Amy Artisan

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Arts under the stars

While browsing through The New York Times yesterday one of the top articles I saw was about a favorite Southern California summertime event – the tableau vivant that is Pageant of the Masters. Reading that article got me thinking about some of my favorite arts that have happened “under the stars.” Since work travel is limiting my “arts events” this summer I’ll take a stroll down memory lane and share some of my favorite events.

One of the first outdoor experiences I remember was seeing productions by PCPA in Solvang, CA. My parents had season tickets & I went to a couple of the shows when I was in second grade – Hank Williams – King of Country Music and Carousel. The evenings were a bit chilly so I remember being layered to stay warm & sharing hot cocoa from a thermos with my Dad.

My Grandma used to live in Orange County, CA – one summer when I was in elementary school I was lucky enough to go see Pageant of the Masters. Wow! What an experience – seeing “everyday people” transform into these incredible works of art was something not forgotten. In 2002 I was able to grab tickets for another show & was just as impressed, if not more so, to see the artworks. This time, a favorite was the recreation of the first Wonder Woman comic book cover. (I recommend you view the NY Times slide show on the Pageant to get an idea of what is involved in staging this event.)

When we lived in Overland Park, KS, we spent many a summertime evening at Shawnee Mission Park enjoying the great performances of Theater in the Park. For $5 a carload we saw many of the great Broadway musicals. One year my sister’s birthday party was held out there in conjunction with a show. These community theater productions definitely hooked my sister & I on musicals. In the 17 years since we left Kansas, on many occasions someone in the family has said “I wish we could go to Theater in the Park.”

Ten years ago I was living in Greenville, SC at my first job after college. On July 4th, my roommate and I went out to Furman University for their celebration - alum Keith Lockhart conducted an incredible symphony concert – including the 1812 Overture and fireworks that seemed as though they were reigning down on us. During that same month, one weekend my Dad & sister drove up from Atlanta (to escape the Olympic craziness) and we went to a local amphitheater to see Much Ado About Nothing. A local theater company had set the play in post World War II Italy – so the clothes were “newer” but the script was the same. This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays so seeing this new twist was a lot of fun. Before the play began there was a summer downpour – so we were a bit soaked but that only adds to our memory of the experience.

As I’ve mentioned before, in 2002 I saw Pink Martini at The Hollywood Bowl. The other band that night was Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66. It was an all around fun evening – the next time I go to the Bowl I’d love to have seats in the Garden Boxes or Terrace Boxes and enjoy a great picnic at the seatside tables.

Chicago has 2 spectacular summer concert venues. Ravinia Festival is a 100 year + summer tradition. The lawn is a great place to picnic – you can picnic as big or as small as you want to & you see a bit of everything…from linens, china & crystal to buckets of chicken & a roll of paper towels. I’ve never sat in the Pavillion & seen the artists – but on the lawn I’ve enjoyed the sounds of James Galway, Nancy Griffith, Tony Bennett & many more. In 2004, Millennium Park opened along the lakefront and among the treasures in the park is the Jay Pritzker Pavillion designed by Frank Gehry (one of my favorite architects). During the summer months the Grant Park Music Festival has free concerts & the huge lawn is just perfect for a picnic – it is great fun to watch the sunset through the overhead trellis & see the lights of the city skyscrapers come on. (the picture above is from a concert in 2004)

It’s your turn now…what are some of your favorite arts events under the stars?


  1. WOW! you have seen a lot more under the stars than me 🙂 i use to go to Hermann Park , here in Houston where they have a theatre under the stars… its free and there is a big hill you can sit on and eat while watching the production… I saw mid summers night dream…. alot! and some musical and ballets! i loved going there:)

  2. I’ve only ever seen concerts under the stars. One memorable one was in Burlington, VT. They had concerts every weekend featuring local artists. They were free, but they asked that you bring canned food for poor. I saw Strangefolk that way, one of my first concerts of theirs. It was very memorable.

  3. WOW! I’m jealous of all that you’ve been able to see. WE don’t get too many great things like that around here.

  4. I’ve been to Ravinia and enjoyed the people-watching more than anything. About the only similar thing we have here is an annual pops concert at a local state park.

  5. I think I might have gone to Theater in the Park when I was little…. I can’t quite remember it now but I remember my parents talking about it. I worked at KC’s Shakespear in the Park one summer, and I still love the idea of free theatre in a public place. From backstage we’d watch people walking by who would get drawn in and sit and watch for a while. And I’ve got lots of summer memories of hot, hot evenings at KC’s Starlight Theater. My favorite was seeing Annie–halfway through a huge storm hit. It blew by quickly, but left the stage and backstage flooded. So the actors performed the rest of the show with no props, no costume or scene changes, no dances. It was great fun to watch them improvise, and we got free rain check tickets too.

  6. Oh, those sound lovely, Amy! I saw something down in Solvang in the late 70’s but I can’t remember what. Some avant garde play.

    My favorite oudoor theater experience was when Berkeley CA still had Shakespeare in the Park. I’d get there long before the show because it was close to work, so I had the chance to meet the cast & crew and it was pretty special.

  7. Can I count Jimmy Buffet at The World Music Theater as Art Under the Stars? No? Well, even though I live in the land of Ravinia and Grant Park, I prefer my art air-conditioned.

  8. That pageant of the masters sounds so cool!! Do you ever watch Gilmore Girls? They did something similar on that show and I’ve always wished I could see one in real life…I may have to make a trip down there sometime to see it. That’s my homeland too, where I grew up, so it would be fun to go back anways!

  9. my favorite thing to do when the stars make their appearance is to watch…sleep and watch some more…so peaceful and quiet…nothing to interupt my own starry performance….love it…

  10. Amy\'s Sis

    August 6, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Hi Amy…

    As you know, my very favorite \”under the stars\” performance took place during my first trip to Turkey, in 2000. We went to Aspendos, which is the largest and best preserved Roman amphitheatre outside of Italy. A touring opera performed \”La Boheme.\” It was my first opera and a wonderful experience. The next year we saw the ballet of \”Spartacus,\” but I wasn\’t as impressed with that…

    Now will you get off my back about posting? 🙂

    PS: Thanks for the pink felted purse for my birthday…I\’m glad to be the Pink Lady who got it! 🙂

    Love you!

  11. One thing that I remember from seeing Hank Williams at PCPA with you – there seemed to me that it had an awful lot of swearing in it for a second grade girl to be hearing. At the intermission I apologized to you that you had to hear all of that, and you said it was OK, that you hadn’t really noticed it. On the way home you said, “After you mentioned it to me I kistened for the swearing. You were right; there was a lot!” I realized how your innocence filtered it out and I was wrong to call it to your attention. It was a vivid object lesson that “unto the pure, all things are pure.”

  12. I just saw Pink Martini outdoors at the Portland Zoo a few days ago and they were great! I thought of you. Really, I did. I learned that they are wrapping up their 3rd album and they played a brand-new, never-been-performed-before song that was all in Arabic. They had the Portland State Arabic prof. and his daughter sing backup as they had been their Arabic coaches. Too much fun!

  13. Your bibs look great! I did not realize SM was this coming weekend. I am clueless. I have never been. Perhaps I will go–but not Saturday because I have Sox tickets.

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