The show must go on, unless Shakespearean actors might be passing out on stage. That was the decision at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington, Ill., which canceled Thursday outdoor performances of "Othello" amid predictions for triple-digit temperatures.
It's one of several outdoor shows in Chicago and the region on Thursday and Friday that must reconsider plans on days of near-record heat. The National Weather Service says the heat index — what it feels like outdoors — will climb to a dangerous 118 degrees both days.
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival, which performs in an open-air theater near the campus of Illinois State University, announced Thursday that "In order to ensure the safety of our actors, the Festival has decided not to perform tonight." Ticket holders should contact the box office at 309-438-2535; or visit thefestival.org. Friday night's performance of "As You Like It" has not been affected.
Theater managing director Dick Folse said a cancellation like this "isn't something that has happened before, at least not in recent memory."
But Shakespeare's play about the Moorish general has several things working against it. "You've got three actors on stage that are out there for almost the whole night," Folse said, without much of a break from the heat; the first act of "Othello" clocks in at an hour and 15 minutes, the second at about an hour. Plus it's a very physical performance. And oh, those costumes. "The actors are pretty heavily draped," he said. One trick is to hide ice packs underneath your clothes, but that wasn't going to be enough.
In Oak Park's Austin Gardens, the Oak Park Festival Theatre (oakparkfestival.com) plans to proceed with its outdoor production of "Inherit the Wind" as scheduled, says artistic director Jack Hickey. He plays the lawyer character Henry Drummond in the play inspired by the Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925. Any decision to cancel would be made just before curtain.
The heat does affect the acting, Hickey said. "You've got to have a little extra concentration."
But in this case, it only adds to the authenticity. "It's supposed to be 97 degrees inside that courtroom," he said. His characters gets to deliver the line, "Then the hell with it. I'll pack my grip and go back to Chicago, where it's a cool hundred in the shade" — and last week, when it was almost as hot, that line got a burst of laughs and spontaneous applause.
Classical concerts for the Grant Park Music Festival (grantparkmusicfestival.com) are proceeding as well. For the audience, there are sprinklers at the back of the lawn and cooling buses as needed. For the musicians, said festival spokesman Jill Hurwitz, the dress code is being humanely relaxed — with shorts allowed instead of formal dress.
First Folio, which stages outdoor theater productions in Oak Brook, is between plays at the moment. Theatre-Hikes, a theater company that that stages outdoor, ambulatory plays at locations such as the Morton Arboretum, is currently producing "The Hound of the Baskervilles," but only on Saturdays and Sundays. The hot weather is predicted to break by then, but the company also has backup locations indoors.
"Sometimes we do cancel if it's dangerously hot," says artistic director Bradley Baker, although that hasn't happened this summer. Audiences are reminded to bring water as well as comfortable shoes, and generally show up prepared to be outdoors. But if Saturday turns out to be a day like Thursday, it likely would be a "heat-out," he said. (More information at theatre-hikes.org.)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun