Actors in “Damn Yankees” battle nature while performing

Meghan Caprez

“Damn Yankees” opened at Kent State University’s Porthouse Theatre for a preview

show last Thursday, battling nature during the performance.

Two large moths were caught in the fabric of an actor’s costume, and when they were

swatted off, they began struggling on the stage. This drew some of the audience’s

attention away from the show, Michael Glavan, Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees,” said.

Porthouse is an amphitheater located on the grounds of Blossom Music Center in

Cuyahoga Falls. Because it is outdoors, the actors must perform over the sound

of chirping birds while being attacked by flying insects, without blackouts for scene

changes due to the sun, rain or shine.

Glavan, a senior musical theatre major at Kent State, said the bugs at Porthouse aren’t

the worst he’s experienced in an outdoor theater. He worked in an outdoor theater in

Texas in 2010, performing in “Texas – The Musical Drama.”

“The bugs down in Texas were so much bigger,” Glavan said. “There were these

freakishly mutant-size June bugs that would pelt us while we were onstage, kamikaze

out of the sky. Luckily that isn’t quite the case at Porthouse.”

To prevent as much bug involvement as possible, the crew sprays the backstage area

with insect repellant, and the actors are in charge of covering themselves with bug

spray, Glavan said.

Terri Kent, Porthouse artistic director and director of “Damn Yankees,” said measures

were being taken to dispel the birds from the theater. Porthouse invested in special

netting to keep the birds from nesting under the roof of the amphitheater, Kent said.

It has not all been installed, but the project should be completed by the end of the


While he has not seen any birds nesting in the lights, Glavan said he knows they are

there because of the droppings they leave behind on the sets.

“We have large baseball cards on the side of the stage, and I couldn’t help but notice

[a bird dropping] got me square in the face the other day,” Glavan said. “Oh, that was a

great picture for people to see.”

The chirping of the birds is also an issue, as audience members may not be able to hear the actors, Kent said.

“Every year the birds get louder,” Kent said. “It’s not as difficult [performing over them]

when you’re doing a musical because you have mic support.”

Each season, Porthouse typically produces two musicals with a play in between

them. This year, however, all three shows will be musicals so the theater could use

microphones, Kent said. After “Damn Yankees,” the theater will host “The World

Goes ‘Round” and “The Sound of Music.”

Both evening and matinee performances of “Damn Yankees” have to accommodate the

position of the sun.

“We always laugh about it and joke, ‘Well, there aren’t any blackouts,’” Kent said. “You

have to look at changing scenes and making transitions in different ways.”

Instead of having stage crew changing scenery, the set includes a turntable. This allows

the audience to stay engaged in the show because they’re only seeing the actors on the

stage, Kent said.

Because of the outdoor light, the show’s light design is more difficult to see, Glavan


“We are so privileged at Porthouse to have some really brilliant light designers,” Glavan

said. “They’re such artists and craftsmen of their work. It’s unfortunate because with the

daylight pouring in, you don’t get to appreciate all that their artistry contains. It’s really

the lighting designers that take a big hit for that.”

While the stage crew may not be busy with moving sets, they are in charge of escorting

actors to their outdoor entrances with umbrellas if it is raining during a performance,

Glavan said. It hasn’t rained during a show yet.

Kent said more severe weather has affected shows in years past, though.

“We had a tornado warning during a show once,” Kent said. “We took the proper safety

precautions, got everyone down. Nothing happened, but I’m sure it was an experience

nobody will forget.”

Despite these challenges, Glavan said he enjoys performing at Porthouse and other

outdoor theaters.

“There was this raw, grassroots birth of theater, and that takes place [at Porthouse],”

Glavan said. “It prevents theater from becoming just spectacle, I think.”

Glavan said the grounds of Porthouse create its own “ambiance and intimacy” the

actors can share with the audience.

“Theater’s not just about something that’s built,” Glavan said. “I love being outside, I

love the intimacy of Blossom. It keeps things fresh.”

Contact Meghan Caprez at [email protected].