Theater on the Ground: Outdoor Plays to See with Kids in Greater Seattle
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.