The world-class American Players Theatre has been a destination event for most of the U.S. and particularly upper Illinois since its co-founding by Randall Duk Kim, Anne Occhiogrosso and Charles Bright in 1990 in Spring Green, Wisconsin, set among 110 acres of woods and meadow. I myself have made the journey to enjoy theater under the stars in APT’s 1,089-seat amphitheater and 201-seat Touchstone indoor theater. And I can’t wait to return.
Typically, APT produces nine plays running in repertory from June through November, with an annual attendance estimated to be over 110,000, and an annual budget of $6 million. APT ranks as the United States’ second-largest outdoor theater devoted to the classics. And this year would have been a humdinger, with productions ranging from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Julius Caesar” and “The Madwoman of Chaillot.”
Sadly, like theater everywhere, APT had to make the sad and financially devastating decision to cancel its 2020 fast-selling-out season and move the plays to 2021. But do not despair, because APT announced that beginning June 12, “Out of the Woods” will be a play reading program of performances recorded live that will be posted at 7 p.m. Fridays at pbswisconsin.org. Free to view, the productions star APT’s core acting company, as well as a few guests.
The schedule is ambitious and I’m sure done with much forethought. Each play has a different director and cast.
Premiering on June 12 will be Chekhov’s one-act plays: “The Bear,” “On the Harmfulness of Tobacco” and “The Proposal.” All three are about the complexities of love, life and marriage. On June 19, the William Shakespeare comedy, “As You Like It,” brings the saga of Rosalind to life again in the Forest of Arden (not to mention the famed “all the world’s a stage”). On June 26, George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man” hits the waves; an “enemy” soldier climbs in the window of idealistic Raina, throwing her life into disarray and making for a very good play.
On July 3, it’s William Shakespeare’s political thriller, “Julius Caesar,” just in time for election ramping, and July 10 brings “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” by Carlyle Brown, which I confess I have never seen and am curious about as it portrays Langston Hughes’ evening just ahead of his appearance before Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Subcommittee on Un-American Activities.
But as all good things must come to an end, so must APT’s “Out of the Woods” program; it concludes after the world premiere of a new play on July 17: James DeVita’s “An Improbable Fiction.” It’s plague time and Shakespeare’s characters are out of work; several reunite at The Boar’s Head Tavern to discuss their situation. I’m hooked!
The actors will use Zoom virtual meeting software and will be recorded by PBS Wisconsin. The shows will be free to view through July 26, with the full series available for one week, July 17 to 26.
OK, we can’t have live performances right now. But keeping theater and stories alive in any accessible format helps. Eventually, we’ll be back in those seats with faces tilted up in appreciation. Thanks for joining the effort, APT, and helping us to collect new memories.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a 50-year veteran of the theater, ever since Sister Mary Justia had the wisdom to cast her as a bossy Mother Goose in the Holy Cross first grade production. She hopes soon to return to acting, directing, teaching, traveling and writing theater reviews.
If you view
WHAT: American Players Theatre’s “Out of the Woods” play reading series
WHEN: June 5 to July 19
COST: Free livestreaming