Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bats and Burros

Far beyond the lights of the Strip, far past the glittery showgirls and bejeweled Elvises (Elvi?), west of Las Vegas, past the last row of cookie cutter houses, there is a little-known gem that brings together two of my favorite things: Theatre and Nature. It might seem difficult to imagine the two fitting together very well – after all, sequins don’t often go with burros and wild horses. But Spring Mountain Ranch’s Super Summer Theatre gives just that.

To get to the outdoor theater, get on Charleston Boulevard and head west. Eventually the houses will turn into cacti, and you’ll enter a spectacular valley of red mountains. You’re driving at dusk, so the red rocks are hazy, backlit by the setting sun. In your backseat are the required items for the evening: a picnic blanket, a bottle of wine, maybe some fried chicken and pasta salad, and a sweater for when it gets cooler.

The tiny outdoor stage is almost rickety in its simplicity – the actors sweat in basement dressing rooms – and the theatre-goers spread out on a huge lawn to eat together in a picnic-audience before the show. Before the sun is completely down, the show begins.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the show is. Or if it’s any good. I mean, if you get bored you can just lie back on your blanket and look at the show Nature puts on nightly; out here, the stars shine more brightly, uninhibited – no longer upstaged – by the lights of the city.

When there is still a little light in the sky, the bats come out. They flutter in patterns above the picnickers, making some people marvel at the “birds” that are flying around. During the show, wild burros often bray nearby, usually during the quietest moments of the plot, when the guy kisses the girl, or while an ingenue delivers a wistful speech. “Eeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhh!” It’s not the most romantic of interruptions, but it sure is entertaining.

There are outdoor amphitheatres all over the country, and I urge you to find one near you. I’ll never forget seeing Richard Harris play King Arthur in Camelot in an outdoor theater in Indianapolis years ago. There, the bugs were attracted to his spotlight, and his ad-libbed swats at them brought unexpected laughter. Live theatre always has its moments, but adding nature to it makes it even better.

There are a few more weeks, and a couple more shows, left in Super Summer Theatre’s lineup this summer. Check them out!

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