Shakespeare saw all the world as a stage and, come summer in Wisconsin, class acts sprout from unusual places: inside a patch of hilly woodland, at the base of a ski hill and within view of a lovely lakeshore.
Three of the state’s best-known outdoor performance venues are primping and prepping for new seasons that address myriad moods. Themes range from war and conspiracy in Shakespeare’s classic “King Henry V” to “The Lady with all the Answers,” a one-woman comedy about the life of advice columnist Ann Landers. Musical tributes will wax nostalgic (with the hits of Paul Simon and Cat Stevens) and teach history (about the life of Abe Lincoln).
Nothing compares to the little, woodsy, uphill hike to a summer show at American Players Theatre, Spring Green. Hearing the hoot of an owl or creaking crickets at dusk enhances the eloquence of dialogue, costumes and sets.
APT introduces a second stage this year, the 200-seat Touchstone Theatre, a barn-like structure that complements the 1,148-seat outdoor Up the Hill amphitheater that has been used since 1980.
Touchstone “gives us a little more freedom to do shows that we couldn’t do before” because of anticipated audience size or the desire for stage intimacy, says Michael Broh, APT production manager.
APT’s longstanding passion is for poetic prose and the classics. “We’ll take our best guess at future classics,” says Sara Young, communications director, regarding Touchstone play selection. Most of the $4 million needed to build the new theater was raised before 2009.
Sara notes the trend for patrons to book a matinee at one venue, then an evening show at the other. Tickets to most Touchstone matinees already have been sold, but APT is bracing for tough economic times by extending its Up the Hill season by two weeks and using fewer people to cast some of its productions.
For more about American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green: www.playinthewoods.org, 608-588-2361.
Outdoor productions during the June 6 to Oct. 15 season are Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” “The Winter’s Tale” and “King Henry V,” George Bernard Shaw’s “The Philanderer” and Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever.” At the Touchstone, smaller casts present “In Acting Shakespeare” by James DeVita, “Old Times” by Harold Pinter and “Long Day’s Journey into Night” by Eugene O’Neill.
Ticket prices ($38-62) depend upon the show, the seat, the day and the time of performance. Discounts of at least 20 percent apply to orders placed by June 5.
When tent raising occurs on the morning of May 23, at the base of Mount Ashwabay ski slope, it will mark the start of a 23rd season of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua performances, south of Bayfield.
The Blue Canvas Orchestra presents its original music and lyrical history lessons without founder Warren Nelson this year, because of unresolved sexual assault and battery charges filed against him in winter.
“He will not be at the tent because of his legal situation but will be involved behind the scenes,” says spokeswoman Jamey Penney-Ritter. The transition means the rich voices of other band members will change leading roles more during this season’s eight house shows.
One-half of the house shows are new: “Abraham Lincoln’s Living Legacy,” “Song of the Season,” “American Stories” and “Moon Songs and Moon Shadows” (a tribute to the music of Paul Simon and Cat Stevens). The others are “Riding the Wind,” “Riverpants,” “Best of the Big Top” and “Wild Woods and Waters.”
Nationally known performers also make their way into the 900-seat tent. They include the Indigo Girls (June 28), Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (July 11), Suzanne Vega (Aug. 29) and Garrison Keillor (Sept. 2).
Jamey says Big Top was deliberate about keeping tickets “moderately priced,” and Joan Baez (Aug. 7) is at the high end, at $65. “There were a few other artists that we would have liked to have, but they wouldn’t come in at a price we wanted.”
Weekly, one-hour Tent Show Radio shows are excerpts from the Big Top Chautauqua season and broadcast across the country throughout Wisconsin Public Radio, reaching more than 50 stations in 10 states.
For more about Big Top Chautauqua, Ski Hill Road (off Hwy. 13), Bayfield: www.bigtop.org, 888-244-8368. The ensemble also takes its shows on the road, including June 11-13 performances in Sheboygan. The first show at home is June 19, and the last is Sept. 12.
Ticket prices depend upon the show and performance date. They go as low as $15 for general admission to a house show, and that’s a terrific entertainment value.
No seasonal performance company shows more resilience than Door County’s Peninsula Players Theatre, the nation’s oldest professional resident summer theater, which begins its 74th season on June 16.
Productions – most lighthearted – occur within view of the tranquil Green Bay shoreline and typically begin after brilliant sunsets.
“We offer escape,” says spokesman Brian Kelsey. “When people come here, I don’t want them thinking about the economy.” Peninsula Players historically has been “fiscally prudent” – setting budgets based on earned income, and operating with a staff of only four full-timers – so patrons can expect business as usual.
For more about Peninsula Players Theatre, W4351 Peninsula Players Road, Fish Creek: www.peninsulaplayers.com, 920-868-3287. This year the theater company presents “The Lady with all the Answers,” June 16 to July 5; “A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine,” July 8-26; “Is He Dead?,” July 29 to Aug. 16; “Wait Until Dark,” Aug. 19 to Sept. 6; and “Around the World in 80 Days,” Sept. 9 to Oct. 18.
Tickets prices, $30-35, depend upon seat location.