TORONTO - Watching Shakespeare outdoors has become a tradition for many Canadian theatregoers, from The Bard on the Beach in Vancouver to Saskatoon's Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and Halifax's Shakespeare by the Sea.
Toronto's Shakespeare in High Park is celebrating its 30th anniversary this summer. But a night of theatre in the great outdoors is not always a walk in the park for the actors and audiences.
Mark Crawford, an outdoor theatre veteran who currently starring in Shakespeare in High Park's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," calls performing outdoors a "very different experience."
"Our green room is a tent and we have a hammock and there's a barbecue backstage," the 30-year-old actor said during a recent interview.
"There are trailers as our dressing rooms and they're really cramped quarters."
When actors receive the 30-minute call to show time, Crawford and his co-stars rush to a shed where they share a single sink to wash their faces and brush their teeth.
The weather ultimately determines whether or not the show will go on (heavy rain or lightning can cause cancellations), but Crawford said the actors take specific steps to combat the elements.
"We have a lot of Gatorade in our fridge and people from the theatre company will deliver boxes of ice cream sandwiches and Popsicles," he said. "There are jugs of water everywhere, bug spray and sunscreen everywhere."
And while the actors are sweating it out during the performances, so too are the audiences.
"Audiences are there, they are ready to go and they have their snacks, drinks, sunscreen and bug spray," said Crawford. "One family came with a tent because they didn't want to get bit by mosquitoes."
Regular audience member Margarita Ortisi, 38, has been watching the plays in High Park for over three years and says she packs an umbrella for the occasional rainy evening.
"Still, the show goes on and it's cozy," she said. "We have our blankets, we sit on the grass, we bring our picnic goods. It's our favourite thing to do."
Cassandra Petropoulos, 12, said she's had good luck with the weather while watching summer shows in High Park, but other actors and audiences aren't so lucky.
Long-time outdoor theatre performer Dawn Petten, 38, has performed in winter shows with the Caravan Farm Theatre in Armstrong, B.C. and says performing in cold weather is a difference experience entirely.
"We had to cancel one show when it was minus 25 degrees," she said.
During the winter performances, Petten said her costumes were fitted with up to 11 layers to keep warm. The added padding caused a balance problem when she was performing in "King Lear" and fell while hiking down the theatre company hill.
"Because I was wearing so many layers, I somersaulted down the hill," she recalled. "My two sisters in the play had to yank me up from the snow."
But despite the elements involved in outdoor theatre, Petten said that actors and audiences remain largely undaunted.
"They are game," she said. "It's the Canadian spirit. We are going to absolutely exist in this weather. We're not going to get beaten down by it."
Shakespeare in High Park performances run from Tuesday to Sunday until Sept. 2.