Mother Nature can play a pivotal character in any outdoor performance – a cool breeze adding to the suspense of a dramatic scene, the sounds of crickets chiming in the background chorus of a musical. If you want to witness the magic of live theater in nature yourself, take in a show at one of the many outdoor theaters in northern Illinois. From classical Shakespeare plays to contemporary shows, there are many ways to up your cultural game this summer.
► First Folio Theatre, Oak Brook
Catch the world premiere of the musical that turns Shakespeare's classic "The Taming of the Shrew" into a comedic battle of the sexes set during Chicago's 1930s jazz scene. Pack a picnic supper or grab a light snack from the on-site concession stand, and don't forget your lawn chair or blanket. Previews will be Wednesday, July 11, through Friday, July 13, before the series kicks off on Saturday, July 14.
8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 14, through Sunday, Aug. 19 (no performances on Mondays and Tuesdays)
First Folio Theatre
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook
Tickets: $39-$44 weekends; $29-$34 weekdays; $10 for children under 13
Visit: http://firstfolio.org/ or call (630) 986-8067
► Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Settle in under the tent of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater's newest theater space, The Yard, for Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth. Nestled in Navy Pier's former Skyline Stage, The Yard features nine mobile audience towers offering versatility in audience capacities, and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from the two-level lobby.
Various start times through Sunday, June 24
Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Yard
800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
Tickets start at $25
Visit: www.chicagoshakes.com/ or call (312) 595-5600
► Oak Park
Nestled in the heart of downtown Oak Park, Austin Gardens has set the stage for more than 40 years worth of productions of the Oak Park Festival Theatre. The season kicks off with You Can't Take it With You, a zany comedy set in the 1930s about two polar opposite families connected by the impending nuptials of their children. Later in the summer, catch the tale of a group of black actors performing Richard III to sold out crowds who find their success threatened when a white theater company opens their own production in The African Company Presents Richard III. Dogs on a leash are welcome to enjoy the show too.
You Can't Take it With You
Thursday, June 14, through Sunday, July 22.
Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday
The African Company
Presents Richard III
Saturday, July 28, through Saturday, Sept. 1. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, and special 8 p.m. performance Wednesday, Aug. 28.
167 Forest Ave., Oak Park
Tickets: $15-$32; free for children under 12 and dogs
Visit: https://oakparkfestival.com/ or call (630) 986-8067
► Starlight Theatre, Rockford
The 200-foot retractable star-shaped roof over the Starlight Theatre enables audiences to watch performances under the night sky while being protected from the elements. The theater at Rock Valley College has a full lineup of productions this summer from the Shrek the Musical for the kids to classics like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Anything Goes.
Shrek the Musical
Wednesday, June 6, through Saturday, June 9, and Wednesday, July 11, through Sunday, July 15. Show times are 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. show June 9.
Wednesday, June 13, through Saturday, June 16, and Wednesday, July 18, through Sunday, July 22. Show times are 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. show June 16.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Wednesday, June 20, through Saturday, June 23, and Wednesday, July 25, through Sunday, July 29. Show times are 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. show June 23.
Wednesday, June 27, through Saturday, June 30, and Wednesday, Aug. 1, through Sunday, Aug. 5. Show times are 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. show June 30.
Cinderella After the Ball
Thursday, Aug. 9, through Saturday, Aug. 11. Show times are 11 a.m. with an additional 3 p.m. show Aug. 11.
Starlight Theatre at Rock Valley College
3301 N. Mulford Road, Rockford
Visit: www.rockvalleycollege.edu/Community/Theatre/index.cfm or call (815) 921-2160
► Acting Out Theatre Co., Kankakee
West Side Story
Acting Out Theatre Co.'s environmental theater process entails transforming ordinary spaces into temporary stages for their productions. This summer, the historic Delonais Building in downtown Kankakee – which has had a myriad of stints from a hotel to a Chinese restaurant - sets the stage for the contemporary telling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with the musical West Side Story. Come early for the pre-show festival from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to grab a bite from the food vendors. Don't forget to bring your own chair!
8 p.m. Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22
Acting Out Theatre Co.
111 E. Court St., Kankakee
Tickets: $18 in advance and $25 at the gate
Visit http://actingouttheatreco.org/ or call (815) 644-0854
► Genesius Guild, Rock Island
Drawing audiences (and actors) from eastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois, the Genesius Guild performs free productions for the community and visitors alike on the outdoor stage at Lincoln Park. The guild has staged almost all of Shakespeare's plays during its 60-year history. This summer it will bring Shakespeare's As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice to the stage along with the Greek tragedy Prometheus and Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae.
As You Like It
Saturday and Sunday, June 16-17 and June 23-24
Saturday and Sunday, June 30-July 1 and July 7-8
The Merchant of Venice
Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15 and July 21-22
Saturday and Sunday, July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5
Lincoln Park, 1120 40th St., Rock Island
Visit: http://www.genesius.org/ or email email@example.com
► Muse of Fire, Evanston
Bring your own blanket or chair to enjoy Muse of Fire's performance of Richard III – the theater company's latest Shakespeare-in-the-park production. Admission is free and reservations aren't required. In addition to the outdoor performances, Muse of Fire also will hold two special performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24-25, at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. in Evanston.
3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-12, Aug. 18-19, Sept. 1-2 and Sept. 8-9
Ingraham Park, just behind the Morton Civic Center,
2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston