By Mary Boyle
Most of the area theatre companies take a break over the summer months, when everyone would rather be outdoors and soaking up the sun, but there are a few whose season only coincides with Wisconsin's warmest months, and they bring their performances outdoors, with an almost exclusive focus on the most famous of playwrights: William Shakespeare.
Now entering their fifth season, the Summit Players are a group of mainly Marquette Alumni who are determined to make Shakespeare accessible to families by performing for free at State Parks throughout Wisconsin. This year, the production is the Bard’s best-known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Their plays use the original language, but they are edited for time and to be as family-friendly as possible, while still retaining the brilliance that the Bard intended – they even offer a pre-show workshop that is perfect for school-aged kids. The Players will be just north of Oz at Kohler-Andrae State Park on Saturday, August 3rd, with a workshop is at 5:30 p.m. and the show at 7. You will need a vehicle admission sticker to get into the park, which you may purchase at entry. To see the Summit Players full schedule and learn more, go to: www.summitplayerstheatre.com/
Optimist Theatre has been doing Shakespeare in the Park in Milwaukee since 2010, and they return for their third season at the Marcus Center’s Peck Pavilion with A Comedy of Errors. Milwaukee’s James Pickering and Robert Spencer, who were brilliant in last season’s production of King Lear, will grace the OT stage again this summer. The production opens for a preview the evening of Wednesday, June 26th at 8 p.m., with Opening Night the following evening at 8 p.m., and runs through Saturday, July 13th. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 7:30 p.m. There is one noon matinee on Tuesday, July 9th. Performances are free, and it is recommended to arrive no later than a half hour before the performance to claim your seats. To see the full schedule and learn more about Optimist Theatre, please visit: http://www.optimisttheatre.org
Door Shakespeare has been doing Shakespearean productions, as well as works by Moliere and Oscar Wilde, in the Garden of Björklunden’s 405-acre estate on Lake Michigan in Baileys Harbor for over 20 years. This season they will perform the Bard's Henry V, Directed by Matt Daniels, and Merry Wives of Windsor, Directed by Marcella Kearns, from June 18th through August 24th. Both Directors are well-known to Milwaukee audiences, both for directing and on the stage, but are making their Door debuts, and join a cast of several other Milwaukee favorites, including Elyse Edelman, James Carrington, Carrie Hitchcock, and Mark Corkins, who were all on the Door’s stage last summer. To learn more about Door Shakespeare, their play schedule, and their other programs, visit http://www.doorshakespeare.com.
For those willing to travel just a bit further, one of the best outdoor theatre experiences in Wisconsin is just outside of Spring Green at the American Players Theatre, the country’s second largest outdoor theater devoted to the classics. Celebrating their 40th year this season, APT has multiple productions, both modern and classic, throughout the summer on two different stages, one outdoor and one indoor, but they never fail to perform at least one of Shakespeare's plays. This year, APT has selected two by the Bard: Twelfth Night and Macbeth. The APT season opens Friday, June 15th, and runs through Sunday, October 6th at the outdoor theater and into November for the indoor. To learn more about APT's complete season, including free concerts, go to: https://americanplayers.org/
There is a reason that Shakespeare in the Park can be found in outdoor spaces throughout the country: in William Shakespeare's time, his plays were mainly performed in open-air theaters, so it feels right to recreate those conditions for today's audiences. The outdoor theatre experience, much like an outdoor concert, has an energy all its own that must be experienced to be understood. While every live theatre performance is unique, the weather and nature are crucial and unpredictable parts of the outdoor theatre production that give an entirely different, and highly individual, dimension to a play, and make for an unforgettable performance. Add to the itinerary of your camping trip, or go just for the show, but make sure you add one of these performances to your summer calendar!