sixtyandme logo
We are community supported and may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Fall Festivals and Trips for Theater Lovers

By Ann Boland September 05, 2023 Lifestyle

Spontaneous traveler? How about a Fall trip that will bring the beautiful colors of nature and the joy of excellent theater? It’s prime season to visit Wisconsin and Ontario.

Stratford Theatre Festival, Stratford, ON

Unconsciously, I’m cruel to my sister-in-law Norah and myself. We crammed our Stratford jaunt into three days of morning and evening plays with a day’s driving each way. I forgot to schedule an extra day so we could breathe. And it was hot. But you have the opportunity now to enjoy cooler Canadian weather and Fall color. The festival runs through October 28, 2023.

We rented an AirBnB house within walking distance of all theaters. It wasn’t our favorite due to steep stairs with unsatisfactory handrails, but we luxuriated in the generous space.

Richard II

Our three-day saga began with a riotous Richard II. Last year, we were amazed at the staging of Richard III, where the play begins with King Richard climbing from his grave in a car park in Leicester.  

Richard II begins with a full-on disco dance, a mélange of courtiers, sycophants, and gay lovers. Playwright Brad Fraser freely adapted Shakespere’s emphasis upon the divine right of kings tinged with homosexuality, by combining it with the rights of Blackness and queerness. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Richard captured it all with his manic dancing, prancing, and micro-management.

In Act 1, he’s clearly a bad king out of control. In Act 2, he changes after the failure of war with Ireland. Richard senses his mortality. His lovers are dead, he’s betrayed, and he dies. Ah, Shakespeare!

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is based on the famous children’s book by Madeline L’Engle and adapted by Thomas Morgan Jones. This is labeled as children’s theater, but I wanted to see it because I’ve never read the book – and now I never will.

What might have been captivating in the page, did not translate well to stage as the children leave their mother to search for their father, lost in another world. The three mystic women, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which provide opportunities for fun character acting and outlandish costumes. But overall, for adults, it’s hackneyed and trite.

King Lear

Shakespeare raises his head again as with the aging King Lear. This is an excellent production sprawled across the large Festival Theatre stage. Enough said.

Wedding Band

That evening, we submersed ourselves in Wedding Band by black playwriter Alice Childress. Why aren’t we seeing more from this New York legend who wrote novels and plays for four decades, ending with her death in 1994? Maybe her writing isn’t woke enough, but it certainly stirred my soul.

Here’s what Jesse Green said in his NYT Review:

“It’s a joyful thing when a great play that seemed to be lost is found. How much more so when its greatness is confirmed, and the play takes root in the soil of a new time.

That was my experience seeing Alice Childress’s Wedding Band this summer at the Stratford Festival, in Ontario. Written in 1962, and first produced in New York by the Public Theater, in 1972, it had all but disappeared for 50 years when Theater for a New Audience, in Brooklyn, revived it in the spring of 2022. A revelation then, it is even more so now, not because Stratford’s production is better but because, by being excellent in a different way, it confirms the play’s vitality.”

Wedding Band is the story of a black seamstress, Julia, and a German-American baker, Herman, in love for 10 years, but unable to live together much less marry in 1918 Charleston, South Carolina. Desperate to avoid gossipy neighbors, Julia rents a room in a black neighborhood. But new neighbors and children befriend her, and an itinerant peddler, who knows Julia’s secret from an old neighborhood, shows up.

Julia and Herman have plans – he gives her a wedding ring on neck chain and proposes that she move to New York, and he will follow the next year, when he’s completed repaying his mother for the downpayment on his bakery. Of course, nothing goes as planned, anti-German sentiment rears its head in Herman’s family, and the Spanish flu strikes throughout Charleston. It’s such an interesting plot and the current of fear that dominates the second act left me stunned.

Much Ado About Nothing

We were ready for Much Ado About Nothing, hilariously led by Beatrice, played by Maev Beaty, and Benedict, played by Graham Abbey. This bawdy couple sparked with sexual tension, commanding the stage. The Bard could not have prayed for a better interpretation of his words.

Monty Python’s Spamalot

We ended with Monty Python’s Spamalot. It’s a farce, not in the same sense that Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle or Moliere’s The Misanthrope are farces. Those are clever funny; Spamalot is stupid funny. It did not promise to be clever – and it delivered.

Most interesting was the appearance of the Lady of the Lake, played by Jennifer Rider-Shaw, in a slinky, sexy watery blue costume. She was probably seven months pregnant. I’ve not seen that on stage before, especially in the fem fatale. Let’s hear it for inclusion! She was spot-on in the role.

In our short bit of free time, we discovered an excellent restaurant in Stratford called Bijou.
No poutine (French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy) here! Excellent cuisine. Thanks to my Business Channel buddy, Dan, for the lead. Like many Torontonians, Dan is a Stratford Theatre Member and takes the handy one-hour bus ride to and from home.

Norah kindly said that she is enthused about attending next year, but in Spring or Fall. I agree.

The American Players Theater Festival (APT) in Spring Green, WI

Closer to home is the American Players Theater Festival (APT) in Spring Green, WI. Just four hours north of Chicago (allowing for a potty stop and shopping at Carr Valley Cheese in Mazomanie). We stayed at House on the Rock Resort where we were joined by four family members.

This is a perfect place for a small reunion. Spacious accommodations, swimming, tennis, golf, and the theater just minutes away. The restaurant in the resort, 400 Springs is open! A first for me. And the food is fine and reasonable. Most portions serve two. Just as it should in Wisconsin.

The Royale

Our first play was The Royale by Marco Ramirez. Based on the life story of black championship heavy weight boxer, Jack Johnson. The time is 1910 when Johnson beat the reigning white champion in The Fight of the Century.

Like Wedding Band, the plot draws on the endemic fear in black/white engagement, especially in a violent sport like boxing. We’re rooting for Jack to win, but if he wins, the rabid white losers will wreak havoc among the blacks. Eye opening. Beautifully staged and acted. A play that should be performed more. The Royale should qualify on two counts of diversity, Hispanic playwriter and black ensemble.

Merry Wives of Windsor

Merry Wives of Windsor added to our joyous summer of Shakespeare. When his comedies are interpreted by great comic actors, the result is over-the-top fun for the audience. There is not a moment when we were not entertained.

The only drawback was the afternoon performance in the outdoor Hilltop Theater, with heat about 90 degrees. Falstaff, padded out with a fat suit and dressed in layers of woolen clothing, downed frequent tankards of water. Kudos to the performers who never missed a beat.

Anton’s Shorts: Brief Plays & Vaudevilles

Anton’s Shorts: Brief Plays & Vaudevilles by the Young Anton Chekhov, freely adapted by Aaron Posner also played in the Hilltop Theater, but on a much cooler evening. We were spellbound by the excellence of the vignettes, linked by narration from young writer Chekhov. It’s such a joy to experience the versatility of the APT group as the Falstaff from last night appears as mournful lover tonight.

Once Upon a Bridge

This was the U.S. premier of Once Upon a Bridge by Sonya Kelly. Three people are involved in an incident on Putney Bridge in London: an aspiring new lawyer on her way to a job interview, a bus driver who is a West Indies immigrant with wife and family, and a fast-rising man from the City out for his morning jog.

They are brought together for an instant when the jogger bumps into the lawyer, throwing her into the path of the bus, which swerves to just miss her. Told in linked soliloquies, we learn their stories and the impact of the incident on each.

Beautiful theater, without a line of dialogue. You will likely see it locally because it’s first rate and inexpensive to produce.

APT’s season runs through October 8. You won’t be disappointed with the theater or Wisconsin’s fall colors.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Which theater festival are you planning to attend this fall? Have you mapped out your journey and the plays you’d like to see?

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Stratford is our get away during the summer. Women of the fur trade was good, Spamalot was good wicked. Rent was a bit young for us. We also went to the Shaw theatre at Niagara on the lake to see Gypsy- smaller intimate theatre makes for a nice Sunday out. High tea at the Princess of Wales hotel was a treat.

Ann Boland

Thanks for the tip about the Shaw Theatre and the Princess of Wales. SIL, Norah, is a sucker for high tea, so we may scoot down there for a visit.


I’m a big supporter of the Chicago arts. I plan on being in Wisconsin at the end of the month for a talk on an historical event. All of the arts are so important and vital to support.

Ann Boland

Thanks for your comment. AB

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.

You Might Also Like