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La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls 2023 Festival Guide

Immerse yourself in outdoor theatre, dance, and music this weekend at this free event at the Rady Shell
its not that way.jpeg

its not that way.jpeg

I’m reminded of Chekhov’s The Seagull, which begins with a play-within-a-play set by a lake. Say what you will about maudlin Konstantin’s stab at playwriting, but the lakeside, at-dusk setting is spot-on emotive. Who needs the confines of a building, a box office, a lighting rig—concessions?

Theater is what you make it, no matter—and, sometimes, depending on—where. Taking cues from the art form’s rich history of site-specific performance, the La Jolla Playhouse is back with their 6th Without Walls (WOW) Festival. And this year, they’re making the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park their home base.

The main venue isn’t the only change-up. As of 2023, it’s all free.

Christopher Ashley, the La Jolla Playhouse’s artistic director, adds, “We are overjoyed to celebrate this community-wide event, a four-day extravaganza of innovative, immersive theater, music, and dance. There promises to be something for everyone.”

Here’s your guide to the fest.

What is WOW 2023?

WOW is a free performing arts event featuring local and international theater artists. The festival offers site-specific and interactive performances and workshops, ranging from plays and musicals to puppeteering, silent discos, and dance. Amy Ashton, WOW’s festival curator, says, “There is such a wide berth of opportunity to experience different kinds of art and different kinds of artists from … [places like] South Korea all the way to, you know, our backyard.”

Think of it as San Diego’s own private, international fringe festival.

Sunset Yoga.jpeg

Sunset Yoga.jpeg

When is WOW 2023?

WOW takes place at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park from April 27 to April 30, 2023. Performances and events run from 4 to 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; from 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. on Saturday; and from 10 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. on Sunday.

In addition to festival performances, WOW’s Thursday night kick-off features free sunset yoga sponsored by FIT Athletic, followed by a ’90s club–inspired performance by renowned DJ, producer, and UCSD professor King Britt (plus a few of his friends), as well as a silent disco with sounds supplied by UCSD’s Deejay & Vinylphiles Club.

I’ve never seen a play… Can I still enjoy this?

Of course! With so many different genres of performance, this is the perfect place to dip your toes into the arts. Ashton says that site-specific and immersive theater “pushes us outside of what we’re used to. [It] gives you that little bit of an off-kilter feeling that can just open up [your ability] to be affected by art and to feel and see yourself in art.”

How do I get tickets to WOW 2023?

WOW is a free event, but reservations are recommended for certain performances. See the full festival itinerary here. Representatives will be standing by at each of the performance sites for you to check in to your desired show or to see if any reservations have been released. Check out the festival map here to get the lay of the land.

The End.jpeg

The End.jpeg

What should I see–and be a part of–at WOW 2023?

With more than 20 different local, national, and international performances to see and engage in, picking the shows to see will be the hardest part of your weekend. Here are some standouts:

A Shared Space

Live out your orchestral fantasies and take your seat as first chair of smartphones, as Ryan Carter conducts a sea of cell phones to make beautiful music alongside the San Diego Symphony on the lawn of the Rady Shell.

The Cell Plays

San Diego’s Playwrights Project has tapped members of its Out of the Yard Program to share their stories of incarceration at Seaport Village’s Jail Museum. Audiences are encouraged to stay for a talkback with the artist after the show.

it’s not that way, it’s this way

It’s a real-life game of connect-the-dots… sort of. Holding on to a piece of string, you’ll navigate your way through the crowd and learn about physical awareness—and group consciousness—in a new way.

Choreo & Fly

Placing attendees at the cross-section of art spectator and participant, a local dance collective performs choreographed pieces then, during breaks, invites the audience to, in all honesty, go fly a kite.

Las Cuatro Milpas

Learn the history behind the lauded Barrio Logan restaurant with this installation of a corn maze, which uses Aztec imagery to lay out a version of the American Dream. Use a QR code to interact with the space and discover the story of the family business.


Broadway veteran Sharon Wheatley uses inspiration from her experience driving cross-country with her wife and family during Covid in this site-specific, campground piece. The play follows two women as they attempt to set up camp, thwarted by a host of issues.

Fair Trade

Part three card monty, part behavioral economics lesson, all social experiment that asks who we become along the way to a “fair trade”. Participants bring in three items of varying worth they’re willing to part with in order to negotiate a trade with a stranger.


For fans of Mad Max, this is a literal wild ride. Hop aboard a post-apocalyptic school bus for a tour through San Diego like you’ve never had before.

The Nest.jpeg

The Nest.jpeg

Is WOW 2023 family-friendly?

Absolutely—though, some shows are more appropriate for younger audiences than others. Here are some must-see performances if you’ve got kids in tow:

Jin vs The Beach

Fight through your fear of the unknown alongside our hero Jin, a San Diego 5th grader who’d much rather be playing his favorite video game than taking in the natural beauty of his hometown’s shores.


Artist Megan Flød Johnson creates a colorful space for unstructured play and crafts alongside The NEST facilitators, allowing children to explore their own creativity.

Yellow Bird Chase

The chase is on, through land, sea, and air, for the elusive yellow bird. Follow a silly crew as they fight off pirates and monsters in their quest to find the creature.

Brassroots District.jpeg

Brassroots District.jpeg

What should I bring to WOW 2023?

We’re back to classic San Diego spring weather this weekend, with highs in the mid-70s, so dress accordingly. Be sure to bring a jacket if you plan on staying for the evening shows, and wear comfortable shoes, as some of the pieces involve walking. If you’re attending any shows on the lawn, feel free to bring a blanket or folding chair to set up your own version of balcony seats.

This is an immersive experience, so don’t be surprised if you get your first acting credit from heading to this fest—attendees are often part of the show. Some pieces prohibit the use of phones (the funky, musical escapade that is Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 does only because Apple products are anachronistic in 1973), but most encourage and require a smartphone as part of the experience. Be sure to bring your earbuds, too.

Check out WOW’s official site for any additional FAQs.

Where do I park at WOW 2023?

Parking downtown can be tricky, but if you opt out of ride-shares or public transit, there is still ample room for your ride. The Rady Shell has Lot A at the 5th Avenue Landing behind the Convention Center or Lot B off Marina Parkway available for parking. There is also public, metered parking near Gates 2 and 3. More parking information can be found here.

If a brisk two-mile walk doesn’t deter you, you can make a reservation and pay a discounted rate of $12 (normally $25) for parking in these Ace Parking lots.

What are the food and drink options at WOW 2023?

Food and beverage vendors will be on site, but you can bring in your own food for a bit of picnic performance art—just be sure not to pack any glass or alcoholic beverages.

By Danielle Allaire

Danielle is a freelance culture journalist focusing on music, food, wine, hospitality, and arts, and founder-playwright of Yeah No Yeah Theatre company, based in San Diego. Her work has been featured in FLAUNT, Filter Magazine, and San Diego Magazine. Born and raised in Maui, she still loves a good Mai Tai.

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