All's the world's a stage — especially when Sonoma County theater groups perform outside, surrounded by the Sonoma Wine Country's natural beauty. Whether it's Broadway show tunes or Shakespeare's immortal words, there's something magical about performers creating a dramatic or comedic spell in the great outdoors.
Venues vary from an amphitheater with cement benches, to a historic fountain courtyard, to the open-air space within the remaining walls of ruined buildings. You might spread a blanket on the grass, set up lawn chairs, or sit in rows of folding chairs. It all depends on the show you choose.
Here's a quick round-up of theater companies performing in outdoor venues in Sonoma County.
Broadway Under the Stars
June 15 to Sept. 9, 2018
Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen
The stone winery ruins at this state historic park ring with touching, inspiring, and just-plain-fun tunes as this award-winning company stages four different shows over the summer months.
The dynamic performers bring their experience on Broadway, national tours, international tours, film, and television to this rural setting. Although these evenings are billed as concerts, each follows a theme, and the end result an outstanding slice of Broadway musical theater.
Stairway to Paradise: June 15-July 1 — Follow the cast up the Stairway to Paradise in this reminder to relish in every moment of life. Savor songs from Broadway and beyond.
Fantastical Family Night: July 13-14 — An inspirational evening of music and dance filled with Broadway, Disney, and everything in between.
Shall We Dance: Aug. 3-19 — Enjoy and evening of spectacular dance featuring beautiful songs orchestrated especially for this show, with familiar songs from Broadway alongside favorite popular songs.
Gala Celebration: Sept. 7-9 — An end-of-season celebration and fundraiser guaranteed to close the summer in an extraordinary way.
Pre-show picnicking (outside the winery ruins) begins at 5 p.m., with food trucks on site offering a range of cusines (or bring your own picnic). Performances inside the ruins start at 7:30 p.m. Seating is on folding chairs (VIP and premium seats have cushions) inside the winery ruins.
Tickets are $45-$145; family night is $39-$149.
Transcendence Theatre Company, 877-424-1414.
Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442.
(Photo shows a past performance from Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London SHP).
"Shakespeare in Love"
July 12-Aug. 4, 2018
Former California Packing Company building, Santa Rosa
The site of the former California Packing Company Plant No. 5 on Third Street in Santa Rosa's historic Railroad Square transforms into an outdoor theater during the summer. The remaining cannery walls become part of the setting for outdoor productions by Shakespeare in the Cannery.
Performaces are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Bring your own chair or blanket to sit on, and dress in layers because it tends to get cold after sunset. Patrons are invited to bring a picnic dinner to enjoy before the show.
The grounds open at 5 p.m., with performances at 7 p.m. Parking is in the City of Santa Rosa public parking lots in Railroad Square. The walking entrance to Shakespeare in the Cannery is through the 6th Street Playhouse parking lot; do not park in the 6th Street Playhouse lot (except for ADA accessible parking). Shakespeare in the Cannery is presented by Vacant Lot Productions in partnership with the Arlene Francisc Center.
Shakespeare in the Cannery, 3 W. Third St., Santa Rosa, 228-4704
"Two Gentlemen of Verona"
Aug. 8-19, 2018
Buena Visa Winery, Sonoma
This year the Avalon Players celebrate 38 years of presenting "Shakespeare under the Stars" with a rollicking production of Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona."
The courtyard fountain at Buena Vista, California's first commercial winery, provides the perfect setting for a typically lively rendition of one of the Bard's works, as presented by artistic director Kate Kennedy.
Enjoy the performance in patio table seating around the courtyard fountain. Seating starts at 6 p.m., with performances at 7 p.m. Tickets are available online: $35 or $20 for students (under 18). A Patron's Table for six includes hors d'oeuvres, a light supper, decandent dessert, and Buena Vista wines, is $1,200.
Avalon Players, 707-996-3264.
Buena Vista Winery, 1800 Old Winery Road, Sonoma.
Shakespeare by the River Festival
"As You Like It"
Aug. 23, 24, 30, and 31, and Sept. 1, 2018 at 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 and Sept. 2, 2018 at 4 p.m.
Foundry Wharf (corner of H and First streets)
Dedicated to making Shakespeare accessible to everyone regarless of age or income, the Petaluma Shakespeare Company hosts its fourth annual free Shakespeare by the River festival outdoors at the Foundry Wharf in Petaluma. For all performances, bring a lawn chair, blanket, and picnic. Snacks, soft drinks, beer, and wine are available for purchase.
"All's Well That Ends Well" is directed by Chole Bronzan, and performance are preceded by a short pre-show vignette of "Speechless Shakespeare." Directed by Jacinta Gorringe, "Speechless Shakespeare" presents vignettes drawn from the works of William Shakespeare, using music, dance, movement, and song, but without the use of actual spoken words.
For any evening performances outdoors, it's a good idea to dress in warm layers, as Sonoma County temperatures can drop dramatically after the sun goes down. Be sure to check in advance whether picnics, alcoholic beverages, or lawn chairs are allowed at a specific venue.
Written by Sonoma Insider Patricia Lynn Henley.