Arts & Entertainment: Come out and play

With a picnic and a little bug spray, theater under the stars is a magical summer experience

The only thing better than a warm summer evening under the stars is the chance to see some excellent live theater while enjoying the out-of-doors. The Sacramento area has plenty of opportunities to mingle stagecraft with nature during the summer months. Other big advantages to outdoor shows include choosing your own wine for the picnic basket, if you’re so inclined, and the freedom to bring your children (and not be embarrassed if they fall asleep).

Let’s start closest to home with the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, which has been running for more than two decades at the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre in William Land Park. This year’s offerings are both comedies, As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew, which should provide plenty of laughs during the month of July. The shows run in repertory on weekends from July 1 through July 31. Tickets are $15 to $18 and children ages 6 through 12 admitted free.

The relaxed atmosphere of the amphitheater is a great place to introduce the young ones to Shakespeare. On several nights, there’s a pre-show performance of what the festival folks call “Shakespeare Lite,” which features rapidly paced, hilarious adaptations of Elizabethan works. This year, they’ll be doing King Arthur and Romeo and Juliet.

One of the best features of the festival is that the amphitheater is opened at 6 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show, which means there’s time for a picnic dinner in the park. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent—those lovely water features in the park are skeeter magnets—and blankets or sweaters. No matter how hot the day, it gets chilly after sunset. Some stadium chairs are available for rental, but we’ve always found that short-legged lawn chairs are best. Set them between the bench rows, and use the bench for a picnic table.

For more information, visit the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival website at

The Fair Oaks Theatre Festival starts a bit earlier—Annie opens June 17 and runs weekend evenings through June 24—and lasts a bit longer, with a number of events in addition to musical theater. Performances are at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheatre, located at 7991 California Avenue in Old Fair Oaks Village. It’s a wooded neighborhood surrounded by—you guessed it!—the Fair Oaks chickens. Expect to hear the roosters advertising sundown, which often coincides with the curtain.

No picnicking here, but there are bench backs to lean against; the concession does rent seat pads. You’ll still want blankets, sweaters and mosquito repellent. In addition to Annie, the festival will host a one-night fundraising performance by the New Christy Minstrels (under the direction of Randy Sparks) on July 30, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the troupe. For more adult tastes (seriously, it’s rated PG-13), The Great American Trailer Park Musical is scheduled to run weekend evenings August 12 through September 11. It will be followed by a Best of Broadway production, Musical World, which runs weekend evenings from September 16 through October 2. For more information, visit

If you’re interested in a drive up the hill, Main Street Theatre Works puts the historic Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre in Jackson to work. It’s a beautiful open-air theater in the Sierra foothills just east of Elk Grove. This year, MSTW will produce A Flea in Her Ear (a door-slamming comedy) and Leaving Iowa (a nostalgic revisiting of the “Are we there yet?” car trips of yore). Details about the shows and directions to Jackson are on the MSTW website at

The Kennedy Mine Amphitheatre is another one of those “bring a picnic basket and a low-slung lawn chair” spots. With the usual provisos about blankets and bug juice, you should be set for an evening of theater in the fresh air of a summer’s evening.