Special promotional content provided by American Players Theatre.
After more than a year of darkness, the stage lights are once again shining at American Players Theatre, as audiences gather in the picnic area before their performance, sharing a meal and some quality in-person time together, at long last.
“We’re just thrilled to be back,” Artistic Director Brenda DeVita said. “The actors and the company are so excited to be sharing their work with real, live people. And seeing the audience; seeing people gather again, laughing and sharing a picnic and some wine before the play – I’m so thankful that this community has come together again in this beautiful way. I walk through the picnic grounds and just soak it all in. It’s just the most wonderful, fulfilling feeling.”
The Spring Green theater company, called “the best classical theater company in America” by The Wall Street Journal, weathered the pandemic, and returned to the stage in May of 2021. Now playing, An Iliad, the powerful adaptation of Homer’s epic, written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare in the 200-seat, indoor Touchstone Theatre; and the uproarious musical comedy Rough Crossing by Tom Stoppard in the 1,089-seat Hill Theatre. Though ever-evolving safety protocols have caused some complications for the company, gratitude is the theme of the summer season.
“We are so incredibly grateful, not only that these plays are happening, but that they’re so good,” said DeVita. “Early on, there were a lot of safety considerations like cast size, and proximity between the actors, and who can touch what prop after someone else touched it – those things really impacted the plays we chose. In a way, that freed us to stage some plays that may not otherwise have played together. And the fact that we couldn’t be in rotating repertory, with actors working on multiple plays at the same time, that’s not something APT has ever done. It’s a little weird, and simultaneously one of the most exciting seasons we’ve ever staged.”
In a typical year, APT’s audience swells to around 110,000 patrons per season. While the theater does not expect to be back to full houses this year due to lingering COVID concerns, capacity is on the rise, from only 25% in May and June, to 50% for the plays currently on stage. Mask rules, too, have evolved, from being required everywhere on the grounds and in the theaters, to becoming optional for fully vaccinated individuals as of July 13.
“Communication is the name of the game this year,” said Director of Communications, Sara Young. “And because the perception was that tickets would be impossible to get because of the capacity caps, we want to make sure that people know that tickets are still available for these incredible plays.”
Like the rotating repertory, the theater’s normal sales structure was put on hold this season, with tickets going on sale for two plays at a time, rather than for the entire season at once as usual. For example, tickets are currently on sale for An Iliad and Rough Crossing, while tickets for the next two plays – an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and the Christopher Frye comedy A Phoenix Too Frequent – will go on sale to the general public on July 19. Because of this, the pre-season discount of 25% off tickets was extended for the full season.
“We feel that it’s important to make these plays accessible to everyone, especially after the year we’ve all had. We want to share the joy with as many people as possible,” Young said. “So in addition to the 25% discount, we’re offering Four Packs in the Hill Theatre, which is four tickets for just $119 in the Very Fine seating level on select dates. And for the first time, we’re offering “APT at Home” filmed performances for people who are unable to come to the theater.”
Before the pandemic hit, 2019 was a season of celebration at APT. The company was celebrating 40 seasons, and the tone as summer drew to a close was jubilant. “We really felt like we were on the cusp of something big,” said DeVita. “We had a wonderful, hugely successful season that included our first August Wilson production, Fences, in the Hill Theatre, which was exquisite. And our Shakespeare productions were beautiful. And it really just felt like the wind was at our backs as we set off into 2020.”
And then the wind died. For 18 months, the stages stood silent. The company still found ways to share their work – a series of play readings in conjunction with PBS Wisconsin; a poetic audio tour of the grounds; a virtual Winter Words play reading series – all helped salve the ache of a lost summer. But the question of when live theater would return hovered around every conversation. And now that live theater is a reality, there’s reason to celebrate again.
For information on the season plays, tickets, discounts and more, interested parties can visit americanplayers.org.