnic dinner and be able to stretch outduring the performance.

Since outdoor theatres rarely have ''fly'' space (rigging to fly the sets in and out), all sets had to be on wheels, even the curtain, which is called ''traveller'' in this instances. Stage light rehearsals could not be conducted until sunset, around 9 pm, and all set construction had to be ''wind resistant''.

The ''wings'', which are used for entrance and exits had to be hard, not soft, or they might tangle. Then there were the city ordinances regarding noise.

The theatre was located in a heavily populated area and the sound had to be turned off by 10.30 pm. So, at 10.30 pm, rehearsal would continue with the choreographer counting the music to the dancers.

Oh yes, and of course, the dancers had to contend with an occasional bat flitting about. They were not too happy about that. But, all in all, it was a great experience.

We broke all box office records for a dance event and they have asked us to return next summer, this time at their expense.

Ms Carlson is the Dean of Dance, APA