The great outdoors takes on a whole new meaning this summer.

Besides the usual boating, floating, fishing, biking and frolicking in the sun, it's also the season to catch Shakespeare in a park or parking lot, hoist a pint to Bach on the lawn, see the French opera "Faust" at a nature center, enjoy dance performances in gardens or a parking ramp and watch family-friendly movies under the twinkling stars.

Here is our guide to events on outdoor stages through Labor Day weekend. An added attraction is that many of them are free.

2021 Driveway Tour show 'The Amazing Cowboat.'
2021 Driveway Tour show 'The Amazing Cowboat.'

Open Eye Figure Theatre


Driveway Tour: Open Eye Theatre's 24th annual Driveway Tour will go not just to homes and backyards this summer. The 70-venue roster includes a chocolate shop, pizza farms, libraries, businesses, churches and summer camps across Minnesota. Crossing the minimalist aesthetics of Ten Thousand Things Theatre and the loony inventiveness of Cirque du Soleil, two performers and a live musician enact a 30-minute puppet show. "The Amazing Cowboat" is about a kid who imagines that his toy cow is a boat while "Molly and the Magic Boot" centers on a plugged-in tween who gets unplugged and has to lean into her imagination after being sent to Grandma's farm. (June 6-Aug. 25, various venues.)

American Players Theatre: This $8 million company in Spring Green, Wis., has nine high-gloss shows lined up for its 46th season, including August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," directed by Minnesota playwright Gavin Lawrence and starring two other mainstays of Minnesota's stages — Greta Oglesby and Nathan Barlow. APT's shows are performed either on a 1,075-seat amphitheater or in a 201-seat indoor theater. Other shows on the roster are "Much Ado About Nothing," Michael Hollinger's "The Virgin Queen Entertains Her Fool" and Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa." (June 8-Nov. 10, 608-588-7401.)

"Twelfth Night": Classical Actors Ensemble returns for its 10th summer of Shakespeare in Our Parks with the romantic comedy about twins separated by shipwreck. The production will play 18 venues, including Tony Schmidt Park in Arden Hills, Bloomington's Normandale Lake Bandshell and Vermillion Falls Park in Hastings. Joseph Papke directs. (June 14-July 14, various locations. Free.)

Storytime in the Park: Actor and entrepreneur Nicole Fenstad and her Princess Party Pals bring fairy-tale and real-life heroes to life at Wayzata Beach and Forest Lake Park on Wednesday and Thursday mornings this summer. Pack a blanket and sunscreen, and bundle your kiddos for this free show sponsored by Abra Kadabra Environmental Services. (10-10:45 a.m. Thursdays, June 27-July 25, Wayzata Beach; Wednesdays, July 17-31, Forest Lake Park.)

"Romeo and Juliet": Shakespeare's classic of star-crossed lovers will be staged under the stars at two vineyards and alfresco at a hipster northeast Minneapolis pub.

Frosted Glass Creative's Shakespeare in the Vines series takes the show to Scandia's Rustic Roots Winery (July 10-20) and to Wisconsin's Belle Ame Vineyard (Aug. 1-4) with the same cast. Two Guthrie/University of Minnesota BFA graduates — Logan Lang and Madeleine McKenney — play the title characters and Calyssa Hall directs.

Gray Mallard Theater Co. stages an "R&J" with a twist. It has cast nonbinary actor Em Rosenberg as Romeo opposite Alessandra Bongiardina, a graduate of the University of Minnesota BFA program. The action takes place on a thrust stage in the parking lot of Minneapolis' Sociable Cider Werks. "This is a play about youth and the chaotic aftermath of their spur-of-the-moment decisions," Gray Mallard founder Amanda Cate Fuller said. (July 11-28, Sociable Cider Werks, Mpls.)

'Opera on the River' from 2022.
'Opera on the River' from 2022.

Jane Dierberger


The Havana Quartet: The Cuban-American Youth Orchestra was born of a Minnesota Orchestra visit to Cuba, and the exchanges have continued with this string quartet from Havana coming north for performances and educational programming. (7 p.m. June 13, the Commons, 425 Portland Av. S., Mpls. Free.)

Bach & Brews: If you think of J.S. Bach as a sternly serious fellow, you should know he showcased his raucous sense of humor in works at coffeehouses and beer halls. So hoist a pint when the Bach Roots Festival opens with his "Peasant Cantata," drinking songs and instrumental compositions. Soprano Sonja Tengblad and baritone Alan Dunbar are the featured soloists. (7 p.m. June 16, Como Lakeside Pavilion, 1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul. $5-$18.)

Vikingur Ólafsson: This Icelandic virtuoso pianist will open Ordway Inside Out, a series of summer night performances presented via video on a 23- by 13-foot video wall with an excellent sound system at Rice Park. His extraordinary January 2022 Schubert Club Mix concert alternates between works by J.S. Bach and the etudes of modern minimalist Philip Glass. (7 p.m. June 22, Rice Park, 109 W. 4th St., St. Paul. Free.)

Minneapolis Pops Orchestra: Each July, the best freelance players in the Twin Cities present four weekends full of arrangements in the rich tradition of the Boston Pops, with all its fizzy fare. This summer, the orchestra celebrates its 75th season by introducing its new music director, Russell Gray. (7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 5:30 p.m. Sundays, July 6-28; Lake Harriet Bandshell, 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls. Free.)

Minnesota Orchestra: Before the orchestra heads indoors for "Summer at Orchestra Hall," it will perform a week's worth of outdoor concerts, playing Beethoven, Grieg, film music and marches. Norman Huynh conducts as the orchestra's mini-tour takes them from the city to the suburbs to two different rivers in the company of tenor David Walton. (7:30 p.m. July 8, Lake Harriet Bandshell; 8:30 p.m. July 10, Hilde Center for the Performing Arts, Plymouth; Lakefront Park Bandshell, Hudson, Wis.; 8 p.m. July 13, Lake Park Bandshell, Winona. Free.)

Minnesota Sinfonia: For decades, one of the Twin Cities' chief soundtracks of summer has been the Sinfonia performing brisk and buoyant takes on some of the most popular pieces in the classical canon. But this will be your last summer to enjoy them, as the orchestra will offer its final concerts this fall. (June 20-July 27, parks in Mpls., St. Paul, Eagan, Falcon Heights and Roseville. Free.)

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: If you missed the SPCO's thrilling May concerts with the exciting English conductor Richard Egarr conducting Mozart, Charles Ives and Franz Schubert, bring a lawn chair and experience it via video. (7 p.m. July 13, Rice Park, St. Paul. Free.)

Opera on the River: St. Croix Valley Opera's marquee event takes place in the shadow of the Stillwater lift bridge. Led by conductor Andrew Sun, it's an evening of great arias, duets and tunes from musical theater featuring soprano Jeni Houser, mezzo Katherine Beck, tenor Anthony Léon, baritone Reginald Smith Jr. and a fine chamber orchestra. (7:30 p.m. July 27, Lowell Park, 201 N. Water St., Stillwater. Free.)

"Albert Herring": Minnesota Opera streamed some outstanding productions during the pandemic and a triumph among them was this delightful version of Benjamin Britten's comic opera about a grocer who bursts free from his town's tut-tutting Victorian shame fest. Conducted by Dame Jane Glover, it's filmed as if one long shot, a la "Birdman" or Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope." (7 p.m. Aug. 3, Rice Park. Free.)

Mixed Precipitation's "Faust": What was once the Picnic Operetta became the Pickup Truck Opera in 2021, taking its whimsical adaptations of classic opera to farms, wineries and nature centers all over the state. This year, Charles Gounod's opera about the man who sells his soul for love and money gets a twist inspired by climate change — and some tunes from the catalog of dance pop band Depeche Mode. (Aug. 8-Sept. 15, various venues. $5-$45 suggested donation.)


Stevie Ray's Improv in the Park performed in 2018 at City Center Park Plaza in Chanhassen
Stevie Ray's Improv in the Park performed in 2018 at City Center Park Plaza in Chanhassen

Stevie Ray's Improv


"Improv in the Park": Stevie Ray's Comedy Troupe celebrates its 35th anniversary by reviving this family-friendly show based largely on audience suggestions. Seeing this group at its regular home, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, can be a pricey experience, so this is a perfect opportunity to catch this underappreciated brand of comedy without breaking the bank. Just bring inventive ideas and lawn chairs. (5 p.m. June 9, Loring Park, Mpls.; 5 p.m. July 14, Water Works Park, 425 West River Pkwy., Mpls. Free.)


DanceCo's production from last summer, 'Dance Around Minnesota'
DanceCo's production from last summer, 'Dance Around Minnesota'

Stan Waldhauser


Flint Hills Family Festival: Local and traveling artists bring a wealth of creative expressions to Ordway's family fest. On Saturday, Ragamala Dance Company, Hoang Anh Vietnamese Dance Group, Los Alegres Bailadores, Ballet Co.Laboratory and MN Funkstyles will perform at the World Dance Stage in Landmark Plaza. (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., across from Landmark Center, St. Paul. 651-224-4222. Free.)

Anda Flamenco: Enjoy the lush views of Minnehaha Falls and then settle in for the rhythms of Anda Flamenco, whose performance is part of the Music in the Parks series. (7 p.m. June 6, Minnehaha Falls, Mpls. Free.)

"The Knave of Knives: The Duchess of Dawn": String theory provides a loose inspiration of Off-Leash Area's dance and theater hybrid performance that utilizes an immersive sound and a densely populated visual landscape. It's performed by co-directors Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig in their garage that seats about 40. (7 p.m. June 7-9, 3540 34th Av. S., Mpls. $10-$30. 612-724-7372.)

"In C": Choreographers Helen Hatch and Berit Ahlgren have found a fruitful collaborative relationship creating large-scale works in outdoor spaces. This year, Hatch Dance and HoneyWorks use Terry Riley's pulsing experimental music "In C." Jazz pianist Joseph Strachan directs the live music component performed by six musicians and 17 dancers enact an improvised score that will look different each night. (8 p.m. June 14; 5:30 & 8 p.m. June 15 &16, Minneapolis Club parking ramp, 729 2nd Av. S., Mpls. $40. 612-554-5470)

"Wolf Tales": Minnesota's DanceCo takes an interactive approach to its programming, with each performance preceded by a workshop where the audience can learn interactive elements to be used in the 45-minute show. (10 & 11 a.m. Saturdays, June 22-July 13, Minnehaha Park, Capri Theater, Hennepin Bluffs Park, Lyndale Gardens. Free.)

McKnight International Choreographer Residency: Greece-based choreographer Meryl Zaytoun Murman teams up with Minnesota choreographer Sharon Mansur for a new site-specific performance, which is a culmination of a monthlong residency together. (9 p.m. June 25 & 26, Prairie Island Campground, Winona. Free.)

"Sunday Funday": With a live mariachi band, Ballet Folklorico Mexico Azteca brings colorful and swishing ruffle skirts, and fast and furious footwork of Mexican folkloric dancing and Aztec dance traditions to the lawn. Bring your own blanket or chair. (4-6:30 p.m. June 30, Bloomington Civic Plaza East Lawn. Free. 612-281-1398.)

Continental Ballet Company: Enjoy classical ballet in a free outdoor performance that's part of the city of Bloomington's Arts in the Parks series. Led by Riet Velthuisen, a native of the Netherlands, the Bloomington-based company performs in a European-influenced style. (7-8:30 p.m. July 9, Normandale Lake Bandshell Park, Bloomington. Free. 952-563-8877.)

Irish Fair of Minnesota: Celebrate all things Irish, including artisan booths, foods and beverages, and a ton of Irish music and dancing troupes in an idyllic setting. Catch the Riverdance vibe at this annual event. (3-11 p.m. Aug. 9; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Aug. 10; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 11, Harriet Island, St. Paul. $25 day pass, $50 weekend pass with early bird and youth/senior discounts, 651-461-4990.)


Monday Morning Kids' Series: Every Monday through Aug. 12, rouse the kids out of bed for some outdoor fun. This series includes magic shows, music and physical activities, including acts such as the Brodini Magic Show, Todd 'n' Tina and the band Jolly Pops. (June 3-Aug. 12, Valley View and Moir Parks, Bloomington. Free.)

Entertainment in the Parks: A children's series for a summer with toe-tapping tunes by Richfield Symphonic Band, Blue Grove Bluegrass Band and Brio Brass Band, magic and storytelling. (June 11-Aug. 13, Richfield Bandshell, 636 E. 66th St., Richfield. Free.)

KidStock: Skip all notions of a hippie concert and think of a concert that toddlers and elementary school-age kids will enjoy. This series includes percussionist MarimbaMatt and whimsical fun with B-Town Bubbles. There may even be a bit of learning in some performances to keep children's minds ready for school in the fall. (June 18-Aug. 13, Staring Lake Amphitheatre, Eden Prairie. Free.)

Flicks on the Bricks: Bring a blanket or lawn chair for movies under the stars. This summer's screenings include "Grease," "Wonka" and "Jurassic Park." The final show on Aug. 9 will have music and entertainment before the dusk screening for an evening of "Friday Night Boogie." (June 21-Aug. 9. Nicollet Commons Park, Burnsville. Free.)

Kids Summer Concert Series: You heard it correctly — St. Louis Park is staging family-friendly concerts. Bands like Will Hale and the Tadpole Parade, Jolly Pops and Teddy Bear Band will perform anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Bring a picnic and then burn off energy on the playground. (June 26-Aug. 14. Veterans Memorial Amphitheater, St. Louis Park, Free.)