Outdoor Theatre: Q&A with Artistic Director Claire Kelly of Shakespeare on the Sound
Outdoor Theatre Q&A with Open Air Theatre Veteran Claire Kelly

Planning an open-air production this Spring or Summer? Stage Partners Education Director Maria McConville connected with Outdoor Theatre Veteran and Artistic Director of Shakespeare on the Sound, Claire Kelly, who shares her To-Do list for creating a successful outdoor production. Since 1996, Shakespeare on the Sound has produced The Bard on the Long Island Sound and has become a summer tradition in Fairfield County, CT. Looking to make your Outdoor Theatre To-Do’s? Be sure to check out our Must-Haves for Outdoor Theatre List.

Photos from outdoor productions at Shakespeare on the Sound.

An Interview with Artistic Director Claire Kelly:

MARIA MCCONVILLE: When planning for your summer production with Shakespeare on the Sound, what are your Top 3 To-Do’s to securing the location? How have Covid protocols effected your outdoor theatre layout?

CLAIRE KELLY: In additions to rigorously following CT Covid-protocols we will be certain to go above and beyond to ensure the safety and health of our patrons.

  1. Patrons will reserve space online and be able to create pods, however, we will not be able to accommodate walk-ups this year.
  2. Entrance times will be staggered, and patrons will be able to select a time to enter the park.
  3. There will not be an intermission this year to avoid crowding and people must social-distance when exiting.

MM: What are SOS’s must-do’s for Weather Protocol?

CK: During production everyone is obsessed with the weather! We all get different storm tracking apps and compare the differences to get the most accurate result. We make our weather policy surrounding show cancellation very clear on our website.

We always try to do a show. Sometimes we will get a passing rain shower during the show. When that happens, the Stage Manager lets the audience know we are holding for weather but plan to continue once the weather passes. Actors must rush to off-stage tents to protect the microphones they are wearing. When the weather passes, we dry off the stage and continue on with the show.

Occasionally a late afternoon thunderstorm will flood the performance space so we will need to cancel the show—even if the weather clears up the ground is too wet.

MM: For the actors, what are some of your helpful hints for being seen, heard, and understood on the outdoor stage?

CK: Even if you are mic’d, speak using your full voice. If you are not wearing a mic be sure to face the audience when you speak. To make yourself more clearly heard “hit your consents.” There is no need to exaggerate your acting or character—always be natural onstage

Looking to bring Shakespeare to your Theatre Students? Check out Jon Jory’s collection of adaptations: It's Shakespeare, Clearly!

MM: What is in your director bag for outdoor rehearsals?

CK: My script, pencils, pens, a hat, a highlighter, sunblock, water, Theo Orange Chocolate, a Luna Bar, Altoids, a headlamp, sweatpants, and light down jacket (should it get cold), my wallet, and car keys.

MM: Do you have a favorite outdoor theatre moment that could have only happened because, well, you were outside?

CK: I have so many that it is hard to choose! However, perhaps the one closest to my heart happened during our 2013 production of As You Like It, which is the first play I directed at Shakespeare on the Sound. The moment happened during the Saturday evening performance of our final weekend. At the very end of the play almost the entire cast is onstage and there is a wedding scene during which all four couples get married. As the Goddess Hymen was blessing the couples, basically marrying them, about 50 paper lanterns slowly drift over the stage—it was magical, and the timing was perfect. The audience gasped and applauded. We still have no idea where the lanterns came from…probably a wedding reception or party somewhere north of the park.

Wild Waves Whist by Patty MacMullen – Stage Partners
Shakespeare’s plays inspire! Read Theatre Teacher Patty MacMullen’s twist on Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Wild Waves Whist!

MM: Any sage advice for a theatre company or school theatre program embarking on their first outdoor production?


  • Choose a rain date for your show just in case it rains on show day.
  • Be sure to provide plenty of sunblock and water for everyone involved in the production.
  • Grass and stages can get slippery with dew so be certain to make sure the soles of the actors’ shoes are non-slip.
  • When designing costumes take into consideration the outdoor environment in which the actors and crew will be working. 

Want to keep up to date with the latest scripts, lessons and resources?

Claire Kelly ​serves at Shakespeare on the Sound as Artistic Associate and Director of Education. For Shakespeare on the Sound’s main stage she has directed Hamlet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which won the BroadwayWorld CT award for Best Ensemble Cast in a play, and As You Like It. Educationally, Claire just finished directing a 5-person A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She co-created and directed Shakespeare on the Sound’s K-5 touring production Let’s Play Shakespeare!, directed their anti- bullying program Speaking Daggers, and devised and directed a children’s version of All’s Well That Ends Well. Currently she is in development of two new plays: The Family and Wordsmith. She has worked at the Guthrie Theater, the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, the Ordway Music Theater, and the George Street Playhouse among others. Additionally, Claire is a Teaching Artist and has taught theater to students from pre-school through high school. She traveled to Africa in August 2017 & 2019 where she taught and directed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Livingstone, Zambia. Claire holds a Master of Arts degree from New York University in Educational Theater.