Trio of outdoor stages: hilltop to lakeshore to ski hill

players3You say all the world is a stage? Got that right, especially in summer, when standing ovations happen from ski hill to lakeshore, level turf to hilltop.

In gambling, a trifecta is the first three finishers of a race, selected in exact order. Here are three of Wisconsin’s top venues for outdoor theater, but you decide the order that best suits your interests and budget.

Each rural performance space presents distinctively different entertainment. Dress casual and don’t bother wearing spiky heels to any of these earthy locations.

Name, location: American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Rd., Spring Green.

In one sentence: A roofless theater blends seamlessly with nature on 110 acres of woods, fields and hills.

Capacity: 1,148.

Now playing: Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to Somerset Maugham’s “Too Many Husbands.” Five classics are staged outdoors in rotating repertory until Oct. 20.

Coming soon: What plays when depends upon the day.

Last call: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” a risqué French comedy, 6 p.m. Nov. 24 at the 200-seat, indoor Touchstone Theatre, which has a three-play season on this campus.

Ticket prices: $42-$68.

History lesson: Founders considered 43 outdoor locations before opening in 1980 at this former farm.

Concessions: Pack your own picnic or pre-order a spread of meats, cheeses, salads, sweets to feed two or a crowd. It’s fine to add wine, available by the bottle, glass or from your own stash – but the toasts must end when the walk uphill begins.

Best souvenir: handcrafted jewelry, nature-themed art, T-shirts with clever literary slogans.

Quick trivia: APT’s history includes a Tony Award nomination for Outstanding Regional Theater.

Extra bonus: the occasional full moon and impromptu cameos by bats, birds or other wildlife.

Insider tip: The actors are pros, but the ushers are volunteers. Hint, hint.

For more details:, 608-588-2361.

Name, location: Big Top Chautauqua, 32525 Ski Hill Rd., Bayfield.

In one sentence: Nationally known performers, plus an inhouse orchestra, take the stage under a canvas tent erected at the base of a ski hill.

Capacity: 880 under cover, but 2,000-plus with tent flaps up.

Now playing: The lineup that remains includes National Public Radio’s Ira Glass (Aug. 31), acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke (Sept. 1) and folk-rockers the Indigo Girls (Sept. 8).

Coming soon: A new tent will replace the seven-year-old canvas that was damaged by storms and patched back together earlier this year.

Last call: Big TAP Chautauqua Fest, a craft beer showcase, closes the season Sept. 14.

Ticket prices: free to $99.

History lesson: Co-founder Warren Nelson, who made a comeback this year with the debut of his “Play Ball” history-music production, ran with the tent show concept in 1960 because “culture under the tent” was a fast-vanishing tradition.

Concessions: Available by reservation is the Taste of Bayfield Bento Box, which contains smoked fish, goat cheese, seasonal fruits, fudge and more. Traditional fare includes brats, beer.

Best souvenir: CDs of Blue Canvas Orchestra music.

Quick trivia: Host Michael Perry also is a registered nurse, pig farmer and bestselling author (whose works include “Population 485”).

Extra bonus: A free shuttle makes stops in Red Cliff, Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland.

Insider tip: If you miss a favorite performer, check out Tent Show Radio rebroadcasts, which air nationwide.

For more details:, 715-373-5552.

Name, location: Peninsula Players Theatre, 4351 Peninsula Players Rd., Fish Creek.

In one sentence: It is not unusual for this open-air, 16-acre, lakefront venue in a Door County cedar forest to premiere new and unconventional plays.

Capacity: 621.

Now playing: “The Game’s Afoot,” a zany whodunit in which the actors play actors, and each is a logical suspect. Ends Sept. 1.

Coming soon: “Miracle on South Division Street,” opening Sept. 4.

Last call: “Miracle on South Division Street,” Oct. 20.

Ticket prices: $34-$43.

History lesson: No summer theater for professional actors who reside on the grounds is older in America. The first show, in 1935, was “Hay Fever” by Noel Coward.

Concessions: Match an assortment of artisan cheeses with a drink at the onsite Luna Bar, which serves various libations.

Best souvenir: Buy a Players mug for a bottomless cup of coffee whenever you visit.

Quick trivia: Very few non-union actors are used, but these auditions happen annually in Chicago.

Extra bonus: Time it right, and you’ll witness a spectacular sunset before the curtain rises.

Insider tip: Cozy up to the bonfire during intermission.

For more details:, 920-868-3287.