Peggy Sue Dunigan

APT set to celebrate 30 years at July 12 dedication party

By - Jul 10th, 2009 07:04 am
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opening night (from APT website)“It is a magical place and space,” declares Travis A. Knight, 23, a journeyman apprentice member of American Players Theatre. “They want you to succeed, want you to be there, and it’s an honor to be there.”

At this young age, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Theater program, Knight is spending his second season in Spring Green. In addition to the actors, the “magical place and space” is considering its faithful audiences part of the three decades process — the ones who loyally helped APT achieve financial stability. All will remain honorably intact while advancing the company’s mission with the new 200-seat Touchstone Theatre and a production building that complements the original (but now expanded) Up the Hill outdoor venue.

v1They will pay tribute to every audience member and public supporter on July 12 beginning at 1:00 p.m. with the company’s “Thirty Years of Summer” event. It will play host to special music, a silent auction, and self-guided tours together with the APT’s version of the iconic Hollywood Squares television game show. The evening stages begin at 3:15 with a live auction and the Touchstone dedication that follows. Later at 6:00 p.m., two performances:  James Devita’s In Acting Shakespeare at Touchstone and Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors at Up the Hill will open its curtains.

The classical work and an adherence to language and text resonate every season at APT. Jonathan Smoots, a current core company member, began his career here during APT’s very first summer runs. He then returned in 1994 to complete 20 years with Up the Hill Theatre.

This year Smoots appears concurrently in The Winter’s Tale, Old Times, and King Henry V. Smoots reminisces from the first seasons, which resulted in performing the plays unaltered in any way. But he adds, “Now they’re not that rigid, slightly more theatrical, and director-led.”

“Yet, with [APT] being a language theater, we have one abiding rule and goal: to take these characters and make all their words necessary. This means making each character a full human being, with heart and mind, which then makes all their words necessary, so a ten year old can understand them.”

Ten-year-olds often pepper the APT evening performances, in part because those first audience members bring their children and grandchildren.

“The audience grew slowly, from houses of 350 to the now 1100, which is at acoustical capacity,” Smoots elaborates. “The audience grows slower, but it grows deeper and deeper.”

There is a beauty of the outdoor space, surrounded by majestic trees and singing whippoorwills, that often synchronize with the sound of the actor’s voices. The need for scenery may be incidental while the APT seeks to tell the story inherent in a script, to understand what the text is saying. Three voice coaches now assist the acting company every summer including Jan Gist, who also works at the Old Globe Theatre.

Nick Harazin, 27, started as an apprentice in this season. He hails from the University of Minnesota, which concentrates on more experimental theater. But after performing with the late Milwaukee Shakespeare and Door Shakespeare he found that he began, “A great journey with the classical texts, and then the learning experience at APT.”

Knight adds that after working in Spring Green, “that the classical was always appreciated. [But now I realize], Classical work is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re always developing [as an actor] with its intricate mechanics and meaning.”

Harazin, Knight, and Smoots believe in this principle, and are learning to perfect it under the guidance of Artistic and Producing Director David Frank. It’s a principle that keeps audiences returning to APT’s summer stage. It’s this premise that spearheaded the addition of the Touchstone to produce more intimate 19th- and 20th-century classics in the company’s repertoire while also showcasing new work by playwrights, including 15-year veteran James DeVita.

While APT continually welcomes gifted new actors, each season also features an array of outstanding veterans and award-winning international technical support. This includes Joe Cerqua (original music for The Philanderer), Jason Fassl(Lighting Designer for the Touchstone), Marjorie Bradley Kellogg (Scenic Design for The Philanderer), and Devon Painter (Costume Designer for Comedy of Errors).

Any clear summer day presents a good time to begin experiencing outdoor theater with Up the Hill, or at the extended season this year in the Touchstone. Perhaps start by celebrating on July 12 at the “Thirty Years of Summers” anniversary to benefit the continued success of American Players Theatre. It’s a way to fulfill the dramatic illusion of “magical places and spaces”. It can enliven the imagination against hyper-realistic culture so prevalent in contemporary entertainment. Enjoy the classics, with rhythms that meter and measure while spoken through carefully chosen words while at play in the woods.

American Players Theatre celebrates their 30th Anniversary on July 12, and continues there rotating season of classical plays through October 13 with the final performance of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey into Night. For more information on special events or performances: 608.588.7401 or

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