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.
Since 2014, the Summit Players, a group of mainly Marquette Alumni, have worked hard to make Shakespeare accessible to families by performing for free at State Parks throughout Wisconsin. This year, the production is the Bard's much loved Much Ado About Nothing. 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, and they even offer a pre-show workshop that is perfect for school-aged kids. The Players won't be at Belgium's Harrington Beach State Park this season, but they will be just north of Oz in Sheboygan at Kohler-Andrae State Park on Saturday, July 16th, and just west of Oz in Hartford at the Kettle Moraine State Forest on Saturday, August 19th. The workshop is at 5:30 p.m., and the show is at 7; note that you will need a vehicle admission sticker to get into the parks. To see the Summit Players full schedule and learn more, go to: www.summitplayerstheatre.com/
Optimist Theatre in Milwaukee has been doing Shakespeare in the Park in Milwaukee since 2010, and they return this season with Twelfth Night Or What SHE Will, an entertaining romp that everyone will enjoy. Since the pandemic, SITP has moved from the Peck Pavilion to a touring show that will travel around the Milwaukee area between June 18th and August 7th. The show, as always, is free and outdoors (you will need to bring your own chair/blanket) and walk ups are welcome, but you are encouraged to register at their website; space is always first come, first served. Members (a yearly donation of $75) are able to reserve seats at one show each season 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 other classical works, 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 Tempest and The Three Musketeers from June 22nd through August 27th. A trip to Door County is made even better with the addition of live, outdoor theatre in the Garden of Björklunden. 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. 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 season, APT has selected two by the Bard: the rarely produced Love's Labours Lost and the classic tragedy of Hamlet. The APT season opens Friday, June 11th, and runs through Sunday, November 20th. To learn more about APT's complete season, 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 itinery of your camping trip, or go just for the show, but make sure you add one of these performances to your summer calendar!