WASHINGTON, D.C. - Outdoor dramatic performances have been delighting audiences all over the world since ancient times. The first theater to stage Shakespeare’s plays — still one of the most popular subjects for open-air theaters — began in a partially roofed London theater called The Globe.
Theaters under the sun and stars are also good platforms for emerging actors to get experience under professional direction, said Michael Hardy, director of The Institute of Outdoor Drama (IOD), which is based in the College of Fine Arts and Communications at East Carolina University. There are inherent challenges with weather (rain, heat, and cold), and an actor who manages to get a season of outdoor performances under his or her belt can likely move on to other platforms, said Hardy.
Outdoor dramas are also great for the audience’s entertainment budget, said Hardy. “Compared with indoor theaters, few charge more than $20-$25 a ticket. They can do this because they typically don’t have utility cooling and heating costs, even though they have business risks like rain and wildfires that present operations problems.”
Open-air plays are also usually great family entertainment events, he added. “Because they often exist in vacation areas near mountains and or beaches, they’re a great added activity. People come out with their kids, pets, and picnics to enjoy the plays.” They also provide great travel outings for church and other fellowship groups.
Outdoor drama can run a gamut of themes, including religious, Shakespeare, historical, and Broadway favorites. For more information on the array of outdoor drama productions worldwide, visit www.outdoordrama.org.
Current and long-running North American drama choices of interest to faith travelers include these:
The Great Passion Play: With its Ozark Mountain setting in Eureka Springs, AK., this drama about the life of Jesus Christ has attracted over seven million people since 1969. The Institute of Outdoor Drama has named this ongoing production America’s number one outdoor drama for attendance.
Running this year through October, the stage action isn’t the only attraction on the grounds of the amphitheater. Also see Christ of the Ozarks, the third tallest statue of Jesus in the world at 67 feet. The Bible Museum has more than 7,000 Bibles in 625 languages and dialects, along with a collection of parchments and rare Bibles, such as an original 1611 King James Bible. The Sacred Arts Center features works of religious art in 64 different forms.
This year’s roster includes several weekly performances through October 26.
The Shepherd of the Hills: One of Branson, MO.’s most lasting stories has been around for more than a century, since the book of the same name by Kansas minister Harold Bell Wright was published in 1907.
The outdoor drama commenced in 1960. Based on a homestead, its occupants and life events, Shepherd offers action, intrigue, and romance as the drama unfolds under the Ozark stars and skies. A troupe of 90 actors, horses, sheep and a burning cabin bring the Ross Family’s homesteading story to life.
Inspiration Tower on the show site was erected in 1989 for the centennial celebration of Wright’s first visit to the area. Glass elevators transport visitors to the observation deck where they get panoramic views extending for 90 miles in good weather. Branson’s big Christmas season ensures the tower goes up in lights during November and December.
The Shepherd of the Hills drama continues its production schedule this year through October 19.
Canadian Badlands Passion Play: The Badlands of the south central Canadian province of Alberta make for a dramatic and photogenic outdoor setting amid a repository of fossils and bones from millions of years ago.
Located near the small town of Drumheller, the 30-acre canyon bowl forms a natural amphitheater in which the biblical drama unfolds. The drama honors the medieval European passion play traditions that tell of Jesus’ life, miracles, and resurrection. The set recreates the ancient Bible lands for the cast of 150 professional and amateur actors, choir, and orchestra to perform. Local Alberta cowboys transform into Roman soldiers on horseback, and are among the 500 or so volunteers from across western Canada who make the play possible.
Running through July 21st this year, the show has been a sold-out success since 1994 and named an Alberta Top Cultural Attraction and one of North America’s Top 100 Events.
The Living Word Outdoor Drama: The old city of Jerusalem comes alive in this Cambridge, OH drama that recounts Jesus’s life and teachings. Founded in 1975 by Frank Harvey and Hazel Harvey, the drama is the only outdoor production that invites the audience to be part of the performance, as they are invited to join the cast as extras.
Performances run Fridays and Saturdays through September 28 in 2013.
A special performance by Larry Gatlin of The Gatlin Brothers gospel and country group performs in the Living Word Amphitheater Saturday, August 3rd for one night only.
The Picture in Scripture Amphitheater: Biblical productions like this summer’s “The Elijah Factor” (pictured above) fill the stage at the 1,000-seat Disney, OK theater.
The current show runs Friday and Saturday night through July 27, with an array of colorful costumes, special effects and sound, pyrotechnics and live animals. The Bible stories of Queen Jezebel, King Ahab and their evil deeds come on the scene, with the prophet Elijah performing miracles and fire falling from heaven.
Linda and Bill Goldner opened the theater in 1985 as part of their ministry that includes church pastorates, and a home for teenage girls.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s Contemporary Christian Travel columns in the Washington Times Communities.
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