Preview: Wisconsin’s American Players Theatre Begins Season of Classic and Contemporary Plays

Summer’s outdoor pleasures abound throughout the Midwest and, for many, the season opening at American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wis., is an invitation to frisk in forest merriment.

The company’s first two productions opened last week. This year’s season of nine productions will run in repertory through November 19. Some shows will be staged in the larger outdoor Hill Theater, while others will be presented in the more intimate, indoor Touchstone. As in past years, APT’s approach will offer a variety of Shakespeare offerings and other “classics,” as well as more contemporary fare.

Spring Green is located about 200 miles from Chicago, or about a 3½-hour drive. Chicago visitors comprise a large part of APT audiences, and many look forward to this annual trek, where avid theatergoers can see up to four shows in 3 days. Of course, during the peak summer season, a longer stay means visitors can take in even more plays.

Although dining options are somewhat limited in the small town of Spring Green, there is an abundance of accommodations: resorts, hotels, Airbnb apartments/homes and bed-and-breakfast inns from which to choose. Although lodging prices have spiked since the pandemic re-opening, this is still a very affordable option for Chicago visitors. Not surprisingly, accommodations in Spring Green are a fraction of the price one would expect to pay for a fancy hotel near Michigan Avenue.

Pre-theater picnicking is a longstanding tradition at American Players Theatre. It's best to arrive early to select the ideal picnic spot. A good meal should energize theatergoers for their trek up the hill to the outdoor stage. Photo by Liz Lauren.

For many, the APT experience wouldn’t be complete without packing a picnic for outdoor dining before the show in the idyllic APT woods. One will find a large selection of wooden picnic tables, and even a few grills, scattered above the parking lot. If your picnic repast lacks a few essentials, never fear. A nearby concession stand can supplement what you bring from home. And it's possible to order delicious picnic dinners (in advance!) from a Madison diner. Their selection of fruit pies may be pricey, but worth it.


Ticket Bargains Abound, Even During Peak Season

APT ticket prices have risen by a very reasonable 2 percent in 2023—the first increase in individual ticket sales in the past 10 years. Those who plan ahead can save with pre-season discounts, and some deals continue through early June. One can also sign up as an email subscriber for ticket deal alerts throughout the season. Last year, APT had a few digital “flash sales” for immediate ticket purchases. Subscribing is easy on the APT website.

While APT presents a new roster of shows every season, this year offers something new in terms of the company’s physical space. The grass-covered parking area has been enlarged and (partially) replaced with asphalt, thanks to a one-time grant from the State of Wisconsin. Parking lot lighting has been improved as well. “We were getting to the point where the number of cars in our old parking area was at capacity,” said APT managing director Sara Young. This is Young’s 21st season at APT, so she has seen many upgrades during her years here. “The parking situation was something that needed immediate attention. Also, the paved area will make things much easier for mobility-impaired theatergoers,” Young said.

Two of the "Merry Wives" take their playfulness to an extreme in this scene, which features Kelsey Brennan (left) and Dee Dee Batteast. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Parking Areas Improved and Extended

About half of APT’s former parking space is now paved, especially those sections located near the shuttle buses. There’s also a small, newly paved picnic area to assist mobility-impaired guests.

Here's a month-by-month guide to help theatergoers plan their summer:

June

- The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare. One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies returns. The play mixes practical jokes, ribald parody and the mischievous Falstaff in the hilarity. It’s one of the plays that APT does best. Open now “on the hill.”
- The Liar by David Ives. This adaptation of a French play is geared for laughter. For instance, one character is unable to tell a lie, and another cannot tell anything but a lie. Open now in the Hill Theater.
- Our Town by Thornton Wilder. An American classic by a playwright with roots in Madison, Wis. He won three Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime, including one for Our Town. Opening in mid-June.
- The Royale by Marco Ramirez. Memorable for its past production in the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio, The Royale traces the life of a famous Black boxer in what has been called a “sports thriller.” Opens in mid-June.


JULY


All of the shows listed above.
- Once Upon a Bridge by Sonya Kelly. A two-hander that explores what it means when life changes on a dime. How will the characters react? Opens in early July in the Touchstone.

The outdoor stage at American Players Theatre is nestled into a natural amphitheater and surrounded by woods. Shown here is the set for "Merry Wives of Windsor," which opens the current season. Photo by Liz Lauren


AUGUST

- Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare. One of the most famous love stories of all time, albeit with tragic consequences. But this will be unlike anything seen before at APT, as hearing actors will integrate with hearing-impaired actors. Words will be spoken at every performance (with the exception of a few shows designated as American Sign Language performances). Electronic tablets that contain captions in real-time will be available for hearing-impaired guests. Previews begin August 11 in the Hill Theater.
- Anton’s Shorts adapted from the plays of Anton Chekhov. Five stories present different takes on the spectrum of human emotions and foibles. Performed by nine regulars that APT audiences have grown to love over the seasons. Previews begin August 4 in the Hill Theater.
- Mala by Melinda Lopez. A one-woman show that takes the audience through a journey of discovery. Previews begin August 12 in the Touchstone Theater.

SEPTEMBER

- Continuing performances: Romeo & Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Royale, Anton’s Shorts, Mala, The Liar, Our Town, Once Upon a Bridge.

Actor David Daniel strikes an impish pose in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, now open at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. Photo by Liz Lauren


OCTOBER

- Proof by David Auburn. A riveting spellbinder that won a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for Best Play. A revival is heading for Broadway. The play was made into a 2005 film featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Jake Gyllenhaal. Previews begin October 26 in the Touchstone Theater.
- Continuing performances: Romeo & Juliet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Once Upon a Bridge, Anton’s Shorts, Mala.

For tickets and other information, including ticket discounts, call the box office at 608-588-2361 or order online at americanplayers.org.

This article originally appeared in Milwaukee's Shepherd Express Magazine.

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Anne Siegel

Anne Siegel is a Milwaukee-based writer and theater critic; she's a former member of the American Theatre Critics Association, where she served for more than 30 years. Anne covers a wide range of Milwaukee theater for the city’s alternative newspaper. Her work also appears on several theater-related websites, including Third Coast Review.