My first theater-going experience took place at my elementary school’s playground, just below my parent's yard. Come summer a small puppet theater came through now and again, and I would run down the gently sloping hill and find a front-row seat.
This was my first taste of live outdoor theater magic, a forerunner to the night the theater lights failed at an outdoor Shakespeare production in Madison, Wisconsin, and we were immersed in sudden darkness during a fairy scene of A MidSummer’s Night Dream.
Summer in the Seattle area is abundant with opportunities to gather outdoor theater experiences for your kids, from mini Shakespeare productions to inventive new takes on Pinocchio, many of them free. Here’s our guide to outdoor theater for families this summer.
Skip to one of the sections, or browse them all:
For all ages or younger kids
The Totally True and Almost Accurate Adventures of Pinocchio, Balagan Theatre
Play Description: In Balagan's production, historic Italian theater troupe arrives at the park to tell the classic story, Pinocchio. After realizing their lead actor is missing, they find someone to be the substitute Pinocchio. During the show, however, everything goes hilariously awry. “Our cast, including some of Seattle’s best comic actors, are finishing the script in the style of Christopher Guest movies, where they rehearse from a rough outline and create scripted comedy through improv,” says Christine Bateman, Marketing and PR Director for Balagan Theatre.
Age recommendation: While all family members are welcome, it will be most enjoyable for children ages 5 and up. The show runs just under an hour with no intermission.
Set the stage: The play will be performed June 29-July 27, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. at Volunteer Park Amphitheater in Seattle; and and at Lake Burien Park, August 3-4 at 2 p.m. Volunteer Park’s outdoor stage is at the bottom of a sloped lawn so everyone has a good view of the action.
Tips: No need to arrive super early. Because the actors are not wearing microphones, closer is definitely better for sound quality. Bring a picnic, chairs or a blanket. Stop at a restaurant or store on 15th Avenue to grab last minute food items. Find directions on the Seattle Parks website.
The Magic Pudding, Theater Schmeater
Play Description: Author Norman Lindsey wrote this Australian children’s classic book in 1918. The central “character” is a pudding that regenerates itself when part is eaten, so it’s always ready for new adventures. Most of the characters are uniquely Australian animals, including a koala, wombat, and a penguin, and many of the hijinks involve groups trying to steal the pudding. This presentation is an original script adaptation by local artist Julia Leonas.
Ages: 4 and up. The show will run approximately 1 hour.
Set the Stage: It will be performed at the Volunteer Park Amphitheater on June 29-July 28, Saturdays and Sundays, 5 p.m. Also see it at the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival on July 13 and 14 at 5 p.m. also at Volunteer Park’. The park's outdoor stage is at the bottom of a sloped lawn so everyone has a good view of the action. Find directions on the Seattle Parks website.
Oliver, at Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater
Play description: This musical production follows the adventures of a young orphan boy from the Charles Dickens classic novel. Meet the resourceful and witty Artful Dodger, the kindly and sinister con man Fagin, and many more humorous and memorable characters. The show runs between 2-2.5 hours.
Price: Buy online. $10-$20; kids under age 5 are free. You can also order a dinner ahead for $5 (kids meal) to $18 (salmon).
Ages: Recommended for 5 and up; while younger children might enjoy some of the more lively numbers, the character of Oliver can be more easily identified with by slightly older children.
Set the stage: The show runs from July 20-August 25,Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sundays 2 p.m. The plays are performed at the bottom of the theater’s amphitheater; as our reviewer said last year: "Hidden in a natural amphitheater in a 95-acre forest accessed by a private road along the Snoqualmie River, the theater feels like an imagined hideout where children play make-believe." The performance is easy to see from any seat in the house. There are concessions, and, as noted above, you can order dinner. There are a few restaurants in town; a couple of the closest ones are the Fall City Roadhouse, and the Raging River Café.
Tips: Consider making it a day's outing to enjoy the park, and at the least, arrive early to look around and have time to get down the trail (it's about a 3-5 minute walk). Strollers are fine. There is a full bathroom by the parking area and port-a-potty style toilets near the actual show. There is a play area at the top of the trail. Park anywhere in the grassy field at the top.
The Secret Garden, Kitsap Forest Theater
Play description: After 11-year-old Mary Lennox is orphaned in India, she lives with her reclusive uncle and his invalid son. The magical garden at this estate enchants Mary with is eerie tunes and spirits from her past who will usher her into her new world. This musical rendition of the classic literary novel won 3 Tony Awards during its Broadway run.
Price: $10-$16; buy tickets online.
Ages: This show is truly for all ages, from grandchild to grandparent, and lasts about 2.5 hours.
Set the stage: The show runs Saturdays and Sundays, from July 27-August 18; all shows at 2 p.m. The Kitsap Forest Theater is a natural amphitheater with a dirt stage. Patrons will walk down a forested trail to reach the stage, which is tucked into the words. The theater is large and there are always seats available – seating is festival style on terraced earth – bring a cushion to sit on or rent one from the theater. Bring snacks for kids to eat during the show. Don’t forget sun hats and sit on the right side of the theater for more shade. Many patrons bring a picnic lunch and picnic at the picnic tables before the show. There is also a hike to “Big Tree” (the second largest tree on the Kitsap Peninsula) that takes about an hour round trip.
Tips: Before you see the show, read the book, which is free on the internet. Bring snacks for kids; there are also concessions “up top.”
Play Description: As the title says, theater simple's production is an adventure: During the play, the players and the audience get up from the first stage area and travel around the park. The Adventures of Owl & Pussycat imagines the escapades that might have happened in between the lines of the famous Edward Lear poem.
Created for all ages, a variety of storytelling tactics is mashed up with poetry, songs, puppets and an ample serving of sass. “All-encompassing, poetry-generating and visually a stunner, these Adventures are for everyone with a curious mind, a generous heart and a playful love of words,” says Llysa Howard, theater simple’s artistic instigator. The performance lasts 70 minutes, and there is 30 minutes of pre-show optional activities.
Ages: All ages, but ages 4-12 will probably have the most fun. Before you go, read them the poems of Edward Lear.
Price: By donation.
Set the stage: The show runs on Aug. 3 and 4 at 5 p.m. at the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens at the Ballard Locks, and Aug. 11 at 1 p.m. in Kent at Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park. Arrive at least 15 minutes before the show begins. It will also be featured at the Auburn Farmers Market, July 28, from 10 a.m.-noon (a series of pop-up performances as part of their "Kids Day" at the Market).
Tips: A volunteer watches the ‘home’ area while the audience follows the players, so picnics may be left, but leave valuables at home and travel lightly.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, GreenStage's Backyard Bard
Play description: This show is part of the new Backyard Bard series from GreenStage, a 45-minute highlight version, with just a few actors, which travels to more intimate venues than GreenStage’s full-length productions. Knight Sir John Falstaff is courting two women. Merriment ensues as these possible wives play tricks on him with the intention of teaching Sir John the values of truth and faith.
Ages: All ages. With 4 actors and a short playing time, this is the perfect show to introduce younger children to the magic of the Bard.
Price: Performances are free, but donations appreciated.
Set the stage: The play will be performed from July 12 through August 18. Find venue and schedule information.
Twelfth Night, GreenStage's Backyard Bard
Play description: This show is part of the new Backyard Bard series from GreenStage, with a 45-minute highlight version that travels to more intimate venues than GreenStage’s full-length productions. This fun tale about folks who love a good party contains mischief, mistaken identity, trickery, and pretending.
Price: Free, but donations are greatly appreciated.
Ages: With 4 actors and a short playing time, this is the perfect show to introduce younger children to the magic of the Bard.
Set the stage: The play will be performed from July 12 through August 18. Find schedule and venue information online.
Outdoor Theater Festivals
Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival
Play Description: GreenStage is the producer of this festival, which is now in its 12th year, with eight theater companies performing 15 shows during this two-day event (including Balagan's Pinocchio). Marketing Director Greg Scheiderer loves to plant himself in one spot and spend both days watching what will happen next. Check the website for a complete listing of plays.
Set the Stage: The festival runs July 13-14, at two stages at Volunteer Park, Seattle.
Redmond ACTS Out Theater Festival
Description: This small summer festival, in its second year, has intimate performances and a great location -- Redmond's Anderson Park -- with a real Redmond feel. Every show is appropriate for all ages. That said, Friday’s line-up is geared to keep commuters in Redmond, with an hour-long concert by 12 O'Clock Shadow, a show by Split 2nd Improv, followed by A Midsummer’s Night Dream produced by GreenStage. Saturday’s theme is all ages, and Sunday’s productions are all child-focused.
Ages: All ages, but see above for more detail.
Set the stage: The festival runs from August 16-18. There is no formal stage at this intimate venue: the shows are performed on the grass. There may be a food truck at the park (still in the works at press time) and there are places to eat across the street from Anderson Park.
Info: Check the website. There is parking north of Anderson Park at Redmond Elementary School.
Outdoor Shakespeare productions
Henry V, Wooden O/Seattle Shakespeare Company
Play Description: The Wooden O outdoor theater company takes its namesake from this history play, which contains the line: “Who could cram within this wooden O the very casques [helmets] that did affright the air at Agincourt?” Wooden O signifies any theater a play is being performed within. During Wooden O’s 25th season, watch a young man step the role of leader both his country and its army. Lacking a polished past, King Henry draws upon all of his facilities to become a leader.
Price: Shows are free, but donations are encouraged.
Ages: Recommended for children age 12 and up, although all ages are welcome.
Set the stage: Although this show will travel to several park locales between July 11 and August 11 (find schedule and directions online) its main stage is at t Mercer Island’s Luther Burbank Amphitheater, located on the water. For shows at any of the locales, please arrive at least 20 minutes early (often people come an hour early to set up their spots) and bring a blanket or a chair.
King Lear, GreenStage
Play description: GreenStage is our area’s longest-running Shakespeare company, and this summer marks their 25th anniversary season. This play is one of GreenStage’s Shakespeare in the Park productions. King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies. A king prepares to pass the crown to one of his three daughters by setting up a flattery fest. He asks each of his three daughters how much they love him, planning to hand the daughter who gives the best answer the biggest and best chunk of his kingdom. Spoiler alert: all ends very badly for the king and his family!
Ages: All ages welcome, though most appropriate for older kids. The play runs just under two hours.
Price: Free, although donations appreciated.
Set the stage: See this play in various locales (see schedule online), including a performance at the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival. Marketing Director Greg Scheiderer especially loves the amphitheater at Magnuson Park, due to the Shakespearean feel of columns and terraced seating.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream, GreenStage
Play description: One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, look for fairies, wood elves, sprites, star-crossed lovers, a king, and a queen. And there is a play within in play as a band of motley actors performs a play. Children will love that one performer is turned into a donkey and the happy ending.
Price: Free, but donations appreciated.
Ages: All ages are welcome; the play runs just under two hours.
Set the stage: See this play in various locales (see the schedule online), including a performance at the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival. Marketing Director Greg Scheiderer says every locale and play performance has its share of outdoor excitement to fold into the performance, from overhead flight patterns to dog chatter and fire engine sirens.
The Tempest, The Bard at IslandWood
Play description: Yes, there is a prince and a princess, love at first-sight, and monsters and fairies, but The Tempest is also about a magician and the conflict between what is real and what is imaginary. “The play is also about which is better: to take revenge or forgive,” says director Tom Challinor. “No matter how tempting revenge is, revenge only lasts a little bit and forgiveness lasts forever.”
Price: tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. Buy tickets online..
Ages: Best for ages 12 and up, older kids who can calmly sit through an almost two-hour production with no intermission.
Set the stage: The play runs on August 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8; all performances are at 7 p.m. This is the first year Bainbridge Performing Arts Shakespeare Society and IslandWood are hosting outdoor theater. The play will be performed in the Creaky Tree Meadow, home to tall cedars and moss-covered snags. Be ready to walk for about 15 minutes from the parking area to the meadow. Just shy of two hours, the production has no intermission. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets. There is room to seat 150 people. Info here.
The Tempest, Wooden O/Seattle Shakespeare Company
Play description: Many theater fans think this is Shakespeare’s most magical tale. In this production, a woman plays the role of the main character Prospero. This rendition also is set in a post-apoplectic setting, which will feel very foreign and possibly futuristic.
Ages: Recommended for children age 12 and up for prime enjoyment, although all ages are welcome.
Price: Free, but donations encouraged.
Set the stage: This show will travel to several park locales from July 11 to August 11, with its main stage at Mercer Island’s Luther Burbank Amphitheater (see online for schedule). For shows at any of the locales, please arrive at least 20 minutes early (often people come an hour early to set up their spots) and bring a blanket or a chair.
Last Leaf Theater Productions
Play description: This summer’s productions are the farcical comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona and the tragic political thriller Othello.
Set the stage: Last Leaf Productions' 15th season of Shakespeare in the Park begins at the Merrie Greenwood Faire in Richland, WA. They also perform as part of the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival in Volunteer Park and then at various parks, including Woodinville (July 14 and July 28); in Bonney Lake at (August 3); in Mukilteo (August 4); and at the Redmond ACTS Out Theater Festival on August 17 at 4 and 5:30.
Last Leaf performs its younger children’s programs at libraries in the greater Puget Sound area, including The Barber’s Wife, a trickster tale from India; Hercules and the Golden Apple, based on the Greek Myth; and an original adaptation of the classic Treasure Island.
About the author: Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of a memoir. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.