One of my favorite things about the growth and development of Summit Players Theatre has been hearing from people about how they can’t wait to come back year after year. Some folks return to the same park every time, while for some, it’s like an adventure, visiting the Shakespeare in the State Parks tour at a different location each year. This company and its annual tours have shaped the summer experiences of people across Wisconsin, myself included.
When Summit Players Theatre first began, I had no idea the crazy ride that we were all in for. This company has brought me countless amazing, bizarre, hilarious and wonderful experiences in some of Wisconsin’s most fantastic natural locations, and I couldn’t be happier at the path we’ve taken to get here.
The thing that really sticks out to me is the dedication of our audience. Whether it’s unseasonably cold or swelteringly hot, harshly sunny or pouring down rain, even in the middle of a severe thunderstorm warning (I’m not kidding), as long as we’ve got a picnic table, a banner and six actors, we can expect that you’ll be there, toughing it out with us.
I witnessed this phenomenon most recently this past season at Kohler-Andrae State Park, where 155 people raced across the park and crammed into an auditorium in the nature center after it started storming ten minutes before showtime. It’s a scene I’ve seen play out a number of times over the years (at Richard Bong State Recreation Area in 2017, several times at Devil’s Lake State Park, and so on), and it always amazes me how much people are willing to put up with to have a fun evening with Shakespeare (and with us).
All this to say, we couldn’t do it without you. As I step into the role of Executive Director and Summit Players Theatre enters a new chapter, it’s reassuring to know that our audience is ready for anything.
I believe strongly in the power of live theatre to bring people together. We use Shakespeare’s work as a learning medium, meaning that our job is to go beyond the 400-year-old words and characters to find their meaning in a modern context. We’re not just telling Shakespeare’s stories, we’re telling our story, a collective narrative that explores how we deal with the world and those around us (and, just maybe, how we can be better). As Lauren Gunderson more simply and eloquently puts it in the introduction to her play The Book of Will, “Shakespeare is for everyone.”
There is magic, too, in outdoor spaces, and a sense of perspective in seeing how we fit in to the natural world. The Wisconsin state parks are incredible resources for learning, exploring and recharging in a chaotic modern society. They’re a perfect setting to for these timeless plays.
Summit Players Theatre has provided those experiences for over 8,000 people since the company first began. Can you believe that? I can’t get over it, and I can’t wait to see a great deal more people in the coming years.
As a company, we’ll continue to grow. There are never enough weeks in the summer and never enough “us” to get to all the parks we want to. We want to try, however, to be a part of as many people’s summers as we can.
One thing that won’t change, though: our tours will still be based on bringing joy through Shakespeare to communities across Wisconsin. Being the first Shakespeare experience for a child or helping you “get it” after years of not understanding is what we’re all about.
Thank you for five fantastic years, and here’s to many, many more. Get ready to slap on some sunscreen, grab your picnic and get outside with the Players. I can’t wait to see you in the parks!
Summit Players Theatre