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In 1978, a small group gathered on the Lockwood farm near Spring Green, Wisconsin. One person walked to the base of a steep hill and began to read; his voice reached those above with uncanny clarity. After looking at 43 sites, this was the one. The founders, Charles Bright, Randall Duk Kim and Anne Occhiogrosso, had found the spot that was to become American Players Theatre. The mission was to perform the classics, especially the works of Shakespeare, outside, under the sun, moon and stars. On July 18, 1980, American Players Theatre staged its first production: William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Word spread quickly about this very special venue and the quality of American Players Theatre’s work. By its second season, the stage was home to a mix of five Shakespearian comedies, histories and tragedies. In 1985, the young theater broadened its scope to include other writers, including Chekhov. That same year APT was nominated for a Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. Since then, the company has performed a steady mix of the greatest works ever written for the stage, including works by such luminaries as Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Wilde, Schiller, Sophocles and Wilder. From 1990 – 2007, the company also toured the state of Wisconsin following its summer season in Spring Green.
David Frank was named Artistic Director in 1991 and became Producing Artistic Director in 2005. Under his leadership, American Players Theatre assembled a core company of actors who shared an ongoing commitment to the theater’s mission, added a second theater space and maintained an operating surplus for 23 years running. Mr. Frank retired at the end of 2015.
APT’s Board of Directors appointed Brenda DeVita as Artistic Director in 2014. Ms. DeVita has been with the company for more than 20 years, and had spent the last several years as Associate Artistic Director. A national search was conducted for a Managing Director to co-lead the theater, which led to the hiring of Carrie Van Hallgren, who began her tenure in January of 2015.
Through the years, the theater’s facilities have undergone a continuous series of upgrades, with comfortable new accommodations for audience, staff and artists. The amphitheater was fully renovated in 2000, including the instillation of more than 1,100 new seats. In 2001, the 22,000 square foot Bravo Center was built for the creation and storage of costumes, scenery and properties. In 2009, APT added the indoor Touchstone Theatre. The Touchstone provides the opportunity to extend the season, educate a new generation of actors and expand play offerings to serve a wider audience.
Today, American Players Theatre draws an annual audience of more than 110,000 people from around the country and has earned a national reputation for presenting theater of the highest quality.