A Storied Summer: Driftless Theatre

Heartbreak House, 2018. Photo by Liz Lauren. / Courtesy American Players Theatre

Everybody loves a good story – from tall tales to fairy tales to ghost stories around the campfire to a stage full of actors, performing the scripts of Shakespeare (and others!). Stories transport us, remind us of our history – our joy and our sorrow – and bring us together for a fleeting bit of magic. Add to your summer story by checking out one – or all – of these fun theatres and story-telling events across the Driftless this year.


American Players Theatre – Spring Green, Wisconsin

The scene is set: You’ve got great friends, snacks, and a sense of anticipation along as you head off to the beautiful American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Get there early to enjoy your pre-show picnic and the ambiance of the outdoor amphitheater, with sounds of whippoorwills and cicada floating through the air. And then, find your spot – the show is about to begin.

American Players Theatre

Photos by Kelsi Wermuth / Courtesy APT

“Nature definitely plays an active role in our outdoor theater,” says Jess Amend, APT’s Marketing Content Manager, explaining the charm of the Hill Theatre, where the outdoor APT plays are staged. “Most of the performances start around dusk, so you get to watch the world transform as the play goes on. It’s really a full sensory experience – the breeze blows, and the stars and moon come out, and they’re the same stars and moon that Shakespeare’s plays have always been performed under.”

With a backdrop like this, it’s no wonder playgoers love APT. Not only it is a great excuse for a relaxing night out, but the elements of nature – like the occasional pigeon landing on stage – also ensure each experience will be unique. “It all adds dimension to the plays we produce here, and it’s a pretty spectacular way to spend an evening.”

American Players Theatre's outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre

Photo by Mike McDermott / Courtesy APT

The storytelling in this setting is what truly makes the Theatre a must-see Driftless destination. “APT’s mission includes digging into really dense, poetic language. And that can be hard – for the actors and the audience – if you don’t do it right,” Jess says. This is why APT has a dedicated voice and text department – one of the strongest in the country – that helps bring stories to life in ways many have never seen before. “We often have audience members tell us that they never understood Shakespeare until they saw it at APT,” says Jess. That, in combination with the chemistry and ease on stage of the actors, makes once-complicated, hard-to-interpret stories feel more digestible, Jess says. “People tell us these actors feel like family, and that’s a powerful thing, and a powerful element to add to any story.”

In addition to the newly renovated 1089-seat outdoor amphitheater, Hill Theatre, there’s the 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre. Mark your calendars to the APT 40th Anniversary party on July 21 featuring a first-ever arts installation.

American Players Theatre’s 2019 season’s plays (both indoor and out) are:

Twelfth Night and Macbeth, both by William Shakespeare

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

August Wilson’s Fences by August Wilson

The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson

The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw (indoors)

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur by Tennesee Williams (indoors)

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (indoors)

A Doll’s House, Part 2, by Lucas Hnath (indoors)

See more info and buy tickets at americanplayers.org


Great River Shakespeare Festival – Winona, Minnesota

At the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota, they spend a lot of time investigating what is at the core of the story and the characters – translating the works of Shakespeare in new and exciting ways is both challenging and rewarding. “Things like jealousy, love, and ambition are timeless, and there are always new ways to examine how those things affect us,” says Eileen Moeller, GRSF Marketing and Sales Director. “Keeping productions relevant is very important to our company.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s production of Macbeth is a great example of how GRSF stays true to the core story and script, but also dips its toe into something new. Their website even suggests you should bring along a “Game of Thrones fan looking to take their fandom to another level” to enjoy the show. “Macbeth is a popular play because it’s dark and broody, but it also deals with ambition and power,” says Eileen. “It’s one that offers a lot to a lot of different people – famous lines for Shakespeare geeks and lots of swords and (fake) blood for those who like action.”

The stories, the costumes, and the set design are all top-notch at GRSF, but, like APT, it’s the atmosphere of community that keeps both audience and company coming back year after year. They’re expecting about 11,000 attendees for this year’s event. “If you’re not from town, you feel like you belong, and if you live in Winona, it’s like seeing old friends,” Eileen says. “For those of us in the company, it’s a combination of a family reunion and summer camp.”

“It’s a community,” she adds. “We want to tell stories together and discuss with our friends and neighbors what they mean for us, in this moment.”

Great River Shakespeare Festival

Photo by Dan Norman / Courtesy GRSF

This year’s Great River Shakespeare Festival – it’s 16th Season! – includes these plays:

Cymbeline

Macbeth

No Child…

The Servant of Two Masters

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Love’s Labors Lost (Apprentice/Intern Production)

Mark your calendars: GRSF runs now through early August. New this year are two off-site performances at Forager Brewery in Rochester (July 11) and Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse (July 14). Learn more and buy tickets at grsf.org.

Noteworthy: There are many opportunities for kids to get involved in GRSF through classes, like Shakespeare for: Young Actors; Young Designers;  Young Filmmakers and more. Find details at grsf.org.


Commonweal Theatre – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Lanesboro, Minnesota, is a charming little town that packs a punch, with outstanding recreational activities, exquisite art experiences, and beautiful Victorian houses. And one of the big pieces at the heart of Lanesboro is the Commonweal Theatre, an intimate theater with 30 years of experience under its belt. Executive Director Hal Cropp works hard alongside staff and crew to ensure that playgoers have the same, enjoyable experience at their shows that they do in the surrounding community. The ensemble of folks at the Theatre rotate between different jobs – in addition to being actors on stage, they may also be ticket sellers one day, ticket takers the next, or work selling concessions another. This allows theatre-goers to interact with the company on a more personal, face-to-face level. “It works with both the intimacy of the theater itself and the unique style of the public spaces – all of which are a permanent art display,” Hal says. “And deepens the audience feeling that we are ‘their’ theater.” Passionate storytelling is at the core of the Commonweal company, and this is what brings attendees back for more.

2018 production of The Clean House at Commonweal Theatre

Colleen Barrett (left) and Fernanda Badeo in the 2018 production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. Photo by Peterson Creative Photography & Design / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Production selections start with “passion pieces” presented by members of the ensemble. “This generally yields a list of 40 or 50 titles, which then get sorted through for a number of variables: cast size, technical requirements, as well as how it fits against the other titles being offered,” Hal explains. “We are deeply cognizant of our mission to enrich the common good.” Even after 30 years, each production is a new experience at the Commonweal. The company is dedicated to the philosophy of making each person feel like the theatre is their home, and ultimately, feel connected to each story. “The satisfaction we derive from having people connect on so many levels is spiritually fulfilling, and therefore fun,” Hal says. “Passionate storytelling, executed on a highly professional level, touches everyone.”

Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal Theatre. Photo by Katrina Myrah / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre

Commonweal’s 2019 Season runs from April-December.

Current and upcoming shows include:

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti (May 10-Aug 31)

Peter and the Starcatcher by Rick Elice (July 12-Oct 26)

On the Verge by Eric Overmyer (Sept 6-Nov10)

Sanders Family Christmas by Connie Ray (Nov 15-Dec 22)

Find details and buy tickets at commonwealtheatre.org

Resident ensemble member and theatre patron at Commonweal Theatre

Brandt Roberts (left), resident ensemble member, and a theatre patron / Courtesy Commonweal Theatre


Looking for more storytelling fun?

La Crosse Storytelling Festival – La Crosse, Wisconsin

Love a good scary story? Then the La Crosse Storytelling Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is for you! This two-day event kicks off on a Friday night with a gentle first act, perfect for youngsters or the faint-of-heart. Then, the fear gets for real after intermission. “Humans have listened to scary tales for centuries as both cautionary tales and fun experiences. We hope to address the fun, but scary, experience,” says Professional Storyteller, Terry Visger. The festival ups the fun by serving witches brew with costume-clad emcees – appealing to young and old. “This has been a very popular event for children of all ages but, in the last two years, we have actually had more adults than children in attendance,” Terry says.

Day two brings tales of a tamer variety. Musicians, jugglers, and storytellers unite to provide an exciting family-friendly experience. “Storytelling is magical for children. It engages all of their brain and physical being. We choose musicians who know how to interact with children by making them part of the performance,” Terry says.

For adults, the talent and variety of internationally-known storytellers can’t be beat. “We strive for variety in style, content, and type of story. We believe our audiences should experience the best-of-the-best and that is why we bring tellers from many areas and backgrounds to La Crosse,” she says.

After 16 years of hosting this fun-filled weekend under tents, this year’s festival will leave the mosquitoes and unpredictable weather behind for a new location: The Pump House Regional Arts Center. “We will have great food and drink, a silent auction, and bookstore,” Terry says. “And, more importantly, wonderful entertainment for the weekend.”

Mark Your Calendars: La Crosse Storytelling Festival – July 19-20. Learn more at lacrossestoryfest.com.

History Alive – Lanesboro, Minnesota

Loving that Lanesboro, Minnesota vibe? Mark your calendars for History Alive Lanesboro, “Pop-up Plays: Founding Lanesboro 1869,” coming this fall, September 21, 22, 28, and 29 at 1 and 3 pm each day.

History Alive presents stories of Lanesboro… in the streets of Lanesboro. The one and a half-hour walking tours take you to different play locations around town. Tours begin at Sons of Norway, 200 Parkway Avenue South, Lanesboro. Tickets are for sale at the door.

2019’s traveling plays celebrate Lanesboro’s 150th anniversary. Meet some of the town’s first residents, railroad builders, stonemasons, fresh off-the-boat Irish and Norwegians, Chief Winneshiek, area abolitionists, even snake oil salesmen through this storytelling event!

Mark Your Calendars: History Alive Lanesboro – September 21, 22, 28, and 29. See facebook.com/historyalivelanesboro/ for details.

July 2019 Calendar!

July is here! This is truly the thick of summer! County fairs, outdoor music, farmers markets… start your planning with this handy-dandy July 2019 calendar (you can download the pdf here).  Have a blast! XO, Inspire(d)

LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great July 2019 activities! In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

14: July 4: Come join in the Pulpit to Pulpit 5K & 1 Mile 4th of July run! 8:30am 5K & 1 mile start from Pulpit Rock Park in Decorah, festivities and refreshments at the brewery after! Pre-reg @ runsignup.com

15. July 4: Harmony’s 4th of July Celebration – Join us for a full day of fun – Jim Busta Band featuring Mollie B., Games, Food, Grand Parade @ 3pm, and FIREWORKS! More info at www.exploreharmony.com

16. July 5-6: Luna Valley Farm is open Fourth of July weekend! Wood fired pizza, drinks, and community – Friday and Saturday night from 4-8pm. www.lunavalleyfarm.com

17. July 8: Wilderman’s Treetop Tales with Chad Elliott @ DPL! Think Shel Silverstein with more color and a song album! Iowa singer, songwriter, artist, and author performs for the entire family. 1:30 pm – www.decorah.lib.ia.us

18. July 13: Pulpit Rock Bend & Brew! Come enjoy a Reefuel smoothie, an hour of yoga, and a delicious Pulpit Rock Beer when you’re done. 10:45am-12pm, Sign up at PRB or online https://squareup.com/store/pulpitrockbrewing

19. July 13: Come to Viroqua for the Driftless Music Festival! Eclectic mix of music under the trees of Eckhart Park in Viroqua. 1pm-10pm FREE admission – driftlessmusicfestival.com

20. July 15: Digital Planetarium @ DPL! Bring the family to lie down under the stars and learn all about the constellations in the night sky with Lilly Jensen from Winneshiek County Conservation. 1:30 pm – 4 pm (5 seatings) www.decorah.lib.ia.us

21. July 19-20: La Crosse Storytelling Festival. New digs; new date. Join us for the STORIES at the Pump House. www.lacrossestoryfest.com

22. July 20: Decorah’s Ridiculous Day! Enjoy downtown sidewalk sales! Many of your favorite retailers will be offering ridiculous savings on clothing, gifts, accessories, and more. www.decorahareachamber.com

23. July 22: David Casas Magic @ DPL! Prepare to be amazed by mind-blowing magic, hilarious family-friendly comedy, and plenty of audience interaction! 1:30 pm. www.decorah.lib.ia.us

Get some music in your life this Driftless summer!

Them Coulee Boys will play at Hop Harvest Fest at Sweet 16 Farm and at Boats and Bluegrass in Winona!

Summertime in the Midwest means a lot of things, but special outdoor music events hit the top of our list each year! There are lots of great shows happening all season, but we picked out a handful that we’d definitely suggest adding to your calendar.


The Driftless Music Festival, July 13, Viroqua, Wisconsin – FREE! Join in this fantastic community festival as Eckhart Park becomes home to The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, Honky-Tonk Jump, Orquestra MAS, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, and the Brotherhood Singers. Music starts at 1pm and goes until evening, with snacks, food, and beverages on the grounds. This is a free, very family friendly event! www.driftlessmusicfestival.com


Seed Saver’s Benefit Concert, August 3, rural Decorah – Seed Savers Exchange is bringing back the ever-popular Benefit Concert this summer, featuring Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles, Lissie, Dave Huckfelt of The Pines, Pieta Brown, Michael Rosetto, and special guest Mr. Greg Brown. Gates open at 5 pm, show at 7 pm, and camping is available on-site. This is guaranteed to be one of the most amazing nights of the summer – see you there! www.seedsavers.org


Gray Area – August 9, rural Iowa City – Don’t miss your chance to hang out at the Flat Black Studio farm with William Elliott Whitmore, Appleseed Cast, American Cream, Catfish Keith, and more. Camping available and encouraged. www.flatblackstudios.com/grey-area


People Fest – August 8-10, Driftless Music Gardens near Yuba, Wisconsin – Join Todd Snider, Blackfoot Gypsies, People Brothers Band, Natty Nation, Pine Travelers, and many more at this special little corner of the world. Camping, community, and summer revelry at it’s finest. www.driftlessmusicgardens.com/people-fest


Hop Harvest Music Fest – August 24, Sweet 16 Farm near Houston, Minnesota – Head to this sweet (pun intended) farm for a family-friendly party! Check out Them Coulee Boys, The Lowest Pair, Driftless Sisters, My Grandma’s Cardigan, and Jaybone Bell. There will be vendors, craft beer, kids activities, and wood fired pizza too. Find more info and buy tickets at sweet16farm.com.


Boats &…… Bluegrass! Winona, September 26-29 – Ok, so technically Boats & Bluegrass isn’t until September, but we can’t help but plug this amazing local roots festival alongside the Mississippi river in Winona. 2019 is a Who’s Who of Midwest roots music, including Charlie Parr, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Shook Twins, Pert Near Sandstone, Dead Horses, Them Coulee Boys, Lowest Pair, Barbaro, Stanton West – all MC’d by regional poet and new-time roustabout, Pete Engen. Camping, music, boats & canoes, food, and tasty beverages on site. What are you waiting for? Get your tickets and make plans to be there! www.boatsandbluegrass.com