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What is Summer Stock?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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In the theater world, "summer stock" is a term which is used to refer to theaters which perform in the summer, as well as to the plays offered by such theater companies. The term is a reference to stock theater companies, which typically reuse sets, costumes, and a core group of actors to bring their overhead prices down. Summer stock is quite varied, running the gamut from presentations of original works to Shakespeare revivals.

One tremendous advantage to performing in the summer is that the weather is usually nice, allowing a summer stock theater to offer performances outdoors. In some cases, the theater may move around, bringing the performance from place to place. In other instances, summer stock is offered throughout the summer at prominent locations like city parks, wineries, and so forth; many cities have a Shakespeare in the Park festival every summer, for example, with a range of Shakespeare plays on offer.

For actors and theater technicians, summer stock can be an excellent way to start building a career. Some very notable stage and film actors got their start in summer stock, working as interns on the lower end of the pay scale as they established a footing in the theater world. Summer stock also offers an opportunity for seasoned actors to travel to regional festivals, getting a chance to see the world, stretch one's legs, and meet new people.

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Many summer stock festivals are quite large, sometimes offering multiple performances at once in various venues. A veritable army of staffers may be needed to support such festivals, providing ample opportunities for interns and others who are interested in the theater community. Because summer stock also tends, as a rule, to be more casual, sometimes people get lucky breaks, with chances to work with famous designers, hobnob with talented actors, and study under notable directors.

Patrons can often pick up summer stock tickets at discounted prices, and in some cases such festivals are free of charge, with funding being provided through donations and grants. One never knows who will be seen at a summer stock performance, with some summer festivals providing an opportunity to see some very interesting and innovative performances in addition to revivals of older, well-known pieces.

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