When the pandemic put a halt to the nine plays the American Players Theater (APT) planned this year, APT had to shift quickly to continue providing material to their audience. This included a Zoom-based play reading series known as “Out of the Woods.” 

Now, APT has found a creative way to perform in public, through the auditory experience “If Trees Could Talk.”

The immersive experience takes patrons through a self-guided tour on the APT grounds, first listening to a collection of poems and stories read by APT’s core company and other artists. Then, as patrons continue walking through paths that lead them to well-known spots — such as the Touchstone Theater or the better-known Hill Theater — they can listen to stories about the land from the core company.

“If Trees Could Talk” runs one more weekend at the APT grounds in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

The process of putting together the experience came naturally for APT, says core company member Melisa Pereya, who acted as one of the writers and director of “If Trees Could Talk.” 

“Actually, we were presented with this idea by a sound designer who said, ‘I think we should try to get people out into the woods, and listen to some poetry,’” she said. “When I became involved, I was asked to be part of a team and basically sift through hundreds and hundreds of poems and figure out what poetry we wanted to expose our audiences to. When the three of us came together, it kind of became a love letter to the land, where we tried as much as possible to decenter ourselves and decenter our narrative and actually widen the scope of both the poetry that we included, but the way that we look at nature, as well.”

Guests enjoy lunch on the APT grounds as they get ready for “If Trees Could Talk.” Photo supplied.

So in March, Pereya worked alongside colleague Jim DeVita and Isabella LaBlanc for about a week to create the show. LaBlanc, an actor by trade, was recruited as a writer and voice actor and this was her first job with APT.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done a show of this nature,” she said. LaBlanc had spent her high school years watching APT plays, which helped influence her to pursue acting and eventually, lead her back to APT.

“I think it really is the beginning of a cool new form of theater and definitely a form that I’ve never really explored before,” LaBlanc said. “And I don’t think a lot of theater-makers have. And so I was really excited by getting to dip my toes into this.”

For APT, the experience was a chance to “acknowledge what this land has seen and learned” before they started using its paths. LaBlanc hopes the audience will experience poetry in a new way.

“When I think about the audience members that go to the American Players Theatre, I know they are people who appreciate words, who love words, and have a great respect for words. I’m so excited for them to get to experience a different version of language, one that’s not Shakespeare, or the classic Western theatre canon, but one that is filled with many, many different voices, and many, many different beautiful versions of poetry. And I’m excited for them to get to fall in love with that, too,” she said.

For Pereya, this experience is a chance to tell more stories that have been lost for so long.

“With any audience, whatever they get out of it is going to be such a personal experience,” she said. “But there will always be more stories to be told and we should be spending time to figure out what other ways we can highlight more voices that we’ve taken for granted for so long, particularly in the classical theater.”

Though the stages are dark for now, their woods are bright with poems and stories from the core company, some funny and others, spooky for a chilly October evening. For guests interested in the “If Trees Could Talk” experience, more information can be found here