Five Outdoor Theatre Festivals to See This Summer

Every summer, some of Chicago’s best actors decamp for outdoor festivals around the Midwest. Here are five alfresco crowd pleasers for every kind of traveler.

Illustration by Marc Rosenthal

Illustration: Marc Rosenthal

For an afternoon

Theater on the Lake
Time from the Loop: 10 minutes

For 61 years, Theater on the Lake has been staging thespian spectacles in a former medical facility, where plenty of real-life drama unfolded in the 1920s. It’s no sprawling forest preserve, but the venue has “a nice balance of outdoors and indoors,” says Halena Kays, one of the artistic curators. The North Side theatre’s season winds down with Jackalope Theatre’s drama Long Way Go Down (through August 4) and a commune of clowns in Chicago Physical Theater’s The Chi-Town Clown Revue (August 7 to 11). Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. chicagoparkdistrict.com

ALSO CHECK OUT: Lincoln Park Zoo, just a stone’s throw away. lpzoo.org

 

For a quick getaway

Oak Park Festival Theatre
Time from the Loop: 25 minutes

Roll out the blanket and booze for the Oak Park Festival Theatre, which sets up camp in the town’s bucolic Austin Gardens in June. Though traffic noise can distract from the pastoral suburban setting, this year’s high-concept 1960s-beach-party Twelfth Night (through August 24)—complete with boogie boards and itsy-bitsy bikinis—will surely drown out the din. “It’s set in a more innocent time,” says the artistic director, Jack Hickey, of the popular comedy. “Just before people let it all hang out.” 1010 Lake St., Oak Park. oakparkfestival.com

ALSO CHECK OUT: Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home, 339 N. Oak Park Ave. ehfop.org

 

For one night

American Players Theatre
Time from the Loop: 3.5 hours

With a 1,148-seat amphitheater on 110 acres of verdant woods in Spring Green, Wisconsin, American Players Theatre is the Arcadia of Midwest outdoor venues. The three stages draw a sophisticated set that appreciates the Prairie-style buildings and the classic theatre canon. If you’re ambitious, you can cram Shakespeare’s Hamlet (through October 4) and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (through October 5) into a single-day visit. 5950 Golf Course Rd., Spring Green, Wis. americanplayers.org

ALSO CHECK OUT: Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic home, 5607 Country Rd. taliesinpreservation.org

 

For the weekend

Peninsula Players
Time from the Loop: 5 hours

If you plopped the Goodman into a Wisconsinforest preserve and populated the audience with families in cargo shorts, you’d get the Peninsula Players. The high-tech waterfront theatre in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, is where glamping (glamorous camping) meets theater-in-the-round. Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot, staged by the trending Chicago director Kimberly Senior (August 14 to September 1), is a season highlight, as is Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George (through August 11). 4351 Peninsula Players Rd., Fish Creek, Wis. peninsulaplayers.com

STAY AT: The nearby White Gull Inn, 4225 Main St. whitegullinn.com

 

For a road trip

Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre
Time from the Loop: 6 hours

Leave the button-downs at home: Elizabeth Laidlaw’s 10-year-old Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre is more summer camp than Steppenwolf. With familiar local actors onstage, such as Christy Arington and Shane Kenyon, visiting this festival in remote northwestern Michigan is like seeing old friends. This month catch Romeo and Juliet (through August 1), directed by
Jeff Christian, and Shakespeare’s silliest farce, The Comedy of Errors (through August 2), directed by Scott Cummins. Tank Hill, Frankfort, Mich. lakesideshakespeare.org

STAY AT: Rustic, rugged Bayshore Cabins, 10890 N. Shore Dr. bayshorecabins.com
 

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