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Frank Lloyd Wright and a Wisconsin Get-a-Way – Visiting the American Players Theater in Spring Green, WI, Summer 2022

By Ann Boland April 04, 2023 Lifestyle

Living in Chicago, you automatically qualify as a Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) fan. Many of his famous commissions still stand, some owned by single families, or open to the public and owned by churches (Unitarians), communities (Oak Park, IL), and universities (University of Chicago). We love our prairie-style architecture, even if FLW was a misogynistic, brilliant autocrat.

Taliesin Is Wright’s Summer Home in Wisconsin

FLW made sure he had wonderful places for him and his students to work and live, so he always had free help. Home base was Chicago. His family is from the Wisconsin River Valley in South Central Wisconsin, so when he prospered, FLW returned to build his summer home and studio, Taliesin.

Taliesin, Calendar photo

Later, he built his winter home and studio in North Scottsdale, AZ, Taliesin West. Both Taliesins are well preserved; Taliesin more so because it was built to withstand northern winters. Its deeply shaded windows serenely overlook the Wisconsin River Valley just outside the town of Spring Green.

A day can be devoted to the building tour and ride around the farm to visit the schoolhouse, family buildings, even Wright’s grave. Plan on ½ day if you are warm to architecture – a full day if it’s your jam.

American Players Theater Is Next Door to Taliesin

The other Spring Green attraction is the American Players Theater (APT), 43 years old, and better than ever. At Spring Green, we are only 45 minutes from Madison, three and a half hours from downtown Chicago and an hour and a half from Milwaukee. There are plenty of “locals” looking for a bucolic summer break featuring fine theater.

APT has two theaters, The Hill, an outdoor amphitheater, and The Touchstone, indoors, with a broad projecting stage. Yes, The Hill is a healthy climb, and the Touchstone is a lengthy walk from the parking lot. But lots of volunteers drive electric carts around transporting patrons looking for theater, not exercise. There are lots of picnic areas and families traditionally meet around large pre-theater dinners.

American Players Theater, The Hill
American Players Theater, The Hill Outdoor Stage

Most productions are directed and performed by the APT repertory company, in residence about five months over the summer. There is a group of mature regulars, added to each season by younger talent seeking intense summer work experience. Never a dud among them. We limited ourselves to two plays: The Moors at The Touchstone Theater, and A Raisin in the Sun at The Hill.

American Players Theater, The Hill, at night
American Players Theater, The Hill, at night

A Raisin in the Sun at the American Players Theater Outdoors Hill Theater

A Raisin in the Sun, a world-famous play written by Lorraine Hansberry, directed by Tasia A. Jones, was a bit of an anomaly for APT as the starring roles were not company members. Most of the supporting cast were. It was an excellent production.

A Raisin in the Sun
Raisin in the Sun Photo Credit Broadway World Madison

Even performed outdoors, in daylight, you felt the confinement of the small Chicago apartment from which the family planned to escape. (If you’ve read my pieces here on Sixty and Me about Black theater in Chicago, you will understand the appeal to playgoers of time-proven Black classic playwrights like Hansberry and August Wilson.)

Two out of nine shows produced by APT that were written by and featured Black casts: A Raisin in the Sun and The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

The Moors at the American Players Theater Indoors Touchstone Theater

The Moors by Jen Silverman, directed by Keria Fromm is a lusty romp. To quote the program notes:

“Every so often a new play arrives that we simply can’t ignore. And oh my, The Moors. There’s no genre big enough to contain it. A dark and glimmering jewel that explodes from the stage through a Brontëan cannon, at various times absurd, romantic, vicious and deadly. At times, all of them at once, delivering pitch-black comedy that is desperately beautiful and deliriously entertaining. And all that before you hear the major players (Tracy Michelle Arnold, Kelsey Brennan, Jim DeVita and Colleen Madden) and the roles they’re playing (mysterious sisters, a mastiff and a moorhen). An irresistible confluence of the contemporary with the classical; a play that dares you to keep watching and pays off in theatrical gold.”

The Moors
Scene from APT, The Moors; Photo credit: APT

It’s a fun play, filled with “over the top” characters. It’s likely to appear in your local live theaters in 2023.

Two Suggestions Where to Stay in Spring Green WI

We’ve stayed in two places among the many motels and B&Bs in and around Spring Green. The House on the Rock Resort is not adjacent to the notorious House on the Rock. It’s a failed condo development located right down the road from Taliesin and American Players Theater, converted into a hotel overlooking a lovely golf course.

Since it’s converted condos, you have a small kitchen, bedroom, living room, and balcony. There’s a pool, but I’ve rarely seen people taking advantage of it. What The House on the Rock Resort lacks in charm, it makes up for in location and space.

We’ve also stayed at an excellent B&B, The Silver Star. The owners, Kevin and Elise Dallman, are terrific hosts. There are only 10 rooms, and their list of repeat guests is large. Book early. The only reason I don’t return is the several mile drive on backcountry pitch dark roads at night. And I like the additional private space at House on the Rock Resort.

What to Expect

The pandemic devastated rural Wisconsin. APC closed, Taliesen closed, little shops and seasonal restaurants closed, most permanently. So don’t look for lots of retail/fine dining experiences – it’s rural Wisconsin.

A day trip down the peaceful Wisconsin River Valley is ideal for the adventurous. There is a wonderful bookstore in downtown Spring Green, Arcadia Books, that’s open seven days a week, sells good craft coffee and sweets, and has chairs and tables – a find.

Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 season at APT.

Hope to meet you there.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you planned a theater season in 2023? Where would you like to go? What plays would you like to see? Have you planned out your trip already?

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The Author

Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater, opera, and arts. Involved as a theatre-goer since the early 80s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of Chicago's theater scene, its exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. To support her good and bad habits, Ann handles public relations for authors and the arts.

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