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Sorry, there’s still no free lunch. But in Western Washington, there is still plenty of free outdoor-summer theater to go with that picnic you brought.

This weekend, 15 plays by Shakespeare and other scribes will be performed by local troupes at Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill.

If the weather gods cooperate, expect large crowds for this 25th anniversary edition of the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival. (Arrive early if you want some shade or a close-up view.)

The event unofficially inaugurates the region’s annual summer banquet of open-air productions (some free, some with paid admission) taking place in parks from West Seattle to Fall City, Mount Vernon to Port Townsend.

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For Wooden O, the outdoor branch of the Seattle Shakespeare Company, summer-park tours are a way of life, and produced with the same high caliber of talent and professionalism as the outfit’s subscription seasons.

Seattle Shakes communications director Jeff Fickes estimates attendance at 10,000 for the company’s 2012 Wooden O shows.

“We have a lot of fans at the various venues,” says Fickes. “Lots of people make it a tradition and actually hold preshow parties. The folks in Lynnwood are great! They show up wearing their Wooden O T-shirts and hats to cheer us on.”

This year the company is adding a venue: They’ll perform for the first time in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

And while you can catch shows by Wooden O, Greenstage, Theater Schmeater, Balagan and other troupes for free, tossing something into the hats passed around by the actors after each performance helps pay the players and sustain the tradition.

According to Fickes, last year Wooden O took in nearly $4,000 per week, per show.

A sampler of outdoor theatricals in the region this summer:

Free Shakespeare and family fare

Wooden O: “Henry V” and “The Tempest” in parks around the Sound. Through Aug. 11. (

Greenstage: “King Lear” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” plus shortened, small-cast “Backyard Bard” productions of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Twelfth Night” at large and small parks in the Seattle area. (

Last Leaf Productions: Abridged productions of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Othello” in parks in King and Snohomish counties, through Aug. 17. (

Key City Public Theatre: “Much Ado About Nothing” in Chetzemoka Park, Port Townsend. Aug. 2-18. (

Island Shakespeare Festival: “Much Ado About Nothing” performed in a circus tent, in Langley on Whidbey Island. Aug. 3-Sept. 15. (

Theater Schmeater: “The Magic Pudding” at Volunteer Park, Seattle. Through July 28. (

Balagan Theatre: “The Totally True and Almost Accurate Adventures of Pinocchio” at Volunteer Park, Seattle. Through Aug. 4. (

Ticketed shows

Skagit River Shakespeare Festival: “Hamlet” and “Merry Wives of Windsor” at Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre in Mt. Vernon. Through Aug. 27. (800-838-3006 or

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Eleven-show season includes “King Lear,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Cymbeline” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In Ashland, Ore., through Oct. 13. (800-219-8161 or

Bard on the Beach: “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night” and “Measure for Measure,” “Elizabeth Rex,” at Vanier Park, Vancouver, B.C. Tent shows. Through Sept. 14. (877-739-0559 or

Kitsap Forest Theater: The Mountaineers Players stage the musical “The Secret Garden,” in Bremerton, July 27-Aug. 18. (800-573-8484 or

Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theater: The musical “Oliver!” in Fall City, runs July 20-Aug. 25. (425-736-7252 or

Leavenworth Summer Theater: Season of musicals includes “The Sound of Music,” “Footloose” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Leavenworth, Chelan County, through Sept. 1. (509-548-2000 or

Misha Berson:

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