Things can get a little “hare-y” when you stage shows outdoors. No one knows that better than Jack Hickey, artistic director of Oak Park Festival Theatre which performs in Austin Gardens.
“During our production of ‘Of Mice and Men,’ there were more rabbits in the park than any other season,” Hickey said. “One evening while Lenny — who is obsessed with rabbits — was onstage, a rabbit came hopping up to the front of the stage as if it was watching the show.”
The actor who played Lenny didn’t skip a beat. He yelled “Rabbit!,” ran off the stage and began chasing the bunny.
Sometimes, though, you have to sit tight when unexpected things happen. That was actor Kevin McKillip’s fate when he had to endure the pain of “a splinter in my rear end as I lay dying in the title role in ‘Hamlet’ at First Folio.”
Trouble follows McKillip at other outdoor venues, like the time a bat laded on his head during “Cyrano de Bergerac” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis.
Some unexpected outdoor occurrences can be positive, though.
David Rice, managing director of First Folio Theatre, which performs at the Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook, recalls some dazzling special effects at the July 1997 opening night of the company’s first production, “The Tempest.”
“When Prospero made his entrance and raised his staff to call forth the storm that begins the play, there was a huge flash of lightning in the distance behind him followed by a distant roll of thunder,” Rice related. “The audience cheered.”
Rice’s wife Alison Vesely, artistic director of the company, told the technical director, “That’s the effect I wanted,” Rice said. The tech director’s response was, “Give me God’s budget and you’ll get it.”
Like Oak Park Festival Theatre, First Folio has had some animal-related issues.”A few summers back we had to hold the start of a half-dozen performances over a two-week period,” Rice said. “It seems that a mother deer and her fawn had discovered the delicious apples falling from the old apple trees about 50 yards away from the stage. We knew nobody was going to pay attention to the show until they moved on.”
Theatre-Hikes is a traveling troupe in two ways. They perform at several locations, including the Morton Arboretum, and actors and audience members hike to different locations for each scene. That offers some unusual challenges — like the time Artistic Director Bradley Baker got into a mud fight during a production of “Treasure Island.”
“With Theatre-Hikes, we perform rain or shine,” Baker explained. One rainy day when Baker, playing a pirate, was supposed to engage in a staged battle with another pirate, the audience started laughing.
“I looked at my scene partner and he was covered head-to-toe in mud,” Baker discovered. So was Baker. “It was all we could do to not laugh and continue the scene,” he said.
Worse was the time a new stage manager thought she knew a shortcut to the scene two location.
“She had over half the cast with her,” Baker said. “The rest of us went to the second scene. The audience shows up and there’s only two of us out of the cast there and we don’t know where everyone else is.”
Finally the rest of the cast arrived. Baker said, “They tell us they got lost on the Morton Arboretum’s 1700 acres!”