When summer meets the rolling, unglaciated hills of Wisconsin, the heat and humidity inextricably rise in the land Frank Lloyd Wright called home. The songbirds sing out and the mosquitoes buzz in their mad bloodthirsty dash at twilight and dawn in Spring Green for as certain as the season is the promise of hundreds of anxious patrons looking forward to the outdoor spectacle of theatre at American Players Theatre (APT).
With such an appropriate acronym, APT continues to mount stellar productions in two theaters - one, a 1,089-seat outdoor amphitheater and the other, an intimate indoor arena of more than 200 seats. With an annual budget of more than $6 million and a dedicated core staff, the company's repertory of as many as nine plays attracts more than 100,000 people to this quaint and sleepy town from June through November.
In recent years, the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the professional organization of theatre reviewers, writers and journalists, has held its annual conference in cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Orleans. This summer, however, they have taken to the Wisconsin woods to partner with APT so that its membership could take advantage of five of its offerings: Shakespeare's As You Like It, Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King, Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, George Fuquhar's The Recruiting Officer and Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday.
In addition to the lifeblood of theatre offerings, APT has brought dozens of its own staff and nearby theatre critics, artistic directors, theatre podcasters and designers to inform and inspire ATCA attendees. Among the topics covered were sessions on copyright law, racial equity, period comedy productions and what is happening in the heartland of theatre in America's dairyland.
The beautiful setting of The House on the Rock Resort replete with a Bobby Jones-designed golf course has served as the nexus for ATCA's members to engage in heated debates about the future of the organization and its direction. Members are passionate about the organization, but in these perilous times when traditional journalism has given way to modern means of expression on the Internet and through social media, there are questions that must be posed and the very nature of theatre criticism examined.