Summer stock theatres frequently take advantage of better weather by having their productions outdoors. The reliance on stock often leads summer theaters to specialize in a particular type of production, such as Shakespeare plays, musicals, or even opera. Some notable summer theaters include: Calgary & Toronto Summerstock Theatre Festival, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Santa Fe Opera, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Glimmerglass Opera, and Vancouver's Bard on the Beach.
The heyday of summer stock took place in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when a solid circuit of indoor theaters in New England - dubbed the "straw hat circuit" - provided a training ground for the country's best actors and great, cheap entertainment for millions of vacationing East Coast urbanites. Plays and musicals that had closed during the previous season on Broadway would hit the circuit, which included the Ogunquit Playhouse and Skowheg an Playhouse in Maine; Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts; the Woodstock Playhouse in upstate New York; Falmouth Playhouse in Massachusetts; the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts; the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, Massachusetts; the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts; Priscilla Beach Theatre in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope (suburban Philadelphia), Pennsylvania. The Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut, since renovated with the support of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, was also part of the summer stock circuit.
Stars of Broadway and television would regularly spend summers on this circuit. The Council of Stock Theatres (COST) negotiated a special contract with Equity to cover the work of actors and stage managers. Touring companies would carry hand props and costumes to each venue, where sound, lights and set would be awaiting them. Engagements usually lasted a week (Tuesday to Sunday, 8 shows). A similar circuit was set up in Florida during the winter. Venues included the Royal Poinciana Playhouse and the Parker Playhouse in Ft Lauderdale. John Kenley, a famous Ohio-based producer, ran his own summer stock circuit in Dayton, Akron, and Canton, Ohio. Hardly a summer went by in America's mid-section when Paul Lynde, Gordon MacRae or Patrice Munsel didn't show up to star in stock.
In 1949 St. John Terrell began a new experience presenting summer stock theatre under a circus tent in Lambertville, New Jersey. It was called the Music circus. Thus began a new period of outdoor theatre. Opening in Cohasset, Massachusetts in 1951, the South Shore Music Circus expanded the new experience on the East Coast. That same year this new style of summer stock made its way west with the addition of the Sacramento Music Circus.
The theatre in the round concept brought Broadway-style musicals to northern California under a big top tent each summer. Original producers Russell Lewis and Howard Young presented their first production, Show Boat, the same opening production at both the Lambertville and the South Shore Music Circus. The original Lambertville theatre closed in 1970, and both the Sacramento and South Shore theatres continue to thrive today. In Sacramento, you can still enjoy live musicals in the round in its new permanent complex, The Wells Fargo Pavilion. The South Shore Music Circus and Cape Cod Melody Tent now serve primarily as intimate settings for musical acts including popular singers, oldies groups, and orchestras.
In a song in the Broadway musical The Producers, theatrical producer Max Bialystock states he was "the first producer ever to do Summer Stock in the winter", alluding to his desperation for hit shows. One of the original cast members, Gary Beach, went directly into rehearsals for this record-breaking Broadway production after performing in summer stock theatre.