“Summer Stock” was for many years the universal term defining all American theater performed during the summer – and until the 1960s, most summer theater fell under the same heading. The commercially operated theater was located in a rural setting, usually in a converted barn (or under a tent), the fare was primarily well-worn comedies and musicals featuring a well-known Broadway, television or movie star surrounded by lots of young hopefuls (or even local residents). Shows usually ran one or two weeks, and quality varied tremendously.
Most of the for-profit theaters of the “Straw Hat Circuit” folded in the 1970s, replaced by non-profit “festivals” stressing quality productions, a greater use of equity actors and the opportunity to see at least two shows in a short weekend visit (as well as many additional talkbacks and tours also offered). Star casting is underplayed, with no one actor billed above the title, and production values are first-rate.
While some may mourn the loss of seeing their favorite TV western beefcake star do Neil Simon, Summer Theater in America is the best it has ever been.