Summer of Love: The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild’s open-air production of As You Like It

Production still from As You Like It. Image courtesy of The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild.

While it’s more common today to watch theatre indoors, the tradition of outdoor playgoing is far older, dating back to the Ancient Greek theatron. William Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe were themselves performed in a roofless theatre exposed to the elements. The University of Adelaide’s Theatre Guild returns to this open-air setting, moving into the evening air for its upcoming production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The play’s director, Megan Dansie, a thespian with over forty years’ experience, recently discussed the production with Collage.

As You Like It lends itself very much to being outdoors,” Dansie said. “It’s all about people moving from the city life into the Forest of Arden and being transformed by their experiences in the forest and among nature.”

Production still from As You Like It. Image courtesy of The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild.

Like the characters themselves, the play’s audience will be liberated from the regimented seats of convention, sitting instead on fold up chairs or picnic rugs.

“It’s going to be very relaxed, and people will hopefully join in the fun.”

As well as using the University’s Pfitzner Court with its “lovely lawn and beautiful backdrop of a garden and trees,” Dansie has decided to set the production in the 1960s.

“We’re setting the play in the summer of love when hippies invaded Haight-Ashbury, the start of the hippie movement leading to Woodstock, which we thought was in keeping with the idea of people moving from the city and structured life into the Forest of Arden.”

Production still from As You Like It. Image courtesy of The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild.

This setting also provides the opportunity to explore the play’s cross-dressing theme through the lens of flower power.

 “There’s the chance to play with the gender ambiguity that was part of the Sixties, when people wore much more gender-neutral clothing, and hippies explored their sexuality.

“Plus, the costumes are fabulous.”

The open-air experience continues to appeal to audiences today, and Dansie pointed out that it was still a popular way for Adelaide theatregoers to enjoy drama. 

“Adelaide has a very fine tradition of outdoor production. The Festival of Arts has done the Mahabharataand has often staged special outdoor theatrical productions. 

“Many years ago the Theatre Guild did a production of The Tempest in another part of the University using a little lake there. The Burnside players, I know, did a promenade production of Oedipus Rex in the grounds of the Julia Farr Centre. Blue Sky Theatre does a January production outdoors in various gardens and stately homes around Adelaide.”

Production still from As You Like It. Image courtesy of The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild.

Open-air theatre inevitably comes with some challenges that the acoustics and roofs of modern playhouses have overcome. Yet perhaps some of their charm lies in this natural variety and unpredictability. 

“No night will be exactly the same as the next night,” Dansie said. “Of course, no theatre performance is the same every night, but here we’ll have different weather: it’ll be hotter, it’ll be colder. There’ll be people sitting in slightly different positions; they won’t be regimented in seats. That will give a different experience to the audience every night.”

That experience can be enjoyed from 17 to 25 November 2018. 

– Daniel McLean

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