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Climate Change Threatens Summer Stages and Outdoor Performances

ASHLAND, Oregon — Smoke from raging wildfires in California prompted the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to cancel a recent performance of “The Tempest” at an amphitheater. Record flooding in St. Louis caused The outdoor performance of “Legally Blonde” has been cancelled. And after the heat and smoke at an outdoor Pearl Jam concert in France hurt lead singer Eddie Vedder’s throat. band Canceled some shows.

Across the globe, rising temperatures, raging wildfires, and extreme weather are putting whole communities at risk. This summer, climate change is putting a prized pastime, outdoor performance, at risk.

Here in Rogue Valley, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival faces a crisis of survival due to more common wildfires than ever before. In 2018, 25 performances were canceled due to wildfire smoke. In 2020, when theaters were closed due to the pandemic, a massive fire destroyed 2,600 of his homes, including those of several staff members.When the festival reopened last year with a one-woman show about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, wildfire smoke forced it to cancel. Almost every performance In August.

“The problem is that in recent years, fires have started in the mountains of British Columbia and Washington, and have spread all the way to Los Angeles,” said Nataki Garrett, the festival’s artistic director. “You’re setting fire up and down the West Coast, all of which seeps into the valley.”

Even before the start of this year’s fire season, the festival delayed the start time of the evening’s outdoor performances. extreme heat.

Ashland isn’t the only amphitheater to cancel performances due to wildfires. In recent years, the Butterfly Effect Theater in Colorado has had cancellations due to smoke and fire conditions. California Shakespeare Theater known as Cal Shakes. Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Nevada, Getty Villa in Malibu, California, and more.

“We are one giant ecosystem, and what happens in one place affects us all,” said the Santa Fe Opera, which presents outdoor performances each summer against a striking desert backdrop. General Director Robert K. Meya said. In an era of massive wildfires near and far, we’ve put sensors in place to determine if it’s safe to do so.

Reports that the situation is deteriorating come from wide swaths of the country. “Last summer was the toughest summer I’ve had here because the fires started early and combined with a pretty severe heat index,” said Montana, who staged a free performance in the countryside. said Kevin Asselin, executive artistic director of Shakespeare in the Parks. In the western Rocky Mountains, his communities in five states are increasingly forced to live indoors. “And this year’s hail storms are out of control.”

In Southern Ohio, the number of performances of the annual historical drama called “Tecumseh!” is increasing. Canceled due to heavy rain. In northwest Arkansas, “The Great Passion Play,” which reenacts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus each year, is struggling with the heat. in Texas, record heat The Austin Symphony Orchestra has been forced to cancel several outdoor and indoor concerts. In western Massachusetts, at Tanglewood, the idyllic summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, more shade trees were planted on the expansive lawn to provide coolness on hot days.

In a statement, the orchestra said: “Changes in weather patterns due to more frequent and intense storms have altered the landscape of Tanglewood on a scale never seen before.

On Sunday, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of the nation’s first major climate law, which, if enacted into law, would result in significant reductions in greenhouse gases. As the world warms, we are working on ways to preserve our outdoor works in the short and long term.

“We are in a world we have never been to as a species. We will enter a completely alien and new world that will challenge us in ways we can only vaguely see now,” said Kim. said Cobb, director of Environmental Society Research Institute at Brown University.

Some venues are taking elaborate precautions. The American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin, now requires performers to wear moisture-wicking underwear when heat and humidity rise, and encourages actors to drink sports drinks for act two. has asked costume designers not to wear wigs, jackets and other heavy outerwear on hot days. .

Many outdoor performance venues say they are trying to limit their contribution to climate change while preparing for its impacts. Santa Fe Opera is investing in solar energy. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival is planting natural meadows. Electric vehicles are used at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the nation’s largest non-profit theaters before the pandemic, is patient-free in many ways. Theaters are central to the local economy. Downtown you’ll find establishments with names like the Bar’s Inn and Salon Juliet. But the theater’s location in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley has come under repeated attacks. High levels of wildfire smoke in recent years.

Like many theaters, this theater is equipped with air quality monitors. Allen Elizabeth has her one in the wall niche surrounding her theater audience this summer, alternating between new musicals “The Tempest” and “Revenge Song.” ” This device can only be seen by the most keen eye. It’s a small, cylindrical, white gadget with a laser that counts particles in passing breezes.

The theater also has a smoke team that meets daily during fire season to evaluate whether to cancel or continue. The theater’s production director, Alice E. Holden, objected to canceling the performance in the middle of the show, and since she later learned that a technician had vomited due to air pollution, she said her “show is The spirit of “If it’s too dangerous to play, don’t play it.”

This year, the festival has reduced the number of outdoor performances scheduled for August. This is generally, but not always, the smoky month.

“Actors are sucking in tons of air to project for hours on end, and it’s no easy feat to breathe this in. If you blow up Cole, you blow out their voices the next day,” Holden said. said. “So to keep everyone healthy and to keep the next show going, I’m canceling.”

Air quality associated with wildfires is a problem at venues across the West. Ralph Flores, senior program manager for theater and performance at his J. Paul Getty Museum, which has his 500-seat amphitheater at the Getty Museum, said: Villa.

Concerns about air quality can surprise patrons on days when pollution is present, but you can’t immediately smell or see it.

Stephen Weitz, Artistic Director of Butterfly Effect Theater in Colorado, said: He puts on free shows in parks and parking lots. Last summer, the theater was forced to cancel performances due to poor air quality caused by a distant fire.

Another theater there, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, is now in a relevant state after a fire more than 1,000 miles away in Oregon so far away that it forced the cancellation of shows last summer, severely polluting the local air. We are working with scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder on surveillance and health protocols. Tim Orr, the festival’s producing artistic director, recalled breaking the news to the audience.

“The look on their faces was surprise and shock, but many came and said, ‘Thank you for making the right choice,'” he said. “And when I got off the stage, I thought, ‘Is this going to be a regular part of our future?'”

Planning for the future of outdoor venues means constantly thinking about climate change.

Oscar Eustice, artistic director of The Public Theater, which is producing Free Shakespeare in the Park at New York’s Delacorte Theater in Central Park, said the summer 2021 season, when theaters reopened after the pandemic shut down , said it was the wettest in his two years. decades there. “I could imagine having up performance in the fall and spring and down performance in the summer,” he said.

In some places, theater leaders are already envisioning a future where all performances are indoors.

“We will never have open-air theater in Boise forever. I’m here. Cleveland Festival and Great He Lakes Theater. Fee asked the Idaho board to plan an indoor theater in Boise.

“People get sick when it’s 110 degrees at 6 o’clock at night, already like this occasionally,” he said. “You can’t do a big Shakespearean brawl, you can’t dance to Mamma Mia, and you can’t do that to an audience.

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