Landmarks: Applause-Worthy Outdoor Theaters

Nine venues from California to Singapore.

By Hannah Doyle

Allen Elizabethan Theatre

Ashland, Oregon

One of the oldest theaters in the nation built in the Elizabethan style, the playhouse was constructed in 1935 then renovated in 1991 to mitigate ambient noise and improve lighting. The space’s relatively intimate size remains intact, however, with just more than 1,000 seats. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival performs select plays by the Bard on Tuesdays through Sundays, with the season stretching from late June to early October.

Pyynikin Kesäteatteri

Tampere, Finland

This clam-shaped grandstand seats 836 theatergoers by a large lake—one that actors haven’t hesitated to sail across for the sake of the show. But the scenery isn’t the only reason to travel 111 miles from Helsinki. Built in 1959, the stadium was the first to rotate 360 degrees, allowing multiple sets to be placed around the audience. From June through August of its 2017 season, you can catch performances of The Young Mistress of Niskavuori in celebration of the play’s 100th year.

Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood, California

The site’s iconic half-dome band shell has been imitated in outdoor concert venues across the nation, but none have replicated the same grandeur and atmosphere of the original 1922 amphitheater, at the base of the Hollywood Hills. Although revamped in 2004 to expand its grounds and on-site museum, the Bowl’s historic character remains unaltered from when legendary acts such as Ella Fitzgerald and the Beach Boys took to this stage. You can regularly attend performances by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, depending on your seat, look out on the Hollywood sign in the hills to the northeast.

Esplanade Outdoor Theatre

Singapore

Dancers, musicians and actors have all rolled through this nonprofit waterfront venue, which stretches more than 900 feet along Singapore’s Marina Bay. As the country’s national arts center, Esplanade Outdoor Theatre has hosted more than 34,000 performances since it was established, in 2002. After the show, you can explore the Esplanade’s sprawling grounds, including its roof terrace and waterfront promenade.

Filene Center

Vienna, Virginia

A wood structure built of Douglas fir and Southern yellow pine, this amphitheater sits amid national parkland in Fairfax County. In the summer, onlookers can bring their own food and drink to picnic on the grass during an evening concert or the free annual Summer Blast Off! celebration, featuring the U.S. Marine Band. Despite the architectural drama of the space, the mood and dress are casual.

Lycabettus Theatre

Athens, Greece

Though little of the Theater of Dionysus—where the works of Sophocles, Aristophanes and other ancient Greek playwrights were once performed—remains, 4,000 attendees today can enjoy performances in open-air seats atop Mount Lycabettus. Athens stretches out below this northeastern vantage point and is visible beyond the forested slopes. Top billing goes to shows by Athens Performing Arts and the Lycabettus Festival.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Morrison, Colorado

The arresting material, triangular shape and ruddy color make this naturally occurring red rock formation a standout venue for catching concerts under the night sky. Acts ranging from local musicians to Grammy-winning artists such as Norah Jones are slated to serenade audiences in the 2017 season, which kicked off at the end of April. The theater sits at an altitude of 6,450 feet, allowing for panoramic views of the surrounding area, including Denver in the distance.

Minack Theatre

Cornwall, England

Positioned above a gully and consisting of terraced seating etched into a rock outcropping, the Minack is a marvel even without a show onstage. Since holding its first performance, in 1932, it has consistently drawn more than 80,000 people each year to see plays ranging from Pride and Prejudice to The Tempest. The 2017 season lasts from March through September. If you visit in spring or fall, pack outerwear accordingly—there is no overhead coverage for spectators.

Gorge Amphitheatre

George, Washington

Since its inception, in 1985, the Gorge Amphitheatre has been known as one of the most striking venues at which to take in a concert, thanks to its remote setting overlooking the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains. The vast green lawns and nearby campground make it a popular setting for three-day music festivals; more than 20,000 visitors can attend a show.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Summer 2017