Where To Go This Weekend: Spring Green, Wisconsin on the Cheap

Back in ye olden days, the notion of “open-air Shakespeare” was redundant: In Elizabethan England, all theater was performed outdoors. Al fresco Shakespeare endures, and few places take it outside more skillfully than the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. At APT’s theatre on the hill

Jonathan Smoots and Ally Carey in All's Well that Ends Well
Jonathan Smoots and Ally Carey in American Players Theatre’s All’s Well that Ends Well

Will in the World

Back in ye olden days, the notion of “open-air Shakespeare” was redundant: In Elizabethan England, all theater was performed outdoors. Al fresco Shakespeare endures, and few places take it outside more skillfully than the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. At APT’s theatre on the hill (roughly four hours from the Loop), the production values are as lavish as anything you’ll find on Navy Pier. As for APT’s core company of actors, they make every word resonate with crystalline clarity and emotional urgency. From Friday, August 20th, through Sunday, August 22nd, APT throws out the welcome mat for Chicagoans during its “Chicago Weekend,” during which the theatre company orchestrates an assortment of area-wide discounts. Here, a roster of cost-saving reasons to go to Spring Green this weekend:

  1. The Play’s Definitely the Thing
    Tickets to American Players performances (usually from $40 to $65) are 20 to 25 percent off this weekend. There are eight productions running in rep in APT’s two theaters. At the 1,148 seat outdoor Up-the-Hill amphitheater, the plays are: Shakespeare’s As You Like It; All’s Well that Ends Well; Lillian Hellman’s scorching family drama Another Part of the Forest (directed by Chicago’s own Bill Brown); and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Circle (directed by Remy Bumppo Theatre’s founder, James Bohnen.) At the 201-seat indoor Touchstone space, the shows are: Waiting for Godot (Beckett’s provocative comedy in which nothing happens twice); The Syringa Tree, where one actress plays all 24 parts in this apartheid-era play; and Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, directed by Chicago Shakespeare co-founder Kate Buckley. Tip: Bring a picnic for open-air dining. There are plenty of picnic tables and grills nestled within the 110 acres of meadows and oak forest that surround the theaters.
    GO American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Rd., Spring Green; 608-588-2361, americanplayers.org
  2. Wright-on
    Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home, Taliesin, is one of a number of FLW structures in the area. At the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center, you can sign up for tours ranging from an hour to half an entire day, including the recently added “Loving Frank” tour, based on the best-selling book. All tours are $10 off during Chicago weekend. Reservations are strongly recommended. Regular rates range from $16 for an hour-long Cliff Notes version of FLW to $80 for a half-day excursion to numerous Wright sites.
    GO Taliesin Preservation, Inc., Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors’ Center, 5607 County C Hwy., Spring Green; 877-588-7900, taliesinpreservation.org
  3. Rock On
    The House on the Rock attraction is the polar opposite of Taliesin: Where Frank was spare and elegant, the HOR contains perhaps the largest and most elaborate collection of kitsch on Planet Earth. Among other oddities in this maze-like shrine to whacky whimsy: A giant whale sculpture that is as wide as a city block and larger than a three-flat. There’s also a seemingly endless array of musical geegaws: Put a token in the slot, and an entire robotic orchestra will start blasting Ravel’s Bolero. The Infinity Room is the House highlight – a needle-like glass structure suspended horizontally over a gorge to offer vertigo-inducing views of the grounds below. Tickets (regularly around $28 depending on how much of the three-section attraction you want to see) are $5 off during Chicago weekend.
    GO The House on the Rock, 5754 State Rd. 23, Spring Green; 608-935-3639, thehouseontherock.com
  4. The opposite of fast food
    If you want to see APT actors off stage, head to the General Store, a homey, casual restaurant where the food is local, fresh, and cooked to order. APT core members can often be found breakfasting here on weekends. The steel-cut oatmeal is simply wonderful. Order veggie omelet and you’ll get organic mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes that were still growing an hour or so before hitting skillet. Be prepared for a wait—well worth it—if you go for Sunday brunch when there are so many locals in the place that it feels like a town hall meeting only with genuine neighborliness instead of politics informing the aesthetic. While you’re waiting, you can browse the store part of the General Store, which carries organic toiletries and an assortment of art and jewelry created by local artisans. All purchases—food or dry goods—are 10 percent off during Chicago Weekend.
    GO The General Store, 137 S. Albany St., Spring Green; 608-588-7070, springgreengeneralstore.com
  5. Get a room
    Check into the House on the Rock Resort this weekend and you are but a free, five-minute shuttle ride away from American Players Theatre. Plus, you can get 15 percent off both a round of golf (regular rates at the 18-hole Springs or North Nine courses are $50 to $79) and any spa treatment offered at the resort. (Massages start at $45; facials start at $70. Check the hotel’s website for a menu of spa services.) All rooms are suites; rates start at $205.
    GO House on the Rock Resort, 400 Springs Dr., Spring Green; 608-588-7000, thehouseontherock.com

Photograph: Zane Williams

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