Audience members are gathered with friends, laughing as they relax on picnic blankets and lawn chairs; the MoonDance Amphitheater is ablaze in stage lights for the night's open-air performance.
That's the way Summerfest Executive Director Wesley Nelson envisions it.
Summerfest kicks off its 30th month-long season with Monty Python's Spamalot, a musical comedy inspired by 1975's film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
"A lot of people think of going to theater as a chore sometimes," says Nelson. "We like to think that Summerfest is more of an experience. You're not going into a dark theater and sitting in a tight seat where you can't move.
"Out here we have no roof; you're lying under the stars on a blanket, having some food and wine and a great time."
Each year, Summerfest pairs a current musical production with a compatible play by William Shakespeare. This summer the high comedies of Spamalot by Eric Idle and Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors bring a lot of physical humor to the stage, so they partner well, Nelson says.
For whatever reason, audiences often receive comedies better in an outdoor space because they allow for a "lighthearted good time," Nelson says.
"In the summertime you just want to have fun, and both of these shows are ones where you can just lie back on your blanket and laugh the whole night," he says.
Monty Python's British writers constructed Spamalot to include many iconic characters from the Monty Python movies and television series, all woven throughout an irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend of the quest for the Holy Grail.
The writers also incorporated word-for-word dialogue from the first two scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but updated some of the other humor to appeal to American audiences.
The musical includes a couple of popular songs from the movies, such as Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, but many new songs add to the hilarity of the show, says Nelson.
The music spoofs different aspects of musical theater by combining gospel and disco numbers with stereotypical love ballads to make fun of itself and theater in general.
"A lot of times with shows like this there's an inside joke among the cast, and audiences might not get it, but this is overtly a big inside joke for everybody," Nelson says.
A love ballad between two characters called The Song that Goes Like This pokes fun at the long sentimental love ballads many musicals include and relates the characters' internal monologues in which they wish they could stop singing.
In act two, the Lady of the Lake, played by University of Kentucky graduate student Stafford Hartman, bemoans being offstage for too long in The Diva's Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part).
Due to the silly nature of the musical, Nelson often tells Spamalot actors to perform in an opposite manner to what they feel is natural as trained actors because the show contains minimal depth.
"I tell them to not take anything seriously because nothing is serious," he says.
The Lady of the Lake, Hartman, will perform in her first production with Summerfest, but many principal actors from last year's Little Shop of Horrors will return to play leads this year, such as Matt Seckman, Jacob Karnes and Josh Heinlien.
Summerfest comes during an offseason for many local theater troupes, so it often serves as a melting pot for local talent to come together for a show, says Nelson.
Some performers consider acting as their full-time career, while others work day jobs or attend college and rehearse with the cast at night. For this reason, Spamalot took eight weeks to rehearse, with practices three times a week.
Although the performances will take place outdoors, actors rehearse inside until the week of opening night to prevent sunburn and heat exhaustion. While there are many challenges that come with outdoor theater, Nelson says the biggest is the weather and the dreaded threat of rain.
Summerfest remains Lexington's oldest and only continually operating summer outdoor theater experience, says Nelson. It began as the Lexington Shakespeare Festival and transformed in 2007 to become Summerfest; it continues to include one work of Shakespeare each year.
Last year the festival moved from the University of Kentucky Arboretum to MoonDance Amphitheater, a venue unlike the Arboretum, where they had to construct a stage and light towers each year.
This inhibited the shows' creative capability, says Nelson.
"Because we've not had to focus on building everything ourselves, we've now been able to focus on taking the shows to the next level artistically," he says.
The amphitheater includes tiered seating for 800 to 900 guests who can choose to purchase a seat or bring their own chair or blanket on one of the four levels, Nelson says. While many people bring their own food and drink, Bluegrass Kettle Masters kettle corn will be available and Lexington's School for the Creative and Performing arts will provide beverages, Nelson says.
"I just want people to come if they've had a stressful day and hopefully leave feeling totally relieved," he says. "We want people to just lay back, relax and enjoy their summer."