Skip to main content

Acting outside: keeping it huge helps, says GreenStage's Holmes

Author's note: if anyone knows about acting outside, it is Ken Holmes. This is the second part of a very long online interview with Holmes.

GreenStage artistic director Ken Holmes knows more than a little about jets roaring overhead and audiences distracted by picnics. Here's a few of his observations about planes, dogs, and rain.

How is acting in a park different that acting in a theater?

Subtle acting only works in the parks if you can make it huge and share it with a large audience. Sharing with the audience is key—it doesn’t matter if you are crying real tears, or really feeling the emotion of your character or their situation if the audience can’t hear you and understand you. Vocally and physically, you have to be huge while still communicating subtle actions.

What's harder as an actor: rain, barking dogs, or planes overhead?

Noise from planes is probably the hardest thing to deal with. You can’t just stop and wait for them. Especially somewhere like Volunteer Park, which is right under a flight path – there are sometimes planes overhead every two to three minutes.

Dogs are fun. We don’t get that many dogs barking, but occasionally one will run up on stage, which provides for interesting situations. The actors can’t really ignore the dog if it’s on the stage with them. The dog becomes part of the play, part of the story. I remember a dog ran on stage during the banquet scene in Timon of Athens. Timon, having a line sending a servant on an errand, finished with “and do something about that dog.”

What about Seattle's often wet summer weather? Isn't that a challenge when you're performing without a roof for you or your audience?

Some of our most memorable shows have been rain shows – those are just plain fun. As long as an audience is willing to sit in a downpour, we’ll perform. Last year, we had the hardest rain experience when the van carrying the costumes, set and props for Hamlet spun out on a slick road and ended up in a ditch. The rain was pouring down, but an audience of around 100 was waiting for a show. So the actors performed in their street clothes, with found objects for props, and no set pieces (and it was one of the few shows we have done where the set pieces play a pretty big part – after all, Polonius has to get stabbed through a curtain). They used a thermos for a wine jug, paper cups as goblets, and fallen sticks as swords. It was inspiring.

As a director, how do you advice your actors to contend with those distractions of acting outdoors?

Well, you can advise till you are blue in the face, but it doesn’t become real apparent to many of them until they are actually dealing with the distractions. We generally move our rehearsals outdoors about two weeks or so before opening, and prior to that we rehearse outdoors when weather permits. That’s when actors get a taste of what the distractions are like.

I usually advise directors to watch the rehearsals far back from the stage to make sure actors can be heard and understood. And actors should also watch scenes they aren’t in. They learn pretty quickly that bigger is better.

This article originally appeared on