Working outdoors can be filled with gifts and opportunities you may not experience in conventional, indoor spaces. Sharing your process with the public, attracting people who may never have experienced theatre, and interacting with a community and environment are just some of the joys of working in outdoor spaces. Those joys need to be planned and accounted for in ways that an indoor venue doesn’t often require (though they may inspire you to work differently inside!). The most important thing to remember is that when producing outdoors, we can plan as much as we want, but there are certain things we simply cannot control. Back-up plans, generosity, and a spirit of community will be your best friend when you create outdoor work.
Below are considerations for you to ponder before you begin the process of producing work in an outdoor space. See also Climate Justice in Producing Practises for further consideration.
The relationship between the state and public land use has been steeped in white supremacy and colonisation. How will your company, benefitting from this land and space, ensure that you do not repeat cycles of harm and violence that has been felt by many Indigenous people all over the world? Just because you have a permit, put up some posters or chairs, or are making “good work about important subject matters” does not mean you own the land, and it is important to remember that you will never own the land. You cannot do whatever you like to it.
Although currently inactive, Encampment Support Network (ESN) has great resources to educate yourself, as well as members of your company about encampments. Building consciousness and respecting our unhoused neighbours is inextricably connected to working in parks and public spaces. ESN has an interactive map that has information on all different types of housing, as well as a podcast that discusses some of the issues on many different levels.
Can you instil learning from some of our Elders when working in parks? Leave the park in better condition than when you arrived. When making choices, alongside factoring in the cost and safety of your company, what's the cost and safety to the land and nature? Do not nail into trees, try not to disturb wildlife, do not make permanent changes to the space. Develop practises and mindsets that are active and generous. All that melted ice at the bottom of your cooler? Why not give it to a struggling sapling.
If the land is going to benefit you, how can you benefit the land?
Embracing public spaces, the community, and the outdoors will make your work better. That’s likely why you’ve chosen the challenge of working outside!
Public spaces are shared spaces. You are sharing the park with city programs, other people (birthdays, celebrations, etc), encampments and temporary housing, sports games, kids, wildlife, and other potential programming. If you start creating hierarchies of what programming is more “important” in a public space, you may discover your work is better suited for private spaces.
Not everyone goes through a permitting process as well (more on that below), and just because the city has said you are permitted to use a certain area, does not mean they will be responsible to ensure you have exclusive use. Prepping your team and celebrating the sharing of space will lead to happier and more creative work environments. Letting your audience celebrate the public aspect is vital as well: don’t let them get worried that your actors won’t see a child biking down the path, or make them resent a group celebrating a quinceañera by the picnic area. Think about it like stage combat: no audience member wants to be distracted/concerned that the actors don’t know what they are doing; they want to go along on the journey. The more you ensure them you’re grateful to work in space, the lighter, more joyful they will be.
Always visit your location as much as possible, research other organizations that use the space (contact them!), and get to know the community before choosing any location.
When producing live performance or hosting an event on City property, you will need a permit. You can find more information on the Permit Page.
It is important to create a weather policies for both Internal (actors, technician, producers etc.) and External (your audience). Along with your Harassment Policy this is an important aspect of your Workplace Safety plan and should be distributed with all of the initial contracts and in all the information included with ticket sales. It is also important to consider how you will track the weather and what sort of extra supplies you will need for the great outdoors, which you wouldn't nessisarily need inside.
The CAEA will have general outlines for weather conditions depending on the contract that you are working under. Make sure you clearly identify this in the contracts and use that as a starting basis. However, you have choose to create clarifications within those outlines areas for your own companies working conditions. For example: If the CAEA says that the maximum level of heat is 30 degrees Celsius, you may decide that working until 28 degrees celsius is better for the longevity of your team and process. What you will need to cover in your weather policy:
- Maximum level of heat (Both before and after humidity)
- Maximum level of cold (Both before and after windchill)
- Precipitation - Including but not limited to rain, snow, and hail
- Thunder and Lighting
- Air Quality
- Wind Speed
- Contingency plans: How long will you hold a rehearsal or performance before you resume, or at which point do you cancel and go home. Where does the cast and crew go when while it is unsafe to work?
This policy will be publicly posted on your website and reservation confirmation page. This will be in accordance with your Internal Policy but it will be reflective of performances only. The general public doesn't need to know what you do for rehearsals. Communicating this policy as clearly and publicly as possible will help to set an expectation with your audience and help to avoid disappointment for any cancelled or postponed performances. Make sure they know what to expect and clearly communicate why you are making the decision that you are making.
Ensure that someone on the team is responsible for checking, and making the weather calls. This is often the stage manager. As with any safety measure, the stage manager needs to feel full support from the producers in order to make a call that may cause financial losses.
It’s helpful for this person to use a more official weather program like Weather Network or Environment Canada that has a radar system. Using a few different networks, and testing them over time, will help you feel confident which one works best in your location.
Location for weather tracking is extremely important. Always open the weather app at the performance/rehearsal location for the most accurate information. For example, if you are looking at the weather app in the Beaches but the show is in Toronto West, you will receive drastically different information. Remember, it might be raining in the west end, and you could be fine in the east!
If you are working outside, there are items you will need access to that may be different than indoor venues. This list is by no means exhaustive, and will change to be specific to your environment/location. For consideration:
- Ice (Both for injuries and for consumption)
- Water refill station
- Gatorade or electrolyte-infused drinks
- Shade (tent/tree) - this is especially helpful on hotter days. Some Toronto trees are so generously branched that the shade beneath them is many degrees cooler than in the sun.
- Air Conditioning - do you need an indoor “cool down” location identified in advance? Maybe you make a deal with a local cafe to allow your crew to eat their lunch indoors in exchange for a program ad.
- Bug spray
- Warm up stations (fire/heaters/hot tea)
- Warm up supplies (hats, blankets, hand/feet warming-packs)
- Cooler: working outdoors may mean less access to kitchenettes that one may use in studios. Provide a cooler for collaborators to store their meals, or build in longer lunches in case the nearest food options are further away.