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The Green Room: How does open-air theatre make your job different?

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Ros Clifford, 30, is a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Abi Egerman is in her 20s and has appeared at the Old Vic, the National Theatre, and in regional rep

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with forays into TV, film and plays

John Praying for rain? I’ve never done open-air theatre. I would quite like to.

JennyHayfever mainly… and needing to wear thermals.

Abi It can honestly be wonderful and the play itself can be massively enhanced by the elements.

Albert I love watching open-air theatre – with a nice picnic and my sunglasses on so no one can see me sleeping through the boring bits. I hate doing it though.

Abi I did an outdoor version of As You Like It, and it completely transformed the play for the better. The scenes in the Forest of Arden felt authentic and magical, and even competing with inclement weather brought a certain charm and excitement.

Jenny You can see the audience. That should come as a warning on every open-air contract.

Ros “We should probably stop… the lightning is getting a bit close to the lighting rig…”

JonSpill. How dangerous is it? I always think people are very blasé about the electrics.

Ros I guess it’s a venue like any other, just with a different set of challenges. It’s not ideal – the lightning that is – but I enjoyed it when I did it. Except for the couple of times we were flooded.

Albert Just think, the chance of so many nights off due to rain. Wasn’t there a record amount of rain this June? So many free evenings.

Ros I also enjoy the varied weather policies at different open-air theatres.

Abi My fondest memory of watching open-air theatre was when I saw Porgy and Bess at Regent’s Park and during the storm scene, there was a genuine deluge, replete with thunder and lightning. I remember it so vividly – what an incredible theatrical experience – it was almost 4D.

John I imagine there is a bit more emphasis on vocal warm-up when preparing for open-air. Is it difficult to gauge levels?

Albert The only time I did it, I went out there and gave it some welly and all I got back was: “Would you like a mic?”

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JonI want to come up with some great piece of special technique, but more often than not you just shout.

Abi Physically and vocally you are having to work 10 times harder, often with an audience that is 10 times smaller than in conventional indoor jobs. It can sometimes feel slightly demoralising to be slowly giving yourself nodules in a bid to entertain seven people and their dog.

Jenny Bizarrely, my open-air experience had some of the best sound I’ve ever worked with.

John I did some open-air theatre in Cyprus when I was at drama school. Ancient amphitheatres have incredible acoustics. I did fall on my arse when there was a very light shower. God, it’s all coming flooding back.

JonI remember when I arrived for tech the first time I did open air theatre. In the Portakabin dressing room we all had a rain cape, sun cream and mosquito repellent. It was a very ‘well, here we go…’ kind of moment.

Jenny For me, it felt like a real ‘event’ for the audience. People made a thing of coming for picnics beforehand and made a real social thing of it. Lots of groups of friends or family having a lovely time, eating, boozing and watching a show. I think it could have been any show to be honest. It was the venue and the friends they were there for.

Ros I think the audience get a huge amount out of it. I’m not saying they don’t usually, but open-air theatre seems like a much bigger event… picnics and all that.

JonSeeing the audience is great when it’s a good show (I’m talking within a run, not whether a show is empirically good or not) but when they’re checked out it can be a bit dispiriting.

Jenny Seeing them looking bored, sleeping, or throwing up is not much fun.

John I quite like seeing an audience.

Albert I’ve directed in the open air a couple of times. The long rehearsal days outside can be quite frustrating.

JonDoing quick changes, on what is essentially mud, isn’t my favourite. Heading back on stage with soggy socks…

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Ros Calling a show with rain water filling your wellies… Wasps…

Albert Surely it’s all worth it for the moment the fairy lights come on in the trees around the stage. Always fucking fairy lights. Even bloody David Greig’s Dunsinane had fairy lights.

Ros Or festoons…

JonAt any given moment in July someone, somewhere, is doing the final: “If we shadows have offended” speech from A Midsummers Night’s Dream and trying to be heard over a hailstorm.

John It’s a different kettle of fish, at some of the inside theatres we could all name the entire audience is asleep. That’s a little disheartening.

JonShakespeare’s Globe feels different from some of the other open-air theatres. It is less ‘picnicky’.

Ros Some of my fondest memories are of being soaked to the skin, up to my calves in water as a groundling at the Globe. I was less fond of the time I got heatstroke though.

Jenny I haven’t worked there, but I overheard a comment from an American tourist about how amazing the venue looked considering it was from Shakespeare’s time.

Ros The Globe is much more, I guess, a traditional experience of theatre.

Jenny Lots of fainters, usually associated with the gory tragedies but not limited to those.

Ros As an ex-volunteer (I await the letters), the fainters don’t limit themselves to the gore.

Jenny It is mainly down to people having to stand for such a long time, and probably to do with dehydration and alcohol intake.

Ros You have to plan ahead well to be a groundling.

Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email greenroom@thestage.co.uk

Working for for an outdoor theatre company – will it be sunshine or thundershowers?

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