Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Theatre in the Woods

About three hours north of Chicago, nestled quietly on the shores of Green Bay is a place very near to heaven on earth. Tucked in among the trees on the shore is the open air theatre that houses Peninsula Players. Home of "America's Oldest Professional Resident Summer Theatre," Peninsula Players entertains the locals and summer folk every year with their excellent productions of musicals, farces, dramas and classics.

The company has preserved the experience that many of the patrons would have had when the festival first opened in 1935. Operating on the site of an old boys camp, many of the original building are still in use as costume shops, offices, rehearsal halls and artist residences. Audience members are invited to mingle around the bonfire with the actors and crew after performances. All in all it has the feeling of an early 20th century tourist destination; a place that does not really exist anymore where times were simpler and far removed from the world of cell phones, $4.00 a gallon gas prices, and global warming.

In the winter of 2005-06, Peninsula Players tore down their old pavilion stage to build a new facility. The wisely paid careful attention not to change the feel of the site. The contractors wanted to install concrete walkways; the company insisted on keeping wood chip covered pathways instead. Rather than building a modern looking building, the new theatre's exterior looks more like a barn than a theatre and even has walls that can be raised and lowered to maintain the open air setting that the theatre had grown up in.

Being from the back woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, it had long been my ambition to establish a theatre in or near my home town. Seeing Peninsula Players was a dream come true; an artistic community completely devoted to theatre. Really, it is like theatre summer camp. There is a nostalgia that runs as deep as the roots of the cedar trees that adorn the campus. There is also a sense of being grounded that can only come from simply being in the wilderness. Theatre looses its function as an escapist mechanism - you are already away from the grind of your day to day job. Here the plays are allowed to speak to you in an earthy way. Here there is not the noise of the city so you can hear what is being said to you.

This is a special place where the breeze from the lake drifts into the theatre creating a magical glow around not only the play but everyone watching as well.

NPR Article: All Things Considered (Ignore the fact that NPR is calling them "Peninsula Playhouse")

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