American Players Theatre in Spring Green

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The Up the Hill Theatre at APT in Spring Green WI
The Up the Hill Theatre at APT in Spring Green WI
Wisconsin's most venerable theatre company is not located in an urban arts district; it's a theatre in the woods of Spring Green where dramas are played out beneath the stars. The American Players Theatre, better known as APT, began as a summer stock Shakespeare Festival. But, as its reputation for outstanding productions, beautiful setting, and unique experience grew - so too did its repertoire.

APT is now home to two auditoriums - The outdoor Up-The-Hill Theatre and the indoor Touchstone Theatre. Theatre goers at APT dress casually and enjoy picnic dinners in the beautiful prairies and woodlands of APT's property on the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. And, if you think that the unpredictable Wisconsin weather might not lend itself to outdoor theatre .... consider that there's nothing quite like taking in A Streetcar Named Desire on a sweltering hot and humid evening.

picnic areas are tucked into the wooded hillside along the path to the theater
picnic areas are tucked into the wooded hillside along the path to the theater

It's an oppressively hot summer evening. The sinking sun is painting a water color sky above the treeline, its last beams stretching in pink and orange lanes on the forest floor. But, the heat of the day will not abate.

The subdued din of conversation mixed with laughter and the clinking of wine glasses paints an aural landscape of delight beneath a grove of oak and leafy elm. The picnickers are packing up their baskets and returning them to their cars backed into grassy parking spots. One early arrival backed into a spot and the rest followed the example believing that this must be how its done here at this unusual place.

Lanterns mark the boundaries of a trail to the theatre up the hill. As though in a spiritual procession up to a biblical mount, the picnickers file through the woods and past the restored prairie in hushed anticipation. All is serene. Each moment a postcard of summer. Memories of wildflowers gathered for a long winter that is fearfully guarded for even in the high humidity of a river valley July.

On reaching the top of the hillside there are chores to be done. A small village of buildings must be visited: the privy, the gift shop, and the concessions. The hottest seller at the gift shop, a fan shaped like a ping pong paddle. Two kids are already slapping each other in the face and behinds with their new paddles. Wait, those aren't kids; it's me and my friend Rich - grown adults with the combined maturity of an eleven year old.

As the crowd settles into its seats the crickets begin to beat their night song. Exotic sounding bird calls echo on cue through the wooded hillside. Does the sound guy have a set of speakers hidden out in the forest to get just the perfect bird calls? Or has a whip-o-will moved into timbers of the outdoor stage?

"Warning, house lights down, Cue lights scene one in five, four, three, two, and go lights to full. Go sound cue one."

1100 theatergoers casually stir the still air with their ping pong paddles. An actor enters stage left. For the next two hours hardly a breath can be breathed as the intensity of one scene spills into the next. The 2015 production of Streetcar has already ascended into theatre legend.

Blanche plays the optimist. "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

On clear com channel 2, "Cue blackout in five, four, three, two, and go blackout."

The stage lights cut out and for the first time the audience realizes that the darkness of night has overtaken them. In one silent moment all heads turn up to gaze in amazement at the glittering sky. A falling star streaks across the milky way on cue. A collective "awwww" from an otherwise speechless crowd.

Then a boisterous applause for curtain call. A Tony Award worthy performance closes with the full knowledge that there will be no such nomination. But, what they don't know in New York won't hurt them.

It turns out that backing into your parking spot does not save 30 seconds on your way out. And who would want to anyways? Everyone is looking for a reason to linger. They take one more pass through the gift shop. And some even lay back on the hood of their car to count the stars. Others head into Spring Green - to sing "I drink alone" with a young bearded man who apparently does drink alone at the local dive's Friday night karaoke.

The summer nights are crisp and quiet in Spring Green, save for the hum of charter buses headed home from APT down a lonely highway - leaving the fireflies to their magical woods on a hill above an ox-bowing Wisconsin River.

The Up the Hill Theatre at APT in Spring Green WI
The Up the Hill Theatre at APT in Spring Green WI


Address for your GPS: 5950 Golf Course Rd, Spring Green, WI 53588
| coordinates: 43.141822, -90.039523 |

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